Menachem Mendel

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A Man and his Goat

During a conversation with my friend Lia this afternoon, I pointed out to her an interesting story which is found in the Tosefta (BK 8:13, the Bavli (BK 80a and Temurah 15b), the Yerushalmi (Sotah 9:9, 24a), Midrash Yelamdeinu (Ginzei Schechter, vol. I, p. 46) and Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah. Below is the text from the Tosefta with the important differences from the Bavli version noted below it.

אמרו עליו על ר’ יהודה בן בבא שהיו כל מעשיו לשם שמים אלא שגידל בהמה דקה כך היה פעם אחת חלה נכנס רופא אצלו אמ’ לו אין לך רפואה אלא חלב רותח לקח לו עז וקשרה בכרעי המטה והיה יונק ממנה חלב רותח שהיה גונח פעם אחת בקשו חכמים ליכנס אצלו אמרו היאך נכנס אצלו שליסטים עמו בבית וכשמת דקדקו חכמים במעשו ולא מצאו בו אלא אותו עון אף הוא אמ’ בשעת מיתתו יודע אני שאין בידי עון אלא זה בלבד שעברתי על דברי חבירי

 

They said about R. Yehudah ben Baba that all of his actions were for the sake of heaven except that he raised a small animal [1]. So it happened that once he got sick. A doctor came to see him and said to him, “The only remedy that you have is warm milk.” He took a goat and tied it to the legs of the bed and he would suckle from it warm milk when he was coughing (or “groaning”). Once the sages wanted to visit him and they said “How can we visit him since robbers are with him in the house.” When he died the sages examined his actions and [the only thing wrong that] they found was this sin. At the time of his death he even said, “I know that I have no sin in my possession except for this alone, that I transgressed the words of my friends.”

While the stories are similar in the Tosefta and the Yerushalmi, there are a number of differences between that version and the one found in the Bavli and some of the other versions. The first difference is that in the Bavli and Yelamdeinu R. Yehudah ben Baba’s name is not mentioned, rather the story is about “חסיד אחד”, a pious person. In the Tosefta an individual doctor came to his house, while in the Bavli a number of doctors were consulted. Tying up an animal to the legs of the bed seems to have been the equivalent of putting it on a leash. [2] Another difference is that in the Bavli it seems to be, although it is somewhat ambiguous, that on account of seeing the goat, his friends then begin to examine R. Yehudah ben Baba’s deeds. The phrase “וכשמת דקדקו חכמים” (“When he died the sages…”), is absent, leading one to think of this possible interpretation. A number of interpretations have been offered for what his sin must have been, most of them centered around him transgressing a prohibition, even if it isn’t a Biblical one, of raising a small animal in the Land of Israel. [3] R. Yehudah ben Baba may have thought that for medicinal purposes it was permitted. The suckling of goats is also known from other places in Rabbinic literature. [4]

 

[1] See Mishnah BK 7:7 for this prohibition.

[2] See BK 80a, although this may have been inferred from the story itself.

[3] See Saul Lieberman’s comments in Tosefta Kefeshuta. Most of the explanations point to the damage that these animals did to the land. I think that I may have seen a recent article on the subject, if I remember where it was and I find it, I’ll see if there is anything new in it.

[4] Tosefta Shabbat 9:21-22.

5 Responses to “A Man and his Goat”

  1. 1
    Lia:

    I still don’t get it.

  2. 2
    Micah:

    Menachem, what is the meaning of, “I transgressed the words, of my friend?” By the way, thanks for keeping up on your blog! It’s fun to read.

  3. 3
    Menachem Mendel:

    The common interpretation is that he transgressed the prohibition of raising a “small animal”, בהמה דקה in the Land of Israel.

  4. 4
    Micah:

    but any particular reason this particular phrase, “the words of my friends” is used?

  5. 5
    ha-historion:

    Louis Pasteur would not have been happy….

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