Posts Tagged ‘Gitin’

We just finished commemorating Tishah b’Av, when the Holy Temple was destroyed.

The stories in the Talmud relating the events surrounding the destruction (Gitin 55-57) are a popular choice of study on this day.

The Talmud says: “Because of shaka d’rispak, Beitar was destroyed.” What is “shaka d’rispak”? Rashi defines shaka as a “side” (דופן) and rispak as a “women’s chariot” (Heb. מרכבת נשים), so collectively shaka d’rispak means the side of a women’s chariot. Rashi also offers a translation of rispak as ריטוג”א in German. Phonetically, this would appear to be “rituga,” but there is no German word resembling that that I could immediately discover.

So I went to Google translate and tried translating “chariot” into German. I got “Streitwagen.” That didn’t seem right, but then I looked closer and realized that if the “St” part was eliminated, the word would be “reitwagen,” and would actually be quite close to Rashi’s word. The “Reit” part is ריט, and the “wagen” part is “וגא,” leaving only the “n” sound missing. But is a “reitwagen” a thing? As it turns out, yes! It means “riding-wagon” in Middle High German, the language spoken in Germany during (and after) Rashi’s lifetime.

The etymology for “wagen,” incidentally, is derived from “vega,” meaning “way.”

The next part of the mystery is why this is a “women’s chariot” specifically. So I investigated ancient modes of transportation for women and found that there was a type of carriage called a “litter” or “basternum” in which wealthy women were carried by human servants or on the backs of animals (like the mule). The context of the Talmudic passage concerns the daughter of a Roman official, so this would make sense.

I looked up “rispak” in Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Talmud, and he references to another word, “dispak,” which he defines as “litter,” as above.

I’m not sure why Jastrow changes rispak to dispak, but I’m gonna hazard my own guess as to its etymology. Bear with me.

Rispak is very similar to the English word “respect.” I researched the etymology of this word and found that it derives from the Latin verb “respicere” meaning to regard or “look back” at. “Re” means “again” and the SPC root means to look, as in “spectacle,” “spectator,” etc. Hence to “respect” means to look at something with particular regard. Since these vehicles were designed to carry wealthy individuals, to whom others were meant to look with regard, they may have gotten their name from this verb.

If “dispak” is the correct version, this may be a combination of the same SPC verb with the prefix “de” or “dis,” meaning to undo or reverse something. So then this would mean a vehicle designed to obscure the rider from the observer, as these carriages would often have curtains or be closed off to prevent the eyes of commoners from seeing the occupant.

Incidentally, I have a theory that Rashi offers foreign language equivalents of certain words in the text when he wishes to show a linguistic connection or origin, not just a translation. Here, ריטוג”א as the German counterpart for “rispak” works as follows: ריט derives from ריס, as the “t” and “s” sounds interchange, the ו (“v” sound) interchanges with the פ (“p” or “f” sound) and the ג (“g” sound) interchanges with the ק (“k” sound). Hence ריספק to ריטוג”א.

The context of the story in the Talmud is as follows: The Caesar’s daughter was passing the city of Beitar in a rispak, when the “shaka” of the rispak broke. The people of Beitar had a custom to plant certain trees when a boy or girl was born, then, when a boy and girl grew up and married, they used the wood from their respective trees to build their chupah. When the shaka broke, the servants of The Caesar’s daughter cut down one of these trees to use its wood for the carriage. The people of Beitar became incensed and attacked the Caesar’s daughter and their attendants. The Emperor avenged himself upon the city of Beitar, massacring its inhabitants.

From the story, and based upon our exploration above, it would seem that the “shaka,” or “side” of the rispak, may have been one of the poles used to carry it.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

See this earlier post for a primer on Lilith.

More on Lilith:

After the murder of Adam’s son Hevel (Abel) by Adam’s older son Kayin (Cain), Adam and Chavah (Eve) do not have any more children until they are 130 years old, at which time they procreate once again “in their image,” having a son they name Sheth (Seth). See Genesis (B’Reshith) 5:3.

Why the gap between their first two children and the third? According to Jewish tradition, the murder of one of their sons by the other caused Adam and Chavah to reconsider having children, and therefore separated from one another for an extended period.

Jewish tradition further asserts that while Adam did not procreate “in his image” during that time, he did procreate in a diminished image, namely creating ‘shedim’ — demons.

How so? Some sources indicate that during this period of separation from Chavah, Adam cohabited with a spirit or spirits (against his will), and from this union came the race of demons.

In Samuel (Shemuel) II 7:14, G-d tells Nathan the prophet to announce to David that he will have a son who will sit on the throne after him, and that his dynasty will be everlasting:

“I (G-d) will be for him a Father, and he will be for Me a son, that when he sins, I shall rebuke him with the rod of men, and with the blows of the sons of man (ובנגעי בני אדם).”

According to Rashi, the sons or “children” of “man” here refer to the non-human (demon) offspring of Adam produced during the 130-year separation from Chavah during which time “spirits” engaged with Adam and reproduced from him. The prophet’s words here foreshadow when a powerful demon named Ashmedai will dethrone David’s son Shelomoh (Solomon) for a time, as recounted in the Talmud in Tractate Gitin.

According to those commentaries that understand Lilith to be the mother of the demons (see earlier post), she was the being with which Adam cohabited during this period.

A reference to this is seen by Rabbi Avraham Aharon Friedman in his commentary to the Passover Hagadah, Chochmath Aharon.

He cites the verse in Amos 2:6, “For their sale of the righteous for silver, and the destitute because of [a pair of] shoes,” a reference to the sale of Joseph (Yoseph; “the righteous”) by his brothers, and the accompaniment of the Divine Presence (“the destitute”) in Yoseph’s descent to Egypt.

R’ Friedman explains, according to the Arizal, that the central reason for the descent of Israel to Egypt was to “harvest” the “holy sparks” that “fell” from Adam during the aforementioned 130 years. The sale of Yoseph initiated the eventual descent of Israel to and subsequent exodus from Egypt, thereby redeeming the holy sparks that had been trapped there.

Rabbi Friedman explains the verse in Amos in this light. The sparks are the “silver” for which Yoseph was sold. The numerical value of “because of [a pair of] shoes” (בעבור נעלים) is 480, the same as “Lilith” (לילית), hinting that she was the cause of Adam’s “fallen sparks” that necessitated the sojourn in Egypt.

The Talmud (Gitin 56B) records a catastrophic incident in Jewish history that took place when the Romans destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

When Titus (then general, son of Emperor Vespasian, later Emperor himself) entered the Holy of Holies (inner sanctum of the Temple), among the revulsive acts of absolute desecration he performed there, he plunged his sword through the curtain that divided between the area containing the Holy Ark (holiest of Temple vessels) and the area containing the other holy vessels. When Titus did so, the Talmud records, blood miraculously spurted out from the cut, and Titus “thought he had killed [the Almighty] Himself.”

When I quoted this passage recently during a class, a student expressed [rightfully] his skepticism regarding the veracity of this story. I vindicated his sentiment, asking him to remain openminded in order to draw out the message the Sages meant to convey with this story. In fact, Maimonides is emphatic that one should treat such difficult passages metaphorically. What then, is the metaphor of the spurting blood?

Rabbi Shimshon Pincus, of blessed memory, asserts (in Nefesh Shimshon: Shabbos Kodesh) that even more troubling is the notion that Titus actually thought he had eliminated G-d himself! Could he be so weak a thinker to believe he had such power?

I would like to borrow from Rabbi Pincus’ explanation, with slight variation, to offer the following understanding.  “Death” ultimately means the abandonment by the soul of the body. When the soul “leaves,” the body “dies.” But the soul lives on! Death is not an absolute end. Titus interpreted his “victory” as a sign that G-d had abandoned the Jewish people as the soul leaves the body. The Torah teaches that “the blood is the spirit [of life],” therefore the forsaking of the Jewish people, the abandonment of the “body” of the nation by G-d, the “soul” of the nation, is represented by the spilling of blood.  However, Titus’ error was in his short-sightedness. To where does the blood flow? To the earth. This symbolizes that G-d has not abandoned the Jewish people, but has joined them in their lowly state. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, in that famous scene from the original Star Wars, says to Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” the Almighty (l’havdil) is not defeated, but, in our state of exile, has assured us He is with us upon whichever earth we stand, through all our ups and downs, until we shall return, may it be soon, to our Holy Land, where we will celebrate together the Glory of G-d.