Religious exemptions for a Jewish military encampment
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Mishnah Eruvin 1:10
Author(s) of this publication: Yael Wilfand
Publishing date: Mon, 02/04/2019 - 08:54
Visited: Wed, 03/29/2023 - 05:44
This passage from the Mishnah enumerates four matters from which the members of a camp are exempted. It is noteworthy that the Mishnah does not explicitly refer to this as “a camp that goes forth for an optional war,” the phrase that appears in Tosefta Eruvin 2:6, a parallel to this mishnah which states that these troops may take dried wood from any location and by force, if necessary. Not only is the concept of an optional war absent here, but the term “war” is not included. Yet, commentators interpret this as “a camp that goes forth for a war” (see, for example, Albeck, The Mishnah, vol. 2, p. 86). Thus, whereas this parallel tosefta and Jerusalem Talmud Eruvin 1:10, 19c-d (in its discussion of this mishnah) mention warfare, our mishnah simply speaks of a “camp” when presenting these regulations. This omission raises questions: Did the editor of the Mishnah deliberately exclude the term “war” here? The relationship between the Tosefta and the Mishnah is especially important here: Does this tosefta comment on our mishnah, or does our mishnah reflect an edited and further developed version of this tosefta or, perhaps, similar material? David Henshke holds the first view (“The Optional War,” p. 103): he argues that Tosefta Eruvin 2:6 expounds on our mishnah. Henshke claims that the early layer of the Mishnah does not differentiate between an optional war (milḥemet hareshut) and a commanded war (milḥemet mitzvah), which explains the absence of these terms from our mishnah. Therefore, this text reflects an early stage of rabbinic halakhah that was later clarified by the Tosefta, after these categories had been conceptualized.
However, as Shamma Friedman has demonstrated, the Tosefta often features “older forms of the same halakhot contained in the Mishnah” (“The Primacy of Tosefta,” p. 101). This pattern seems to apply to the passages in Mishnah Eruvin which precede the unit discussed here (see Weinberg, “R. Issac Halevi’s Method,” p. 124-127; Friedman, Tosefta Atiqta, p. 60-61). It is therefore probable that our mishnah also builds on the Tosefta (or similar source); thus, our passage reflects a later version that codifies four exemptions into a generalized rule. According to this reading, the Mishnah simply uses the term “camp.” The omission of “a camp that goes forth for the optional war” requires explanation: On the one hand, the Mishnah may have adopted this word from the previous tosefta (Eruvin 2:5), which addresses the ‘eruv in a camp, without directly speaking of war. On the other hand, Tosefta Eruvin 2:5-6 presents two laws in sequence: the first only uses the word “camp,” but the second clearly discusses a “war camp”; while the Mishnah refers to these two laws together, the term “camp” appears alone in both cases. If this omission is intentional, it calls to mind Tosefta Avodah Zarah 2:4, which includes prohibitions against selling various items to gentiles: weapons, instruments of torture, and equipment that could be used to restrain prisoners. A parallel restriction appears in the Jerusalem Talmud Avodah Zarah 2:1, 40c; yet, the Mishnah does not discuss this ban, although it may be the implicit subject of Mishnah Avodah Zarah 1:7, which forbids the sale of “anything that may cause harm to the public” to gentiles. It has been suggested that this ruling may also apply to weaponry. In that context, Christine E. Hayes argues: “There is evidence that the Mishnah’s final redactor(s) knew of this prohibition but consciously chose to exclude it from the Mishnah” (Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, p. 174). She adds that, since Rabbi Yehudah the patriarch, the editor of the Mishnah, was a central figure in the process of Jewish accommodation to Roman rule, it is hardly surprising that this proscription was excluded from the Mishnah (Hayes, Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, p. 175-177). If this assertion is accurate, references to warfare may have been omitted from Mishnah Eruvin 1:10 on similar grounds. If so, this text conveys a law that seeks to facilitate Jewish wars by releasing its forces from observing select mitzvot, thereby demonstrating approval for Jews exercising military power. The absence of the term “war” distances this passage from any suggestion of aggression toward Rome
Let us now examine these four exemptions in detail: The first addresses collecting wood, a basic necessity for the army, as a fuel for cooking and a building material for encampments as well as siege works (see the commentary on Tosefta Eruvin 2:6). This table presents the three parallel versions of this teaching:
Tosefta Eruvin 2:6
Mishnah Eruvin 1:10
Jerusalem Talmud Eruvin 1:10, 19c-d
מחנה היוצאת למלחמת הרשות מותרין לגזול עצים יבשין
ארבעה דברים פטרו במחנה. מביאים עצים מכל מקום...
תני בשם ר' יודה. ... היוצאים למלחמת הרשות מותרין בגזל עצים לחים ואסורין בגזל עצים יבישין. [היוצאים למלחמת חובה מותרין בגזל עצים יבשין ולחין].
[Regarding] a camp that goes forth for an optional war (milḥemt hareshut): They are permitted to seize (lit. to rob) dried wood.
Four things are exempted in a [military] camp: They may bring wood from any place […]
It is stated in a tannaitic tradition in the name of Rabbi Yehudah: … “Those who go forth for an optional war (milḥemet hareshut): They are permitted to seize (lit. to rob) freshly cut (lit. moist) wood, but they are prohibited to seize dried wood. Those who go forth for an obligatory war (milḥemet ḥovah) are permitted to seize dried and freshly cut wood.
Here we see that the mishnaic version, in addition to omitting the term “war,” also avoids the root g-z-l, which usually denotes “robbing,” “taking by force” or “stealing.” However, this meaning might be implied in the broad permission: “They may bring wood from everywhere.” Furthermore, by comparison to the Tosefta and the Talmud, the Mishnah speaks of wood generally rather than specifying its defining qualities.
In the second exemption, our mishnah releases men in a military camp from ritually washing their hands, a religious requirement before eating (Albeck, The Mishnah, vol. 6, p. 473;more on handwashing in Safrai, Mishnat Eretz Israel: Tractates Eruvin, p.49-55; Miller, At the Intersection, p. 215-222). Commentators explain that this ruling enabled the people in a camp to eat immediately, without expending time or energy to search for suitable water.
This text also issues a release from the laws of demai, which concern agricultural produce that may or may not have been tithed, to a military camp. According to rabbinic sources, twelve tithes were prescribed per sabbatical cycle, based on two for each of the first six years: Farmers would annually give one tithe to the Levites (and one tenth of that tithe was designated as the “heave offering” for the priests). The owner of a field and his family would spend a second tithe in Jerusalem (for food, sacrificial offerings, and such) during the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the sabbatical cycle; in the third and sixth years, that second tithe was given to the poor. Neither agricultural activity nor tithing were practiced during the sabbatical year. This protocol for tithing was created during the Second Temple period (like other tithing systems from this period), but continued to be observed after the destruction, at least by some Jews. The rabbis were concerned about produce whose status with respect to tithing was uncertain. In the camp, however, consumption of this undefined produce was permissible, probably to increase the food supply for humans and animals in war.
The final exemption applies to setting up an ‘eruv (designating a virtual residence by preparing food together and forming a single domain, thus enabling objects to be carried from house to house on Shabbat, an activity that would otherwise be prohibited). According to the Mishnah and its parallels, a war camp was discharged from this requirement and its personnel were permitted to carry items from tent to tent despite the lack of an ‘eruv (on this exemption in the Jerusalem Talmud and the Tosefta, see Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-Feshutah, vol. 3, p. 323-324;Safrai, Mishnat Eretz Israel: Tractates Eruvin, p. 55).
We may conclude that this mishnah regulates issues which were related to the daily operations of a military camp. While the need for wood applies to any army, the other matters discussed here are specific to Judaism. The sages envision a Jewish army whose warriors typically observe mitzvot from three areas of Jewish practice: tithing, ritual purity, and Shabbat; thus, having these obligations modified in wartime would increase this force’s efficacy. In that context, it is noteworthy that the correspondence between Bar Kokhba and his men describes their observance of Shabbat and tithing (as well as other mitzvot; see Oppenheimer, “Bar-Kokhva”; Eshel and Zissu, The Bar Kokhba Revolt, p. 76, 79). Shmuel and Ze’ev Safrai argue that the exemptions stated in our mishnah could not possibly have originated in rabbinic houses of study, for the sages would never have initiated such measures. Rather, these scholars suggest that these laws reflect the realities of Jewish warfare starting with the Hasmonean era (Mishnat Eretz Israel: Tractates Eruvin, p. 48). Even if this dating of these exemptions is correct, the texts analyzed here clearly endorse the Jewish exercise of power. Bearing in mind that the Mishnah was compiled during the early decades of the third century CE, when Jews in Syria Palaestina neither had an army nor were actively opposing Rome, the inclusion of voices that endorse Jewish military power to facilitate its war efforts in rabbinic literature is significant. Nevertheless, this mishnah speaks of this camp in the most general terms, without military references; thus, as in other cases, this source seems to avoid both explicit mention of Jewish force or warfare and hints of a possible confrontation against Rome.