Plague in the City (Bava Kamma 60b)

Peste-Cours_Belsunce

[[Michel Serre, Vue de la Cours pendant la peste de 1720]]

What to do during the time of plague?

“A person should always.” “The Sages taught.” “What is the reason?” “And if you should say.” “The sages taught.” “The sages taught.”

There’s no religious mumbo-jumbo in the Bavli. Plagues are utterly meaningless, random events. What then to do during a time of plague is something simple and relatively circumspect. This is what you need to do.

Bava Kamma 60b:

לעולם יכנס אדם בכי טוב ויצא בכי טוב שנאמר (שמות יב, כב) ואתם לא תצאו איש מפתח ביתו עד בקר

A person should always enter an unfamiliar city at a time of good, i.e., while it is light, as the Torah uses the expression “It is good” with regard to the creation of light (see Genesis 1:4). This goodness is manifest in the sense of security one feels when it is light. And likewise, when one leaves a city he should leave at a time of good, meaning after sunrise the next morning, as it is stated in the verse: “And none of you shall go out of the opening of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:22).

ת”ר דבר בעיר כנס רגליך שנאמר ואתם לא תצאו איש מפתח ביתו עד בקר ואומר (ישעיהו כו, כ) לך עמי בא בחדריך וסגור דלתיך בעדך ואומר (דברים לב, כה) מחוץ תשכל חרב ומחדרים אימה

§ The Sages taught: If there is plague in the city, gather your feet, i.e., limit the time you spend out of the house, as it is stated in the verse: “And none of you shall go out of the opening of his house until the morning.” And it says in another verse: “Come, my people, enter into your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself for a little moment, until the anger has passed by” (Isaiah 26:20). And it says: “Outside the sword will bereave, and in the chambers terror” (Deuteronomy 32:25).

מאי ואומר וכי תימא ה”מ בליליא אבל ביממא לא תא שמע לך עמי בא בחדריך וסגור דלתיך

The Gemara asks: What is the reason for citing the additional verses introduced with the term: And it says? The first verse seems sufficient to teach the principle that one should not emerge from one’s house when there is a plague. The Gemara answers: And if you would say that this matter, the first verse that states that none of you shall go out until morning, applies only at night, but in the day one may think that the principle does not apply, for this reason the Gemara teaches: Come and hear: “Come, my people, enter into your chambers, and shut your doors behind you.”

וכי תימא ה”מ [היכא] דליכא אימה מגואי אבל היכא דאיכא אימה מגואי כי נפיק יתיב ביני אינשי בצוותא בעלמא טפי מעלי ת”ש מחוץ תשכל חרב ומחדרים אימה אע”ג דמחדרים אימה מחוץ תשכל חרב

And if you would say that this matter applies only where there is no fear inside, which explains why it is preferable to remain indoors, but where there is fear inside, one might think that when he goes out and sits among people in general company it is better, therefore, the Gemara introduces the third verse and says: Come and hear: “Outside the sword will bereave, and in the chambers terror.” This means that although there is terror in the chambers, outside the sword will bereave, so it is safer to remain indoors.

רבא בעידן רתחא הוי סכר כוי דכתי’ (ירמיהו ט, כ) כי עלה מות בחלונינו

At a time when there was a plague, Rava would close the windows of his house, as it is written: “For death is come up into our windows” (Jeremiah 9:20).

ת”ר רעב בעיר פזר רגליך שנא’ (בראשית יב, י) ויהי רעב בארץ וירד אברם מצרימה [לגור] (ויגר) שם ואומר (מלכים ב ז, ד) אם אמרנו נבא העיר והרעב בעיר ומתנו שם

The Sages taught: If there is famine in the city, spread your feet, i.e., leave the city, as it is stated in the verse: “And there was a famine in the land; and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there” (Genesis 12:10). And it says: “If we say: We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there; and if we sit here, we die also, now come, and let us fall unto the host of the Arameans; if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die” (II Kings 7:4).

מאי ואומר וכי תימא ה”מ היכא דליכא ספק נפשות אבל היכא דאיכא ספק נפשות לא ת”ש (מלכים ב ז, ד) לכו ונפלה אל מחנה ארם אם יחיונו נחיה

What is the reason for citing the second verse, introduced with the term: And it says? And if you would say that this matter, the principle of leaving the city, applies only where there is no uncertainty concerning a life-threatening situation, but where there is uncertainty concerning a life-threatening situation this principle does not apply, come and hear: “Come, and let us fall unto the host of the Arameans; if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.”

ת”ר דבר בעיר אל יהלך אדם באמצע הדרך מפני שמלאך המות מהלך באמצע הדרכים דכיון דיהיבא ליה רשותא מסגי להדיא שלום בעיר אל יהלך בצדי דרכים דכיון דלית ליה רשותא מחבי חבויי ומסגי

The Sages taught: If there is a plague in the city, a person should not walk in the middle of the road, due to the fact that the Angel of Death walks in the middle of the road, as, since in Heaven they have given him permission to kill within the city, he goes openly in the middle of the road. By contrast, if there is peace and quiet in the city, do not walk on the sides of the road, as, since the Angel of Death does not have permission to kill within the city, he hides himself and walks on the side of the road.

ת”ר דבר בעיר אל יכנס אדם יחיד לבית הכנסת שמלאך המות מפקיד שם כליו וה”מ היכא דלא קרו ביה דרדקי ולא מצלו ביה עשרה

The Sages taught: If there is a plague in the city, a person should not enter the synagogue alone, as the Angel of Death leaves his utensils there, and for this reason it is a dangerous place. And this matter, the danger in the synagogue, applies only when there are no children learning in the synagogue, and there are not ten men praying in it. But if there are children learning or ten men praying there, it is not a dangerous place.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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2 Responses to Plague in the City (Bava Kamma 60b)

  1. dmf says:

    yikes

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