Babylonian Talmud III
Prof. Bill Long 9/13/06
Finishing on the Stubborn and Rebellious Son
We saw in the previous essay that the Rabbis took about three pages of text in the Talmud to whittle down the definition of who could be a rebellious son. The "window" of rebellion is a very narrowly cracked window. In this essay we will examine further the "gluttony and drunkard" standard of the rebellious son.
A Glutton and Drunkard
The first thing we did, then, was to look at the "jurisdictional" or "definitional" issue. What does it mean to be a son? is the first question the Rabbis discuss. The text goes on to discuss liability. As it says: "When does he become liable?" Then, the Mishnah gives about 15 categories of offenses through which he might become liable as a stubborn and rebellious son. The first is interesting. One Rabbi says he becomes liable when "he eats a tartemar of meat and drinks half a log of Italian wine. R. Jose said: A mina of flesh and a log of wine." Since some of the Rabbis didn't know what a tartemar was, one suggested that a tartemar must be 1/2 of a mina because R. Jose doubled the 1/2 log of wine in his definition of drink and, therefore, must also have doubled the tartemar to equal one mina. Hence, a tartemar is 1/2 mina.
You see how it goes. Every one of the 15 or so categories of offenses must be defined, argued about. Often there are digressions upon digressions. One other example will show you what I mean. Liability attaches if he drinks wine and eats meat. But how much? And of what sort? The Rabbis begin their discussions.
" R. Hanan b. Moladah said in R. Huna's name: He is not liable unless he buys meat and wine cheaply and consumes them, for it is written. He is a Zolel. R. Hanan b. Moladah also said in R. Huna's name: He is not liable unless he eats raw meat and drinks undiluted wine. But that is not so, for did not Rabbah and R. Joseph both say: If he ate raw meat or drank undiluted wine, he does not become a 'stubborn and rebellious son'? — Rabina answered, by 'undiluted wine' insufficiently diluted wine is meant, and raw meat means only partially cooked, like charred meat eaten by thieves. Rabbah and R. Joseph both said: If he eats pickled meat or drinks 'wine from the vat', [i. e., new wine before it has matured], he does not become a stubborn and rebellious son'."
So, we have various kinds of wine and various kinds of meat, all of which can be discussed before determining if they are items subject to the prohibitions of the law. Then we have a statement interpreting the words: "He does not become a 'stubborn and rebellious son,' unless he eats meat and drinks wine.
"Our Rabbis taught: If he ate any food but meat, and drank any drink but wine, he does not become a stubborn and rebellious son' — unless he eats meat and drinks wine, for it is written. He is a glutton and a drunkard; and though there is no absolute proof, there is a suggestion for this, as it is written, Be not among the winebibbers, among gluttonous eaters of flesh. And it is also said, For the drunkard and glutton shall come to poverty; and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags. R. Zera said: whoever sleeps in the Beth Hamidrash, his knowledge shall be reduced to tatters, for it is written, and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.
Thus, the rebellious and stubborn son must really be an abuser of drink and meat for him even possibly to fall into that category.
No Such Thing as Such a Son
Then, in interpreting the last Mishnaic section, which suggests that both father and mother must find the son to be rebellious, the Rabbis take off on the idea that he isn't stubborn and rebellious "if his mother was not fit for his father." They discuss several instances of possible "fitness" between the two, such as likeness in appearance, in height and in voice, before saying that, in fact, the likelihood is very small that a rebellious son will ever be found and stoned. Then, as if to seal the argument, the Rabbis discuss the case of the condemned city. They say:
"With whom does the following agree? Viz., It has been taught: 'There never was a condemned city, and never will be.' — It agrees with R. Eliezer. For it has been taught, R. Eliezer said: No city containing even a single mezuzah can be condemned. Why so? Because the Bible saith [in reference thereto], And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it in the midst of the street thereof and shalt burn [them]. But if it contains a single mezuzah, this is impossible, because it is written, [And ye shall destroy the names of them — i.e., the idols — …] Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God. R. Jonathan said: I saw it, [a condemned city] and sat upon its ruins."
Because the mezuzah contains words from the Shema, or the "Hear oh Israel," from the Book of Deuteronomy, the mezuzah cannot be burned (because you only burn the idols). Thus, since there isn't a city without a mezuzah, there isn't a condemned city (which means that it would be completely in ruins).
This provides the occasion for the Rabbis to wonder about whether in fact there ever was really a leprous house. But that, thankfully, is where we must stop.
Rabbinic thinking is a mode of legal argumentation that takes seriously not only the words of the text but which tries to interrelate the words from various sections of the Bible and Mishnah and then pose hypotheticals or real life examples to see how the words apply. Many of the examples seem to arise from purely intellectual concerns. I think American lawyers, of whatever religious affiliation, would benefit from being exposed to this manner of thinking. It really stretches the mind.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long