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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth

Folio 31a

so he brought a precious cup1  worth four hundred zuz and broke it before them, and they became serious. R. Ashi made a marriage feast for his son. He saw that the Rabbis were growing very merry, so he brought a cup of white crystal and broke it before them and they became serious. The Rabbis said to R. Hamnuna Zuti at the wedding of Mar the son of Rabina: please sing us something. He said to them: Alas for us that we are to die! They said to him: What shall we respond after you? He said to them: Where is the Torah and where is the mizwah that will shield us!2

R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: It is forbidden to a man to fill his mouth with laughter in this world, because it says, Then will our mouth be filled with laughter and our tongue with singing.3  When will that be? At the time when 'they shall say among the nations, The Lord hath done great things with these'.4  It was related of Resh Lakish that he never again filled his mouth with laughter in this world after he heard this saying from R. Johanan his teacher.

Our Rabbis taught: A man should not stand up to say Tefillah either immediately after trying a case or immediately after a [discussion on a point of] halachah;5  but he may do so after a halachic decision which admits of no discussion.6  What is an example of a halachic decision which admits of no discussion? — Abaye said: Such a one as the following of R. Zera; for R. Zera said:7  The daughters of Israel have undertaken to be so strict with themselves that if they see a drop of blood no bigger than a mustard seed they wait seven [clean] days after it.8  Raba said: A man may resort to a device with his produce and bring it into the house while still in its chaff9  so that his animal may eat of it without its being liable to tithe.10  Or, if you like, I can say, such as the following of R. Huna. For R. Huna said in the name of R. Zeiri:11  If a man lets blood in a consecrated animal, no benefit may he derived from it [the blood] and such benefit constitutes a trespass. The Rabbis followed the rule laid down in the Mishnah,12  R. Ashi that of the Baraitha.13

Our Rabbis taught: One should not stand up to say Tefillah while immersed in sorrow, or idleness, or laughter, or chatter, or frivolity, or idle talk, but only while still rejoicing in the performance of some religious act.14  Similarly a man before taking leave of his fellow should not finish off with ordinary conversation, or joking, or frivolity, or idle talk, but with some matter of halachah. For so we find with the early prophets that they concluded their harangues with words of praise and comfort; and so Mari the grandson of R. Huna the son of R. Jeremiah b. Abba learnt: Before taking leave of his fellow a man should always finish with a matter of halachah, so that he should remember him thereby. So we find that R. Kahana escorted R. Shimi b. Ashi from Pun, to Be-Zinyatha15  of Babylon, and when he arrived there he said to him, Sir, do people really say that these palm trees of Babylon are from the time of Adam? — He replied: You have reminded me of the saying of R. Jose son of R. Hanina. For R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: What is meant by the verse, Through a land that no man passed through and where no man dwelt?16  If no one passed, how could anyone dwell? It is to teach you that any land which Adam decreed should be inhabited is inhabited, and any land which Adam decreed should not be inhabited is not inhabited.17  R. Mordecai escorted R. Shimi b. Abba from Hagronia to Be Kafi, or, as some report, to Be Dura.18

Our Rabbis taught: When a man prays, he should direct his heart to heaven. Abba Saul says: A reminder of this is the text, Thou wilt direct their heart, Thou wilt cause Thine ear to attend.19  It has been taught: Such was the custom of R. Akiba; when he prayed with the congregation, he used to cut it short and finish20  in order not to inconvenience the congregation,21  but when he prayed by himself, a man would leave him in one corner and find him later in another, on account of his many genuflexions and prostrations.

R. Hiyya b. Abba said: A man should always pray in a house with windows, as it says, Now his windows were open.22

I might say that a man should pray the whole day? It has already been expressly stated by the hand of Daniel, And three times. etc.23  But perhaps [this practice] began only when he went into captivity? It is already said, As he did aforetime.24  I might say that a man may pray turning in any direction he wishes? Therefore the text states, Toward Jerusalem.25  I might say that he may combine all three Tefillahs in one? It has already been clearly stated by David, as is written, Evening and morning and at noonday.26  I might say that he should let his voice be heard in praying? It has already been clearly stated by Hannah, as is said, But her voice could not be heard.27  I might say that a man should first ask for his own requirements28  and then say the Tefillah?29  It has been clearly stated by Solomon, as is said, To hearken unto the cry and to the prayer:30  'cry' here means Tefillah. 'prayer' means [private] request. A [private] request is not made after 'True and firm',31  but after the Tefillah, even the order of confession of the Day of Atonement32  may be said. It has also been stated: R. Hiyya b. Ashi said in the name of Rab: Although it was laid down that a man asks for his requirements in 'that hearkenest unto prayer', if he wants to say something after his prayer, even something like the order of confession on the Day of Atonement, he may do so.

R. Hamnuna said: How many most important laws can be learnt from these verses relating to Hannah!33  Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart: from this we learn that one who prays must direct his heart. Only her lips moved: from this we learn that he who prays must frame the words distinctly with his lips. But her voice could not be heard: from this, it is forbidden to raise one's voice in the Tefillah. Therefore Eli thought she had been drunken: from this, that a drunken person is forbidden to say the Tefillah. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken, etc.34  R. Eleazar said: From this we learn that one who sees in his neighbour

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Aliter: crystal cup.
  2. From the punishment that is to come.
  3. Ps. CXXVI, 2.
  4. Ibid. 3.
  5. Because through thinking of it he may be unable to concentrate on his prayer.
  6. Lit., 'a decided halachah'.
  7. Nid. 66a.
  8. Though Scripture requires this only if they saw three issues.
  9. I.e., before it is winnowed.
  10. Whereas if it had been winnowed before being brought into the house, it would have been liable to tithe, v. Pes., Sonc. ed. p. 39, n. 5.
  11. Me'il. 12b.
  12. That one should rise to pray only in a reverent frame of mind.
  13. That one should pray only after dealing with an undisputed halachah.
  14. I.e., he should first say something like Ps. CXLIV.
  15. Lit., 'among the palms'. The district of the old city of Babylon which was rich in palms.
  16. Jer. II, 6.
  17. And Adam decreed that this should be inhabited, and so there have always been palm trees here. On the identification of all the places mentioned in this message v. Sotah, Sonc. ed., p. 243 notes.
  18. The text here seems to be defective, as we are not told what either of the Rabbis said.
  19. I.e., if the heart is directed to heaven, then God will attend. Ps. X, 17.
  20. Lit., 'ascend', 'depart'.
  21. By detaining them; the congregation would not resume the service until R. Akiba had finished his Tefillah.
  22. Dan. VI, 11.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ps. LV, 18.
  27. I Sam. I, 13.
  28. In the middle benedictions of the 'Amidah.
  29. The first three benedictions.
  30. I Kings VIII, 28.
  31. And before the first three benedictions.
  32. V. P.B. p. 258.
  33. I Sam. I, 10ff.
  34. Ibid. 14.
Tractate List

Berakoth 31b

something unseemly must reprove him. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord.1  'Ulla, or as some say R. Jose b. Hanina, said: She said to him: Thou art no lord in this matter, nor does the holy spirit rest on thee, that thou suspectest me of this thing. Some say, She said to him: Thou art no lord, [meaning] the Shechinah and the holy spirit is not with you in that you take the harsher and not the more lenient view of my conduct.2  Dost thou not know that I am a woman of sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink. R. Eleazar said: From this we learn that one who is suspected wrongfully must clear himself. Count not thy handmaid for a daughter of Belial;3  a man who says the Tefillah when drunk is like one who serves idols. It is written here, Count not thy handmaid for a daughter of Belial, and it is written elsewhere, Certain sons of Belial have gone forth from the midst of thee.4  Just as there the term is used in connection with idolatry, so here. Then Eli answered and said, Go in Peace.5  R. Eleazar said: From this we learn that one who suspects his neighbour of a fault which he has not committed must beg his pardon;6  nay more, he must bless him, as it says, And the God of Israel grant thy petition.5

And she vowed a vow and said, O Lord of Zebaoth [Hosts].7  R. Eleazar said: From the day that God created His world there was no man called the Holy One, blessed be He, Zeboath [hosts] until Hannah came and called Him Zebaoth. Said Hannah before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, of all the hosts and hosts that Thou hast created in Thy world, is it so hard in Thy eyes to give me one son? A parable: To what is this matter like? To a king who made a feast for his servants, and a poor man came and stood by the door and said to them, Give me a bite,8  and no one took any notice of him, so he forced his way into the presence of the king and said to him, Your Majesty, out of all the feast which thou hast made, is it so hard in thine eyes to give me one bite?

If Thou wilt indeed look.9  R. Eleazar said: Hannah said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, if Thou wilt look, it is well, and if Thou wilt not look, I will go and shut myself up with someone else in the knowledge of my husband Elkanah,10  and as I shall have been alone11  they will make me drink the water of the suspected wife, and Thou canst not falsify Thy law, which says, She shall be cleared and shall conceive seed.12  Now this would be effective on the view of him who says that if the woman was barren she is visited. But on the view of him who says that if she bore with pain she bears with ease, if she bore females she now bears males, if she bore swarthy children she now bears fair ones, if she bore short ones she now bears tall ones, what can be said? As it has been taught: 'She shall be cleared ad shall conceive seed': this teaches that if she was barren she is visited. So R. Ishmael. Said K. Akiba to him, If that is so, all barren women will go and shut themselves in with someone and she who has not misconducted herself will be visited! No, it teaches that if she formerly bore with pain she now bears with ease, if she bore short children she now bears tall ones, if she bore swarthy ones she now bears fair ones, if she was destined to bear one she will now bear two. What then is the force of 'If Thou wilt indeed look'? — The Torah used an ordinary form of expression.

If Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thy handmaid … and not forget Thy handmaid, but wilt give unto Thy handmaid etc. R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: Why these three 'handmaids'? Hannah said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou hast created in woman three criteria [bidke] of death13  (some say, three armour-joints [dibke] of death),14  namely, niddah, hallah and the kindling of the light [on Sabbath].15  Have I transgressed in any of them?

But wilt give unto Thy handmaid a man-child. What is meant by 'a man-child'? Rab said: A man among men;16  Samuel said: Seed that will anoint two men, namely, Saul and David; R. Johanan said: Seed that will be equal to two men, namely, Moses and Aaron, as it says, Moses and Aaron among His priests and Samuel among them that call upon His name;17  the Rabbis say: Seed that will be merged among men.18  When R. Dimi came [from Palestine] he explained this to mean: Neither too tall nor too short, neither too thin nor too corpulent,19  neither too pale nor too red, neither overclever20  nor stupid.

I am the woman that stood by thee here.21  R. Joshua b. Levi said: From this we learn that it is forbidden to sit within four cubits of one saying Tefillah.22

For this child I prayed.23  R. Eleazar said: Samuel was guilty of giving a decision in the presence of his teacher; for it says, And when the bullock was slain, the child was brought to Eli.24  Because the bullock was slain, did they bring the child to Eli? What it means is this. Eli said to them: Call a priest and let him come and kill [the animal]. When Samuel saw them looking for a priest to kill it, he said to them, Why do you go looking for a priest to kill it? The shechitah may be performed by a layman! They brought him to Eli, who asked him, How do you know this? He replied: Is it written, 'The priest shall kill'? It is written, The priests shall present [the blood]:25  the office of the priest begins with the receiving of the blood, which shows that shechitah may be performed by a layman.26  He said to him: You have spoken very well, but all the same you are guilty of giving a decision in the presence of your teacher, and whoever gives a decision in the presence of his teacher is liable to the death penalty. Thereupon Hannah came and cried before him: 'I am the woman that stood by thee here etc.'. He said to her: Let me punish him and I will pray to God and He will give thee a better one than this. She then said to him: 'For this child I prayed'.

Now Hannah, she spoke in27  her heart.28  R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Jose b. Zimra: She spoke concerning her heart. She said before Him: Sovereign of the Universe, among all the things that Thou hast created in a woman, Thou hast not created one without a purpose, eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to do work, legs to walk with, breasts to give suck. These breasts that Thou hast put on my heart, are they not to give suck? Give me a son, so that I may suckle with them.

R. Eleazar also said in the name of R. Jose b. Zimra: If one keeps a fast on Sabbath,29  a decree of seventy years standing against him is annulled;30  yet all the same he is punished for neglecting to make the Sabbath a delight. What is his remedy? R. Nahman b. Isaac said: Let him keep another fast to atone for this one.

R. Eleazar also said: Hannah spoke insolently31  toward heaven, as it says, And Hannah prayed unto32  the Lord.33  This teaches that she spoke insolently toward heaven.

R. Eleazar also said: Elijah spoke insolently toward heaven, as it says, For Thou didst turn their heart backwards.34  R. Samuel b. Isaac said: Whence do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, gave Elijah right?

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid. 15.
  2. Lit., 'You have judged me in the scale of guilt and not of merit'.
  3. So lit. E.V. 'wicked woman'. V. Kid. 16.
  4. Deut. XIII, 14. E.V. 'certain base fellows'.
  5. I Sam. I, 17.
  6. Lit., 'appease him'.
  7. Ibid. 11.
  8. Lit., 'morsel' (sc. of bread).
  9. Ibid.
  10. So that he will become jealous and test me.
  11. Lit., 'as I will have been hidden'.
  12. Num. V, 28.
  13. Three things by which she is tested to see whether she deserves death.
  14. I.e., three vulnerable points. Hannah plays on the resemblance of the word amateka (thy handmaid) to mithah (death).
  15. V. Shab. 32a: For three transgressions woman die in childbirth; because they are not careful with niddah, with hallah and with the kindling of the light.
  16. I.e., conspicuous among men.
  17. Ps. XCIX, 6.
  18. I.e., average, not conspicuous.
  19. So Rashi.
  20. So as not to be talked about and so become exposed to the evil eye.
  21. I Sam. I, 26.
  22. Because the words imply that Eli also was standing.
  23. I Sam. I, 27.
  24. Ibid. 25.
  25. Lev. I, 5
  26. V. Zeb. 32a.
  27. Lit., 'upon'.
  28. I Sam. I, 13.
  29. E.g., to avert the omen of a dream.
  30. I.e., even though it is high time that it was carried out (Rashi).
  31. Lit., 'she hurled words'.
  32. The Hebrew word is 'al, lit., 'upon', 'against'.
  33. I Sam. I, 10.
  34. I Kings XVIII, 37. As much as to say, it was God's fault that they worshipped idols.
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