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Extracts from the Babylon Talmud
Massecheth Berachoth, or Tractate on Benedictions
Berachoth is the first Tractate of the first Seder (Seraim, which consists of eleven Tractates). It contains nine Perakim, which successively explain the duty, the exceptions, the posture, the formulas, and the controversies in regard to prayer. The Tractate exists both in the Jerusalem and in the Babylon Talmud. The great Maimonides has prefaced the Seder Seraim by a General Introduction, which presents a general view of Talmudism, and explains what is of greatest importance to the student. Nevertheless his vast learning and authority, incompleteness and inaccuracies have, however, been pointed out in his Introduction.
Mishnah--From what time is the "Shema" said in the evening? From the hour that the priests entered to eat of their therumah * until the end of the first night watch. ** These are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. But the sages say: Till midnight. Rabban Gamaliel says: Until the column of the morning (the dawn) rises. It happened, that his sons came back from a banquet. They said to him: "We have not said the 'Shema.'" He said to them, "If the column of the morning has not come up, you are bound to say it." And not only this have they said, but, wherever the sages have said "till midnight," their command applies till the morning column rises. The burning of the fat and of the members (of sacrifices) is lawful till the morning column rise; *** and so everything which is to be eaten on the same day (on which it has been offered) is allowed to be eaten till the rise of the morning column. If so, why do the sages say, "till midnight?" In order to keep a man far from transgressing.
Gemara--Fol. 3 a. To the end of the night watch.--How does Rabbi Eliezer mean this? If he means that the night has three watches, he should say till four hours; and if he means that the night has four watches, he should say till three hours. Indeed, he means that the night has three watches, but he indicates by the expression that there are night watches in heaven, as there are night watches upon earth. For we have this doctrine: Rabbi Eliezer says, There are three night watches in the night, and in every one of these night watches the Holy One, blessed be His Name, sits and roars like a lion. For it is written (Jer 25:30), "Jehovah shall roar from on high, from the habitation of His holiness shall He give out His voice; roaring shall He roar on account of His habitation." The signs of this thing are as follows: In the first night watch the ass brays, in the second the dogs bark, in the third the suckling sucks his mother, and the wife speaks to her husband. How does Rabbi Eliezer indicate them? Does he thus indicate the commencement of the night watch? The commencement of the first night watch, what need is there for a sign of it, seeing it is night? Or does he refer to the end of the night watch? For the end of the last night watch, why does he give me a sign, seeing it is day? But he indicates the end of the first night watch and the commencement of the last night watch, and the middle of the middle night watch. And if thou wilt, I will say that he refers in all to the end of the night watches. And if thou sayest, the last does not require it, what is attained by it? The reading of the "Shema" for him who sleeps in a dark house, and does not know the time for saying the "Shema" when it is, so that, when the woman speaks with her husband and the babe sucks its mother, he may rise up and say the prayer.
Rabbi Isaac, the son of Samuel, says, in the name of Rab, "The night has three watches, and in each one of these watches does the Holy One, blessed be His Name, sit and roar like a lion, and say, 'Woe to the children, because on account of their sins I have laid desolate My house, and burned My temple, and have driven them forth among the nations of the world.'" We have this doctrine: Rabbi Jose said, "On one occasion I was traveling, and I entered into one of the ruins of Jerusalem to pray. Then came Elijah--his memory be for good--and waited for me at the door till I had finished my prayer. After that I had finished my prayer, he said to me, 'Peace be to thee, Rabbi'; and I said to him, 'Peace be to thee, Rabbi, and my teacher.' And he said to me, 'My son, why didst thou enter into this ruin?' I said to him, 'In order to pray.' And he said to me, 'Thou mightest have prayed on the road.' And I said to him, 'I was afraid that those who passed on the road might perhaps interrupt me.' He said to me, 'Thou shouldest have prayed a short prayer.' In that hour I learned from him three things. I learned that one may not enter into a ruin, and I learned that one may pray on the road, and I learned that he that prays on the road should pray a short prayer. He also said to me, 'My son, what voice hast thou heard in that ruin?' And I said to him, 'I have heard the "Bath Kol," * which cooed like a dove, and said, "Woe to the children, because on account of their sins I have laid waste My House, and I have burned My Sanctuary, and I have driven them forth among the nations."' And he said to me, 'By thy life, and by the life of thy head, not only at that time did the voice say so, but every day three times does it say so; and not only this, but also at the time when Israel enter the house of prayer and the house of study, and when they say, "Blessed be His great Name"; then the Holy One, blessed be His Name, moves His head, and says, "Happy is the king whom they thus praise in His house." What remains to the father who has driven his children into captivity? and woe to the children who have been driven forth from the table of their father.'"
The Rabbis teach: On account of three things a ruin is not to be entered. On account of suspicion, * and on account of falling in (of the wall), and on account of evil spirits. On account of suspicion--does it not suffice on account of falling in? (Would that not have been alone a sufficient ground?) Fol. 3 b. Not if it is recent. ** But would it not suffice: On account of evil spirits? Not when there are two. *** If there are two, does not the ground of suspicion cease? Not if the two are impudent...
The Rabbis taught: The night has four watches. These are the words of Rabbi (Jehudah the Holy). Rabbi Nathan says: Three. What is the reason of Rabbi Nathan? Because it is written (Judg 7:19), "So Gideon came, and the hundred men that were with him, unto the outside of the camp, in the beginning of the middle watch. He taught: 'There is no middle, unless there is one before and one after it. And Rabbi, What is the meaning of the "middle?"' (He replied) 'One of the middle ones among the middle ones.' And Rabbi Nathan, 'Is it written: "The middle of the middle ones?" It is only written the middle one.'" But what ground has Rabbi? Rabbi Serika said, that Rabbi Ami said, that Rabbi Joshua, the son of Levi, said: In one place it is said (Psa 119:62), "At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee, because of Thy righteous judgments." And in another place it is said (v 148), "Mine eyes prevent the night watches." How is this? Because the night has four watches. And Rabbi Nathan? He interprets it just as Rabbi Joshua. For we have this teaching: Rabbi Joshua says, "To three hours (into the day the 'Shema' may be said); for this is the way of kings, to rise at three hours (after daybreak). Six hours of the night (from midnight to dawn are six hours) and two by day make together two night watches" (each of four hours). Rabbi Ashi says: "A night watch and a half might also be called night watches." *
Rabbi Serika also said, that Rabbi Ami said, that Rabbi Joshua, the son of Levi, said: "You must not speak before the dead anything but the words of the dead." Rabbi Aba, the son of Cahana, said: "They do not say this except in reference to the words of the law (because every one is bound to take part in such conversation); but as to ordinary conversation it does not matter." And some say, Rabbi Aba, the son of Cahana, said, "They do not say this merely concerning the words of Scripture, but much more also concerning ordinary conversation."
And David rose at midnight (as before quoted). Did he not rise in the evening? since it is written (v 147), "I prevented the gloaming, and cried." And how do we know that this gloaming was that of the evening? Because it is written (Prov 7:9): "In the gloaming, in the evening of the day, in the denseness of the night and of darkness." Rabbi Oshja said, that Rabbi Acha said, So spake David: "Never has the middle of the night passed over me in sleep." Rabbi Seira said, "To the middle of the night he was sleeping like a horse; from that time and afterwards he strengthened himself like a lion." Rabbi Ashi said, "To the middle of the night he occupied himself with the words of the law; from that and afterwards with psalms and hymns." And the gloaming is that of the evening. Is there not also a gloaming of the morning? As it is written (1 Sam 30:17): "And David smote them from the gloaming even to the evening of the next day." Is it not so, from that of the morning to that of the evening? No, from the evening again to the evening. If this were so, it would have been written, "From the gloaming to the gloaming," or else, "From the evening to the evening." Also Raba said: "There are two gloamings, the gloaming of the night, and then comes the morning, and the gloaming of the day, and then comes the night." And David, How did he know the middle of the night when it was, since Moses our teacher did not know it? For it is written (Exo 11:4), "About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt." What is it "about midnight?" If it should be said that the Holy One, blessed be His Name, said to him "about the middle"--can there be any doubting in heaven? But he said to him "at midnight." Then came he and said "about midnight" (that is, Moses said so, because he did not know exactly when midnight was). Accordingly he was in doubt; and David, should he have known? David had a sign, for Rabbi Acha, the son of Bisna, said that Rabbi Simeon, the pious, said: "A harp was hung up above the bed of David, and when the middle of the night came, the north wind arose and blew over it, and it sounded of itself. Immediately he rose up and studied in the Thorah till the morning column arose. As soon as the morning column arose, the sages of Israel went to him. They said to him: 'Our Lord, O King! thy people Israel require to be supported.' He said to them, 'Support yourselves one of the other.' They said to him, 'A handful does not satisfy a lion, and a pit is not filled with its own sand.' He said to them, 'Go and spread your hands in the army (make wars of conquest).' Immediately they took counsel with Ahithophel and thought over it in the Sanhedrim, and inquired at the Urim and Thummim." Rabbi Joseph said: "What else should this Scripture be (1 Chron 27:34): 'And after Ahithophel was Benajahu, the son of Jehoiada (the reading is here different from that of our text), and Abiathar; and the general of the king's army was Joab.' Ahithophel, he was the counsellor, and so it is said (2 Sam 16:23), 'And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God.' Benajahu, the son of Jehoiada, that is the Sanhedrim, * and Abiathar; these are the Urim and Thummim. And so it is said (2 Sam 20:23), 'And Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, was over the Cherethites, and over the Pelethites.' And why was their name called Cherethites and Pelethites? Cherethites, because they cut short their words, and Pelethites, because they were wonderful in their words. ** And after these was Joab, the general of the king." Rabbi Isaac, the son of Idi, said, "Some say, what else *** means the Scripture (Psa 57:8), 'Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will wake the morning?'" Rabbi Seria said, "Moses knew it (the midnight hour), and so also did David know it. But if David knew it, for what was the harp? To awaken him from sleep. And if Moses knew it, why did he require to say, 'about midnight?' Moses thought, perhaps, the astronomers of Pharaoh may err, and then say, 'Moses is a liar.' For the Master says, 'Teach thy tongue to say, I do not know; perhaps thou mayest be regarded as inventing, and be seized.'" Rabbi Ashi said, "It was in the middle of the night of the thirteenth, after which the fourteenth dawns"; and so Moses said to Israel, "The Holy One, blessed be His Name, says, 'To-morrow, about midnight, as now, I shall go out in the midst of Egypt.'"