Sunday, August 3, 2008

Watch out for the Ketev!

I spent a few hours this evening studying the laws of Tisha B'av from the Shulchan Aruch with my friend and chevruta Yossi, and we came across a few amusing halachot. The highlight by far, is found in Orach Chaim Siman (section) 551: Se'if (subsection) 17.
שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תקנא
צריך ליזהר מי"ז בתמוז עד ט' באב שלא לילך יחידי (קב) מה מד' שעות עד ט' שעות (משום שבהם קטב מרירי שולט); (קג) <יח> ולא יכו התלמידים בימים ההם.
One must be very careful from the 17th of Tamuz until Tisha B'av not to walk alone from the fourth to the ninth hour of the day (since [a demon known as] ketev m'riri abounds. And they should not hit their students during these days.
Here is the definition that we found in the Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud and Midrashic Literature
by Marcus Jastrow

Although one may laugh at this, as we both did, the author of the Shulchan Aruch (R' Yosef Caro, 16th Century Israel) did not pull this idea out of thin air, but based it on traditions dating back to the midrashim Bamidbar Rabbah and Eicha Rabbah, which were compiled in the latter part of the first millenium CE, at a time when there was a strong belief in demons in the region. From a modern perspective, we can interpret this strange law as a reflection of the rabbis' seeing this period between the two fast days, know as בין המצרים, between the straits, as a time of tragedy and bad luck.

May we merit to learn more Torah, may we not be plagued by demons, and may this period of sorrow for our people be turned into one of joy and consolation.

If you understand Hebrew, here's an article from Haaretz newspaper about the new Yeshiva in Uganda for the Abuyudaya tribe of Jews and others throughout Africa, funded by the Conservative mevement in the United States. It is particularly relevant, because our scholars in residence this shabbat at camp were Adam and Meital Baldachin, who just returned from a year of living with that community.

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