Mishnah Shabbat 6:1-2

Jewish men and battle attire
3d CE
Syria Palaestina
Literary genre: 
Legal text
Title of work: 
Shabbat 6:1-2

Tannaitic literature addresses halakhic subjects that are associated with weaponry and battle gear, based on the assumption that Jewish men possess such items and, therefore, related issues must be regulated, including: (1) prohibiting (or permitting) the sale of weapons to gentiles (see Tosefta Avodah Zarah 2:4); (2) determining the status of these objects with respect to ritual purity (Mishnah Kelim 11:8; Tosefta Kelim Bava Metzi‘a 3:1), and (3) wearing battle gear or carrying weapons on Shabbat when moving from a private domain (e.g., home) to a public domain during peacetime (see also Mishnah Shabbat 6:3-4). The latter topic is discussed in our passage from the Mishnah.

It is well-known that Jews used weapons and wore protective gear in armed resistance against Rome through the Bar Kokhba revolt (see, for example, Jerusalem Talmud Ta‘anit 4:6, 68d [part two]). Other rabbinic texts mention town guards, for whom weapons were a necessity (see, for example, Tosefta Sukkah 2:3). Although rabbinic literature rarely mentions it, some Jews were occasionally recruited into the Roman army (see evidence in Oppenheimer, Between Rome and Babylon, p. 183-191). These elaborate discussions of weapons and battle attire depict military force as a normative aspect of Jewish life and, therefore, merits halakhic oversight. This need is congruent with other rabbinic texts that monitor Jewish participation in warfare (see, for example, Tosefta Eruvin 2:6 and 3:5-8).

Mishnah Shabbat 6:1-2 provide a glimpse of some tannaitic attitudes regarding implements of war and associations with Roman power, and invite us to consider how this text understands Jewish masculinity. This material describes items that Jews may not bring from a private setting into the public domain during the Shabbat. 

In Chapter Six of tractate Shabbat, the Mishnah assumes that a person may go between public and private spaces with clothing, jewelry, and ornaments, namely articles that are worn or fastened in a way that prevents them from coming loose and falling (see more in Kraemer, “Adornment and Gender,” p. 220). This chapter also restricts women from going out on Shabbat with jewelry that they might be inclined to remove and show to their neighbors (cf. Tosefta Shabbat 4:11, which states that women may go out wearing any type of jewelry or ornament; takhshit). The two passages examined here distinguish between ritually pure and impure articles that belong to women and men, respectively: mishnah 1 discusses women’s ornaments and jewelry, and mishnah 2 focuses on men’s battle gear and protective garb (weapons are discussed later in this chapter, in Mishnah Shabbat 6:4). The second mishnah is directly related to our project, whereas the first one is included here to emphasize gender differences and to highlight that the objects detailed in mishnah 2 were especially, if not exclusively, associated with men (see explicit restrictions on women donning most of these items in Sifre Deuteronomy 126, Finkelstein edition, p. 258, with the exception of standard sandals and amulets, which were worn by both genders). It is noteworthy that some of these implements were associated with the Roman army, as expounded in the Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 6:2, 8a, which links the prohibition of nailed sandals (caliga, pl.caligae) to a tragic incident that resulted from the fear of Roman forces when certain Jews mistakenly attributed the sound of caligae to the presence of Roman soldiers. Let us now consider the objects that are mentioned in mishnah 2:  

Our text opens by referring to Jews who are in possession of the nailed sandals that were typically worn by Roman soldiers (see also Mishnah Betzah 1:10; Tosefta Shabbat 4:8; see also Eshel and Zissu, The Bar Kokhba Revolt, p. 41, for archaeological evidence). In Mishnah Sotah 8:1, the noise made by such sandals – as well as swords, horses, and shields – may instill panic among Israelites who are preparing for war. In that mishnah, boots are called qalgasim, following the Latin term for these shoes. According to Saul Lieberman, the sages wanted to ban nailed sandals at all times. Since Jews were prepared to receive rabbinic rulings regarding Shabbat, the sages prohibited these shoes on that day, with the understanding that, as the Jerusalem Talmud acknowledges, most people owned one pair of sandals, that they would wear on both weekdays and Shabbat; thus, if nailed sandals were prohibited on Shabbat, few had the means to purchase additional footwear. According to Lieberman, the sages chose to ban these sandals “for social or sentimental reasons” but they did not publicly articulate their motivation (Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, p. 140). In an attempt to identify alternative reasoning for this restriction, other commentators suggest (following Tosefta Shabbat 4:8) that such sandals may mark the floor, an action that is not permitted Shabbat (see other possible explanations for this restriction in Eshel, “Nailed Sandals,” p. 193). Historians and archeologists who try to integrate the material remains of such sandals from the land of Israel with rabbinic testimony have posited that a ruling against wearing these sandals on Shabbat was decreed during or immediately after the Bar Kokhba revolt (see Yadin, Judean Desert Studies, p. 173-176; Yuval Shahar, “Forbidding of the Nailed Sandal” and Eshel, “Nailed Sandals,” cf. Eshel and Zissu, The Bar Kokhba Revolt, p. 41; see more in the commentary on Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 6:2, 8a). Although the Mishnah offers no explanation for this ban, it is placed in the context of other clothing that is related to warfare. According to Shmuel and Ze’ev Safrai, this prohibition was intended for Shabbat and weekdays alike, in an effort to dissuade Jews from wearing the gear that typified Roman soldiers (Tractate Shabbat, I, p. 219). Indeed, this mishnah also bars breastplates, helmets, and greaves (along with phylacteries) on Shabbat; however, if one went out wearing one of these articles, “he is not liable [to bring] a sin-offering (ḥatat),” perhaps because this instruction represented a modification of a status quo in which such equipment belonged to an outfit that, in principle, was permitted for moving between private and public domains on Shabbat. Thus, we may conclude that this text affirms that at least some Jewish men owned such articles and that this passage solely limited their usage on Shabbat, thereby allowing them on other days.  

In addition to these military implements, our text also prohibits a single sandal, except for a man who has been wounded. Perhaps this restriction aimed to avert the case of a person who removes one sandal and carries it on Shabbat (an instruction that may have been inserted here in association with nailed sandals). The next object, the phylactery, is connected to Jewish men. Phylacteries symbolize Jewish belief in God and adherence to the Torah, based on Deuteronomy 11:18: “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead” (NRSV). By contrast with instruments of war, which were also associated with Roman men (among others), the phylactery is a unique signal of Jewish maleness. The inclusion of this distinctive Jewish symbol in this list of items that may not be worn in public on Shabbat may imply that phylacteries were a component of Jewish men’s battle attire. Furthermore, this source states that only amulets made by experts could be worn out on Shabbat (commentators have explained that their efficacy reflected the expertise of the craftsmen who created them). As Ishay Rozen-Zvi and Dror Yinon explain, parchment with biblical verses used for protection are components of phylacteries and amulets, objects that may each be carried on the body (“Male Jewels/Female Jewels,” p. 59-60).

This series lists phylacteries and amulets, framed by various types of battle gear and attire. Perhaps, by being presented together, phylacteries and amulets are indirectly considered instruments for battle, implying that war is also a religious matter. Despite the fact that these two central objects are unique to Jewish men (amulets were not particular to Jews, but theirs had Jewish features), this military attire resembles the uniform of Roman soldiers. Therefore, it appears that the items featured here in association with Jewish men – by contrast with the objects linked to Jewish women – include both aspects of power: of a physical nature and piety (i.e. based on relationships among men and with God). Rozen-Zvi and Yinon present a process through which Jewish men’s “jewelry” is transformed from weaponry to mitzvot and the objects related to them, which serve as embellishments that adorn their presence before God (“Male Jewels/Female Jewels,” p. 72). Indeed, Mishnah Shabbat 6:4 cites an argument between Rabbi Eliezer and the sages on whether weapons should be considered male ornamentation. This debate may reflect contrasting attitudes among the sages toward military power and the use of force, perhaps against Rome, for defining Jewish masculinity. Here, however, nailed sandals, breastplates, helmets, and greaves are considered as appropriate for Jewish men as phylacteries and amulets.  It therefore seems that this list reflects an ethos that the pious Jewish man was also a warrior.

Bibliographical references: 

“Adornment and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism”

Kraemer, Davidarticle-in-a-bookEnvisioning Judaism, Studies in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, Volume I Ra’anan S. Boustan, (et al.)217-234“Adornment and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism” Tübingen Mohr Siebeck2013
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