י״א בטבת ה׳תשע״ג (December 24, 2012)

Shabbat 82a-b: An Unrelated New Chapter in Massekhet Shabbat

The eighth perek of Massekhet Shabbat is comprised mostly of halakot that are not directly related to the laws of Shabbat. They are placed together because of their conceptual similarities and common structure. The halakot are all presented as answers to the fundamental question: How do we know…? In response to this question, proof texts from a variety of biblical sources are advanced. In this way, these halakot are linked to the final Mishna of the previous chapter, which shares a similar format.

This mode of presentation involves sequentially arranging halakot based on superficial, structural parallels rather than by a common theme or topic. This method of organization results in halakot that are not at all related in terms of subject matter being strung together into a single series because of their verbal structure.

The decision to arrange the text in this way is attributable to the fact that, for many centuries, the Oral Torah was transmitted from mouth to mouth, from master to disciple. Even after the redaction of the Mishna, Torah scholars continued to study it by heart. It was therefore necessary to provide mnemonic devices and other helpful tools to facilitate the memorization of the study material, and these methods are frequently integrated into the text of the Mishna and the Talmud.

In addition to the organization of material based on structure and form, the asmakhta is another technique that served as an aid to memorization. Asmakhta means the attribution of a halakha from the Oral Law to verses in the Written Law, despite the fact that in many instances those verses are not, in fact, the basis of that halakha. In addition to being an aid to memorization, this use of texts had another purpose, namely, to reinforce the bond and relationship between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, so that they not become separate entities. Indeed, the major commentaries often disagree as to whether viewed these biblical verses as proof texts, rigorous proofs, or merely suggestive hints. Certainly, the verses taken from the Prophets and Writings should be understood as mere suggestive hints and are no more than aids to memory.

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