Sotah, Chapter Nine, Mishnah Thirteen

 

Introduction

In yesterday’s mishnah, Rabbi Yose and Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel blamed the deterioration experienced in their generation to the destruction of the Temple.  In today’s mishnah other rabbis attribute this deterioration to a lack of the observance of certain commandments or to acts of immorality. 

 

Mishnah Thirteen

1)      Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: [the cessation of observation of the] purity laws has removed taste and fragrance, [the cessation of observation of] the tithes has removed the fatness of grain.

2)      But the Sages say: licentiousness and sorcery destroyed everything.

 

Explanation

Section one:  Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar attributes the loss of the taste of produce not directly to the destruction of the Temple, but to the cessation of the observation of the purity laws and the laws of tithing.  I believe that the difference between Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar and the opinions in the previous mishnah is significant.  In the previous mishnah, it was the loss of the Temple that caused food to lose its taste. The Temple was the meeting place of Israel and God and without it people can no longer have contact with the divine.  In contrast, Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar understands the observance of commandments as the mechanism that brings taste to one’s life.  Although certain commandments can no longer be fulfilled once the Temple has been destroyed, perhaps the “taste of life” could be restored by the observation of those commandments which we can still keep.

Section two:  In the Sages’ words we see yet another attempt to explain why food no longer has taste.  I believe that “licentiousness and sorcery” are ways of saying that human beings corrupted the natural order and committed acts of immorality.  It is not just the lack of observance of commandments, or the destruction of the Temple which brought a curse to life by ruining its “taste” but rather acts of immorality. Perhaps, again, we can imagine that by restoring morality, at least some of the “taste” could be restored as well. 

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