י״ב במרחשון ה׳תשע״ג (October 28, 2012)

Shabbat 25a-b: Mnemonic Devices in the Talmud

We all grew up learning the colors of the spectrum by remembering “Roy G. Biv.” Mnemonic devices are a time-honored method to assist memory, and we find a number of examples on today’s daf. For example, while discussing stringencies that apply to consecrated items, those stringencies are listed based on the mnemonic “pancakes” (or “pink ox”), as follows:

Their Hebrew acronym is peh, nun, kuf, ayin, kaf, samekh, which is a mnemonic for the following terms.
Piggul: With regard to an offering, if, during one of the services involved in its sacrifice, i.e., slaughter, receiving the blood, bringing it to the altar, sprinkling it on the altar, the priest or the one bringing the offering entertains the thought of eating the sacrifice at a time that is unfit for eating, it is thereby invalidated.
Notar: Meat of a sacrifice that remained beyond its allotted time may not be eaten and must be burned.
Korban me’ila: One who unwittingly derives benefit from consecrated items is required to bring a guilt-offering for misuse of consecrated items.
Karet: The punishment of one who eats consecrated items while ritually impure is karet.
Asur le’onen: An acute mourner, i.e., one whose relative died that same day and has not yet been buried, is prohibited to eat consecrated items.

Acronyms like these are used throughout the Talmud as mnemonic devices. In general, the acronyms assist in remembering discussions in which numerous opinions are cited consecutively, potentially leading to confusion between the names of the speakers or their opinions. Acronyms were also composed as summaries of halakhot, as in the case of yod, ayin, lamed, kuf, gimmel and mem that represent the disputes between Abayye and Rava where, anomalously, the halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Abayye (see http://www.steinsaltz.org/learning.php?pg=Daf_Yomi&articleId=1313).

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