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Jun 14, 2011

Amoraim Discuss Weather and Fringes

Disclaimer: None of this is actually taken from Mishnaic, Amoraic or Halachic sources. It is written by myself for the exercise and humor. Enjoy!

MISHNAH: In hot weather, one is not required to wear four-cornered woolen garments with fringes. However, in cold weather it is required. Rabbi Zeirah said, when is this true? When wearing the garment may cause harm.

The Gemara now discusses the weather:
GEMARA: What is hot weather? The Gemara quotes a Braita to answer the question: It was taught: What is hot weather? Beit Shamai say, when the cattle seek shade inside the barn rather than graze in the field. Beit Hillel say, when people search for shade at the park. Rabbi Akiva said it is all based on how it feels to a person, for there can be a winter cold that feels warm enough to visit the beach and a summer heat that seems cool enough to play outside. How is this the case? A winter with wind is bitter cold, while a winter without wind is fit for the beach. A summer with humidity causes frizziness of the hair, whereas a summer without humidity is fit for making sand-castles at the beach instead of running indoors for air-conditioning.

Having established the parameters of weather, the Gemara moves onto the next topic:
Rav Pappa asked, if one is not required to wear four cornered woolen garments with fringes in hot weather, does this permit wearing four-cornered woolen garments without fringes in hot weather? They kicked him out of the Beit Midrash for implying that ever wearing a four cornered garment without fringes is allowed during the day at any temperature.

The Gemara now defines the concept of “harm” regarding fringed garments:
What is harm? The gemara quotes another Braita: It was taught: Rabbi Zeirah expounded: harm is categorized as great discomfort, excessive sweating that may lead to dehydration or reduced mobility. Rav Pappa asked on Rabbi Zeirah: But don’t all four-cornered garments lead to reduced mobility regardless of the weather? Only when they are tucked in, but when they are un-tucked, it has no effect on mobility. Rav Pappa further questioned: but then what is the difference between wool and other materials? I.e. what is unique about wool over other fabrics? Rabbi Zeirah answered: The companies of the four-cornered garment industry do not make mesh four-cornered garments with wool. They are always made with cotton and other breathable materials; thus, since they do not make more breathable garments out of wool, in hot weather all woolen garments would cause great discomfort and excessive sweating.
The Gemara analyzes the conclusions of the Braita:
This makes sense according to those who say the issue is one of excessive sweating, since woolen garments will cause excessive sweating but for those who say the issue is reduced mobility, what is there to say? Rabbi Tarfon answered: "Mesh garments allow for more mobility than non-mesh garments." But is this true? Do mesh garments truly allow for more mobility than non-mesh garments? It is a difficulty. Since nobody in the Beit Midrash actually owned or would wear mesh garments with fringes, they had no idea.

The Gemara cites a source for its permissiveness regarding the matter:
How do we know this is true? For the Torah wrote: “And thou shalt live by them” –to live and not to die or suffer so much that one wishes to die or expects to die (Tosafot). Alternatively, not to die means causing harm that may potentially lead to death, and dehydration may cause death (Rashi).

The Gemara cites one final concern:
But what about frum communities that have a minhag to tuck in their shirts for Shabbat and Yom Tov as well as all other occasions?* B’nei Torah sit inside learning, and have no need for the mobility. What about Shabbat walks that men take with their wives? In the summer, it is hot so they are not required to wear fringes, and the winter is short, i.e. Shabbat and Yom Tov are “short days” and there is practically no time to take a walk with their wives anyways. Alternatively, in the summer they stay inside to spend time together thus having no need for mobility.  What about single men? It is a great difficulty. The Gemara could not answer every situation that single men would need the mobility, so they gave up here. Alternatively, the entire question of singlehood –not just that of men -is such a great difficulty the Gemara dare not open the topic, for the ensuing issues and questions would spill out and each would have to be considered, explored and discussed fully. Given the greater task of expounding the Torah, the Gemara chose to leave this issue untouched.  

*The issue of sports, while important, does not enter here due to the nature of the discussion on weather and fringes. Commentators address the issue, as Rabbi Akiva's interpretation may lead indoor or outdoor sports to fall under the definitions of harm depending on the environment within the arena and the intensity of sport-playing. Others examine the issue of mobility specifically regarding sports, though such opinions tend to fall out of the mainstream Yeshivish circles.

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