Myth Information 3: Half Baked Arguments

Join Joe, Sam, and Kaden as they discuss the Jewish story of The Oven of the Coiled Snake


  1. Hi. Love the show, it’s a lot of fun.
    Unfortunately, this episode contained a few misconceptions regarding the story
    of תנורו של עכנאי and the surrounding debate. Warning: Wall of text ahead!

    I haven’t addressed some points, specifically the comparison to Greek mythology
    and the question of respect, since I’m not certain as to what Judaism has to say
    there. There’s stuff to be said there, I’m just not sure what.

    To set the record straight and add some points of clarification
    (for reference, the case is brought in Tractate Bava Metziah, page 59, folio 2):
    * The Talmud itself debates what the title of the story – which literaly
    translates to “The Serpent’s Oven” – refers to.
    The reference is either to the fact that the oven was segmented (more on this
    later) or as Joe said, to the fact that the Sages surrounded R’ Eliezer with
    questions like a constrictor.
    * The Talmud also points out that R’ Eliezer had a response to all the arguments
    the Sages gave against him on that day. It’s just that their case was equally
    solid, and they had the majority. Indeed, we have principles that a consensus
    of Sages is preferable to a single Sage is preferable to a prophet (or in this
    case, God speaking up for themself) when it comes to deciding law.
    (Permanent law, that is. When it comes to temporary suspensions of law,
    prophets have the authority to disregard laws where it serves the Greater
    * The question referenced regards a clay oven that was broken, then glued back
    together. Is it considered to be an intact tool, or do we consider the glue
    to be separate from the shards (and thus the oven is just a bunch of shards)?
    The significance of the question is that Halacha recognizes a state of ritual
    impurity[1] (טומאה) which is relevant in our case because when it comes to
    clay tools, only intact tools are considered capable of holding impurity.
    (so the question is phrased in terms of whether the oven is capable of holding

    In contrast, Joe and Sam were referring to כשרות, which as they correctly
    pointed out refers to Jewish dietary restrictions. In particular, they were
    referencing the prohibition of mixing meat and milk; regarding which Halacha
    has a theory of taste transfer, which in particular holds that when heated
    contact occurs between foods and metals, the flavors of one will pass to the
    other. One way of removing the taste is by heating the metal to cooking
    * Abraham is not the only one arguing with God. Moses’s entire career is based
    on arguing with God – for one thing, it takes God a week of nagging him,
    losing his patience and just ordering him point-blank for him to go.
    And even then, after his first attempt yields short-term failure, he goes on
    and tells God his plan is shit.
    * Not only do Jews argue with God, but the entire premise of Jews as a people is
    them making a contract with God (which works out slightly better than in PMMM)
    and then living with the consequences.

    However, I disagree that Judaism is anti-authoritarian.
    While it is democratic to the extent that no individual really has authority
    over you, to a large extent there are parts of Judaism which say
    “Do this because I, as God, tell you so”.
    * Couldn’t find Sam’s story about Jacob getting into גן עדן (paradise) and
    saying it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. As far as I’m aware, all
    Jacob’s Ladder is is an element of a dream – to which various interpretations
    have been ascribed, such as e.g. the ups and downs of fate.

    However, the sentiment expressed is reflected in the Talmudic adage
    (Avot chapter 4, mishna 17)
    “An hour of penitence and good deeds in this world is worth more than the
    entirety of the World to Come.”
    To be fair, it does end “And an hour of peace in the World to Come is worth
    more than the entirety of this world.”

    Other stories exist regarding people going there and their reports.
    For example, Joseph son of R’ Yehoshua reported (Bava Batra, page 10, folio 2)
    seeing social rank reversed, with his father remarking that it’s down here
    that they are reversed, and up there that they are correct.
    * Another way in which Judaism gives Jews power over God is that the calendar –
    and therefore the holidays – is determined by court getting testimonies of a
    crescent moon being seen and declaring the start of a month, not astronomical
    predictions. Nature is still relevant to verify that the testimonies aren’t
    fabricated, but it isn’t the arbiter.
    * BTW, re: Abraham’s haggle with God – he talks God down to just needing ten
    good men in Sodom. Which is significant because that’s the minimal size of a
    quorum for communal matters.[5] Haven’t seen that Lot didn’t lock doors due to
    being respected – indeed, he had to bar the door to avoid a mob lynching the
    angels that had come to warn him that Sodom was going to be destroyed.
    * Re: “Don’t be a dick” – when asked to summarize Judaism, Hillel responded
    “Think of what you don’t like done to you. Don’t do that to others.
    The rest is just commentary – go and learn it.”
    * Moses appears in all books of the Pentateuch bar the first.
    Deuteronomy is just his farewell speech.
    * There’s about 1000 years of story covered after the Pentateuch. It’s not all
    just “parables and law”. Bible after Genesis *is* Exodus+the desert+law.
    * The Tabernacle is called the משכן (literally, the dwelling-place).
    The two words Sam brought up – כותל and ארון הברית – are the Western Wall and
    the Ark of the Covenant, respectively. And whatever else it is, it is *not*
    Game of Thrones-style. Maybe more Tolkienesque or like Victor Hugo in that
    it’s chapters and chapters of detailed architectural descriptions.
    * Re: the Holocaust… Won’t get into it, but to a certain extent Judaism
    recognizes that in order for there to be free will, God basically says
    “OK, here’s the world. Don’t fuck it up. I won’t stop you if you do.”
    I don’t believe that in this case, God would say “I fucked up”.
    And I especially don’t buy Sam’s argument that God is flawed
    since humans are, and we’re created in God’s image.
    * BTW, we don’t accept converts with open arms.
    We double- and triple-check them to make sure they know what they’re getting
    themselves into, as we don’t believe most people are crazy enough to stick to
    this life.
    * Regarding starting wars, we at least did so in Biblical times.
    The initial conquest of Israel took seven years, and there’s an ongoing divine
    vendetta against the Amalekite people (which is irrelevant nowadays due to our
    incapability of identifying such people).

    By the way, context for the story: The Talmud is talking about emotional injury,
    and how despite not being able to sue for emotional damages, it still being a
    dick move to inflict.[2]
    The story is relevant to that discussion (and is brought to teach the severity
    of emotional injury) due to its tragic epilogue.

    Having decided the law against R’ Eliezer, the Sages took all the items which he
    claimed were pure according to his ruling, and burned them in front of him (as
    you do to impure items). R’ Eliezer maintained his minority position despite
    this[3]. Seeing this, the Sages decided to לנדה (doesn’t have an accurate
    translation, means something like “distance him from people”) him.
    Worried that a lesser messenger would provoke R’ Eliezer to destroy the world
    out of trauma[4], R’ Akiva volunteered to break the news.
    Even so, R’ Eliezer’s grief caused olive, grain and barley production worldwide
    to diminish by a third, and his gaze would burn whatever his eyes fell upon.

    R’ Gamli’el, head of the Sages at the time, was sailing, when a storm suddenly
    burst out. Assuming this was due to R’ Eliezer, he points out to God
    “Dude, I had to stop the fighting. No ego or family honor was involved in making
    this decision.” God buys this, and the storm dies down.
    However, R’ Gamliel being R’ Eliezer’s brother-in-law, R’ Eliezer’s wife would
    ensure he never reached the תחנון (supplication) part of the prayer – fearing
    that out of anger on R’ Eliezer’s behalf, God would kill her brother.
    Stories vary as to what happened – a calendar error or a beggar distracting her
    just at the right time – but returning to the room, she finds R’ Eliezer
    finishing that part of the prayer.
    She tells him “Well now you’ve done it. You’ve killed my brother. Happy?”.
    “How do you know he’s dead?”
    “In my father’s house, we have a tradition. Heaven’s gates are always open to
    those who’ve been screwed over.”
    (She was right)

    [1] – This concept has less bearing nowadays, as it mostly applies to the Temple
    and the sacrifices, and the main method of purification is unavailable to
    us at the moment. However, one law which is still applicable is that
    Kohanim (members of the Priestly Caste) are forbidden from contracting
    impurity from a corpse (with a handful of exceptions when it comes to
    immediate family). In particular, hospitals in Israel notify visitors when
    there’s a corpse in the building to avoid this.
    [2] – Among the examples of such injuries, the Talmud lists (in order):
    discussing prices of items you’re not interested in buying with the
    salesperson, reminding a repenter of his sins, reminding a convert of his
    ancestors’ sins. I don’t know what the first has to do with the latter.
    [3] – Luckily for him, this was after the Sanhedrin (Great Court) was stripped
    of its power to administer capital punishments (being under Roman rule),
    because otherwise he could have been sentenced to death by choking for
    teaching law contrary to established consensus (זקן ממרא).
    [4] – No, I don’t know how they thought he’d do that. Via Heavenly connections,
    or Heaven interceding on his behalf without him consciously expressing the
    [5] – Besides the Biblical canon, Talmud and Talmudic-era writings bring in quite
    a bit of EU material regarding the Bible.
    For example, when the brothers sell Joseph, they make a pact not to tell
    anybody what’s happened. Except only nine brothers are present – not a
    quorum. So they rope God into the pact, which conveniently explains why
    Jacob never found out via prophecy. (An alternative explanation is that
    one cannot prophecy out of grief, and canon has it Jacob was grieving for
    Joseph for the entire 22 years they were separated)

    1. Gesh – thank you very much for all of this. Wall of Text very VERY much appreciated!

      I don’t really have much else to add. If the episode itself wasn’t evidence enough, I know next to nothing about Judaism and I’m coming from a very different background discussing the stories we brought up on this episode. Thank you for the context and for the in depth correction and education here. We’ve got at least one more Jewish episode in the release buffer so far and I’m looking forward to your input on that one.

      (And, of course, I’d wholly welcome you submitting an audition for the show if it tickles your fancy.)


      1. My abilities in English are insufficient to describe the squee I
        let out on that last line. I would love to audition for the show,
        time constraints allowing (email me with requirements if interested).

        As always, the episodes are great, and I look forward to them.
        Can’t wait to see what other Jewish story you’re bringing in.

        Keep moving forward,

          1. My brother is getting married, so I probably won’t be able
            to audition before the summer. Will try out then, though.
            Looking forward!

  2. By the way, any reason why this show doesn’t appear in the sidebar?
    Had to figure out the feed URL by comparing to the other ones,
    but I don’t think the average listener is going to do that.

    1. Short answer: still working on getting Myth Information on iTunes et al so those links wouldn’t do a whole lot. It is in process though and thank you for listening!

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