TalmuDigest

For the week ending 21 February 2009 / 27 Shevat 5769

Bava Kama 58 - 64

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
  • The animal that did damage in the garden that it entered by accident or by intent
  • How to calculate payment for damage done
  • The mourning shoes of Eliezer Zeira
  • Storing grain in another's field
  • Causing a fire through another party
  • When the fire damages only the plowed field
  • The cause of plagues and the caution to be taken
  • King David's halachic dilemma in battling the Philistines
  • Responsibility for fire which spreads beyond natural obstacles
  • When fire destroys something within or near a grain pile
  • Fire caused by sparks or a candle near the street
  • The fine of double payment for theft and four or five times for sale or slaughter of stolen animal
  • The methodology for learning from Torah sources

The Color of the Shoes

  • Bava Kama 59b
What color were the shoes traditionally worn by Jews in Talmudic times?

From the story told in our gemara about Eliezer Zeira wearing black shoes as a sign of mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem, it appears that black shoes were not the norm. Another gemara (Mesechta Ta’anit 22a), which tells of a Jewish prison warden in the employ of the Romans who concealed his Jewish identity by wearing black shoes, serves as another indication that Jews did not wear black shoes.

In contrast to these two sources is a gemara (Mesechta Beitzah 15a) that indicates the opposite. There the issue is a ban on sending a white shoe to someone during the Chol Hamoed Intermediate Days of Yom Tov because there is the danger that an effort will be made to blacken them in a manner that is forbidden. The inescapable conclusion from this is that black shoes were indeed the norm.

The resolution provided by the Tosefist Rabbeinu Tam is that Jews wore black shoes but the shoelaces were white. Eliezer Zeira added black laces to his black shoes as an expression of mourning and the prison warden did the same to hide his Jewishness.

The gemara (Mesechta Sanhedrin 74b) rules that when there is an attempt by their oppressor to force Jews to wear shoelaces like those of non-Jews in order to make them assimilate, it is obligatory for a Jew to die rather than comply. This is further proof that Jews wore shoelaces of a color different than that of their non-Jewish neighbors.

What the Sages Say

"Catastrophes strike the world when there are wicked people, and the first victims are the righteous."

  • Rabbi Shimon bar Nachmeni quoting Rabbi Yonatan - Bava Kama 60a

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