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312 Devore Steinmetz cof the wheat and one third of the barley. And there are those who say: Even the dough in the hands of a woman swelled up. Te was taught: There was great wrath on that dey ~ every place that Rabbi Eliezer put his eyes was burned up. ‘And Rabban Garalel too was coming in ship; a wave stood against hima to drown btn, He sad: “Ie seems to me that this isnot on account of anything other thaa Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.” He Inowa before of father’s bouse, but for your honor, than machlogot nat proliferate in Israel.” rested from its raging. Ima Shalom the wife of Rabbi Eliezer was the sister of Rabbea Gamlicl. From that ‘event on she would not allow Rebbi Eliezer to fall on his face. That day was Ros ‘Chodesh, and she confused a fll and defective [month]. There are those wiv say: A poor person came and stood atthe gate; she brought out bread to him. She saw him that he had fallen on his aes, She said to him: “Get up — you bave killed may brother!” Meanwhile, a shofix blast wet out from the house of Rabban Gazalel that he had died, He said to her: “From where did you now?” She sai to him: “Thus Ihave recsived (mequblani) fom the house of father’s father: all gates are locked except forthe gates of wrongdoing.” (bBava Metzia 590-0)" ‘Abrnge literature has accumulated around the Bavli agada of tanur shel ‘akiinai:” and it is not my intention to review the variety of interpretations of the agada or to address the full range of questions that the agada bas raised and contiaues to raise for its readers. It should be noted, though, that most discussions of this, legal theory, and literary theory, among others.** In fact, many, if not most, treatments of the agada, both in writing and in ora/aomiltioal contexts, acrally present the agada es ending with God's laughter and declaration: “My children have de- feated me; my children have defeated me.” Such presentations generally favor jn based on the printed edition. Fora translation of ms Mich, see Rubenstein, ies, pp. 36-38; Rubenszin notes some manvseript variants on gp. 2-63, ‘ofthe sebolary literature on ‘agada, soe Rubenstein, Tamudic bel Agads," Shenaton haMishpat ‘Truth: The Interpretations of te ‘Oven Examples include J. Stone, Human Law and Human Justice (Stanfor S, Handelman, The Slayers of Moses (Alban; 1982), 9p. 0-41 ‘the Benning of R. Bliezer ben Hyrqanss: an Analysis and Proposal,” Te Jou ag Bat Sse OW (4 09), 5 el ‘God's smiling response to te sage 1988), pp. 189-190; D. Kraemer, Agada Unbound 313 ‘the sages over Rabbi Eliezer; the task of the interpreter isto identify what Rabbi ‘Eliezer bas done wrong," to explicate the meaning(s) of Rabbi Yehostua’s and ements," and to rejoice with God atthe victory of the rabbis sdb ta) sD Stem Mash and Py Easton, 196), © The Ramen, Aissenting poston; 314 DevoraSteimmets ~ who often emerge os the ideological forebears of the interpreters who have shaped them io their image. ‘More recently, there has been a growing tendency to consider the agada in its entirety, taking into account the disastrous events that result from the hurt suffered by Rabbi Eliezer. Yet looking atthe agada in its entirety has not neces- sarily yielded 2 sufficiently complex and nuanced reading, because scholars ignore or downplay the shift in characters over the course of the readers of the agada in its entirety tend to reverse the evalustion of the figures; Rabbi Eliezer now gets a sympathetic reading, and the disastrous events are read as an indictment of the sages, who, as a group, are now judged +o be blameworthy or even malevolent, A prime example of this approach is the reading of Jeffrey Rubenstein. ‘Rubenstein’s analysis ofthe agada is comprehensive and detailed: he pays fine attention to the literary features of the agada, compares ito the Yerushalmni par- allel to highlight innovations of the Bavli redactors, and attends to the contexts of the Yerushelmi and Bavli versions within their respective sugyot. My eritique of one aspect of his reading should not be taken to devalue the many ways in which he contributes to an analysis of the agada. It is the very comprehensive- ness of his analysis that makes it useful to highlight what more ean be gained by reading an agada with atention to the broader Bavli construction ofthe sages who are its main characters, Rubensicin does note the shift from Rabbi Yehosina to Rabban Game! asthe ‘main character opposing Rabbi Bliezer in the agada, and he offers both literary ‘Rabbi Yebostva’s satemeatselates tothe question of truh citer denying that thee is aszgle Sos. placed a boy btn of eapesy on eS of Rabin Gal Rabbi ‘Yehoshua and their colleagues.”=p. 278). © Telnaudic Stories, pp. 34-63 ("Torah, Shame, and “Te Oven of Akhnai’ (Bava Metsia 598-598)") Agoda Unbound 31s and source-ctitical explanations for this shift* Nevertheless, throughout his discussion of the agada, Rubenstein tends to conflate Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi ‘Yehoshua, and the tnnamed “they” who are the subject of most of the critical actions in relation to Rabbi Eliezer (“they did not acceptireesive;” “they saids” ‘ban).* Since Rubenstein assumes that the disastrous events inthe latter part of the story imply a divine judament condemning the actions of those who have th the exception of Rabbi Akiva) — Rabbi Yehoshua and the un- ‘named sages along with Rabban Gamliel. This, in turn, leads Rubenstein to an extremely negative evaluation of the actions of all of the sages, beginning with the very beginning of the agade. Rubenstein offers what I believe is the less plausible of two grammatically possible translations of the explanation of the name of the oven with which the translating the pronominal suffix of shekigiphu as “him” rather hers or tears Rabbi Yehoshoa and Ratlban Gamliel as aun. ‘For xample, Rubenstein makes refines 0 "God's punshest” (pA), “superstural ‘the pronominal suffix seems most likely to refer to what immediately precedes this statement, 316 Devore Steinner: ‘understanding is that the object of the verb is tue oven, and the plural subject of the verb would then include both the sages and Rabbi Eliezer: Rubenstein explains his understanding thus: ‘The sages ruled the segmented oven impure by surrounding Eliezer with “words like this snake," although he had brought forts every possible response, and thus che oven ‘became known as the soake-oven, The mevsphor ‘him with words” and the ‘comparison o a soake are ominous. To “surround with words” bas a negative connota- ‘on, suggesting that the sages spoke with cunning and guile. That they “surrounded kin™ ‘with their words also rings of a personal assault A snake surrounds ‘choking, and suffocating it to death: Rubenstein’s reading is supported by his “On that day Rabbi Eliezer responded wi tion of heishiv as “responded”: ses in the world, but they did not accept them from him.” This translation suggests that Rabbi Eliezer is on the defensive ~ itis the sages alone who are the generators of the overwhelming amount of “words,” to which Rabbi Eliezer is simply trying to respond.” Thus, according to Rubenstein, the sages are attacking Rabbi Eliezer, and the assault and the metaphor with which it is described hint atthe cruelty to-come. But the word heisiiv can connote both challenge and argument as well as response.* Itis preferable, as the story begin, to see te sages and Rabbi Eliezer engaged in typical rabbiaie debate, with both sides surrounding the oven with words. Rabbi Eliezer has angued bis position with “all the arguments in the world” — which might include proofs of his own position, challenges to the ‘opposing position, and also, perhaps, responses to the opposition’s challenges — but the sages have not accepted his position * It is at this point thatthe drama ‘ot that they surrounded the oven with words a 8 snake surcunds things, but rater that choy ‘surrounded the oven with words as a spake surrounds tings with words. An oxo ofthe snake Jn the garden would be an appropriate introduction to this story which, among cther ing, rds ofthe snake, the Sages do, afer ® See, for example, mYad 43 and mKer 3:9 (see following not). % “velo gibi heimena” ~The word giblu connotes aoceptance but also evokes the idea of received tradition (asin, for example, the second barita inthe bChogiga passage; mE Agoda Unbound 317 begins, with Rabbi Bliezer, his arguments exhausted, turing to different kinds of proofs that the halakha is in accordance with his position. As noted above, what leads Rubenstein to his reading of the opening lines of the agads is his assumption that the disasters of the latter part ofthe story reflect 2 divine condemnation of Rabbi Bliezer’s opponents coupled with his conflation ofthe sages, named and tunnamed, who stand in opposition to Rebbi Eliezer at different points in the story. Rubenstein notes thatthe disasters emerge in response to the ban against Rabbi Eliezer and tothe great distress that Rabbi Eliezer experiences upon learning of the ban. Whether each or any of these disasters should be understood as reflecting 2 divine judg ‘er’s opponents did the wrong thing is @ matter to which is critical to note that it is precisely when the narrati “they” and, soon after, to Rabban Gamlil igure who is blamed for the ban and who suffers the consequences of Rabbi Eliezer’s anguish. Infact, the ageda takes two steps backward at this point, first offering Rabbi Yirmiya's explanation of Rabbi Yehosbua’s statement and then describing Rabbi offering intermission before the curtains open again on the decision to ban Rabbi Eliezer and the aftermath of that decision. This disjunction, the break in the narrated action along with the shift in the central sage who stands opposite 3g o determine whether the events of the second part ofthe story it from the moves taken in the fist part. in chapter one of mAvot and in 2:8). The use of gb 5 ced wston: Tha ane ech eplon) fom te hose of 39, notes that Rabbi Yehoshua “sod on his fet” whee db declared “Tis notin heave,” an¢ Rabban Gamliel “stood oa his feet" when threatened by the wave