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More on Urinating Rabbis

Not that anyone should think that I have some fixation about urination, but my previous post on “Urinating Rabbis” is still buzzing around my head. Being that no one took up the challenge of commenting on the text that I brought from the Talmud, I had to find something to say in addition to what I already wrote. After doing a little searching, I came upon the philosophical school from antiquity the Cynics. One of their beliefs was that people shouldn’t be concerned with what others think about them. Shamelessness was elevated to a virtue. One of the followers of the Cynics was the fourth century BCE Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. Consider the following description of his behavior from the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by the biographer of Greek philosophers in antiquity Diogenes Laertius. The quotes are from this edition.

Some one took him into a magnificent house and warned him not to expectorate, (to cough or spit out phlem, MM) whereupon having cleared his throat he discharged the phlegm into the man’s face, being unable, he said, to find a meaner receptacle. (VI, 32)

When behaving indecently in the marketplace, he wished it were as easy to relieve hunger by rubbing an empty stomach.(VI, 46)

At a feast certain people kept throwing all the bones to him as they would have done to a dog. Thereupon he played a dog’s trick and drenched them. (VI, 48)

Augustine in his City of God condemned the sexual modesty of the Cynics, claiming that it was “truly canine that is to say, filthy and indecent.” On the other hand, Augustine claimed that Diogenes would have sex in public not because of some principled belief, but “because he imagined that his school of philosophy would gain more publicity if its indecency were more startlingly impressed on the memory of mankind.” (See here, 234).

While the Cynics were from the fourth century BCE, their ideas had adherents for many centuries, both in the Roman and early Christian world. Might some rabbis have been polemicizing against certain ideas about behavior and modesty in late antiquity? Menachem Luz has written about a description of a Cynic in the Jerusalem Talmud (‘A Description of the Greek Cynic in the Jerusalem Talmud’, in: Journal for the Study of Judaism xx (1989), pp. 49-54) and Cynics in the Land of Israel during the Hellenistic Period. (here)

One Response to “More on Urinating Rabbis”

  1. 1
    Harry Perkal:

    I am still trying to figure out the comment in the Shulchon Aruch that ” one should take EXTREME care not to touch his penis ( while urinating), but at the same time ” one should take care that drops ( of urine) do not fall on shoes or clothes”. I have tried doing both without any success. Has anyone been successful with these instructions? I would like to know.

    My personal opinion is that the Rabbis of the Talmud and the Shuchon Aruch should not micro manage every aspect of life. Sometimes going with the flow is best. Harry

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