As a practical matter, most of the etrogim I've handled are too big for me to hold in alone one hand. I can't imagine holding two modern etrogim in one hand. Granted that the rabbis are talking about men (if I recall correctly, women aren't obligated in this), but even so, some men -- and 13-year-old boys for that matter -- have small hands. It appears anecdotally that R. Yose won this one in the end. (And I understand that modern ones are cultivated to be large because big = better in some eyes.)
The mishna teaches: those who are engaged in a religious errand are exempt from the obligation of the sukkah. Invalids and their attendants are free from the obligation of sukkah. And casual eating and drinking (but not a set meal) are permitted outside the sukkah. The g'mara discusses the first case here and draws support from the Sh'ma: "when you sit in your house" excludes one who is occupied with a religious duty (and therefore not sitting in his house). However, the rabbis clarify that this applies only to one who is busy with a religious matter, and doesn't apply to someone who is out and about for secular reasons -- that man is still obligated in the sukkah. (There is an explanation, and if I read it a few more times perhaps I will understand it.) (25a)
It's not stated here, but I assume that the rabbis are connecting "when you sit in your house" with the commandment to sit in the sukkah, which acts as a temporary dwelling. I assume -- but the g'mara does not say -- that the exemption only applies for the amount of time it takes you to perform the religious errand. And I suspect the actual halacha is more complicated in any case.
There is a principle, I believe from the talmud, that you do not interrupt one mitzvah in order to do another. (And I suspect that is more complicated too; I would expect "need to do it right now" mitzvot and time-optional ones to be different, but I don't know.) The g'mara doesn't bring up that principle here, at least so far. That surprised me.
Note that we're talking here about building alongside things that have overhangs or other horizontal extensions. This is different from building under an overhang or a tree, which I understand to always be invalid (like the "tent" problem in the canopied bed that I talked about last week). I have to take this problem into account when setting up my sukkah on the patio next to the garage (which has such overhangs).
However, note that this isn't the current practice, at least as it has been taught to me: you can't have a barrier between the roof of the sukkah, which must be made of things that once grew from the ground (wood, bamboo, evergreen cuttings, etc) and you -- no tents, sheets, umbrellas, tarps, etc. So this is what the g'mara says here, but (a) it may say other things elsewhere and (b) the g'mara isn't necessarily the last word on anything.
The Master said: a sukkah is free from the obligations of placing a mezuzah at the entrance and of building a parapet around the roof, and it also can't become ritually impure (tzara'at). A sukkah is also not irredeemable among the houses of a walled city, nor does one return on its account from an army about to go to war. Why these particular exemptions? Because the term "house" is used in the torah passages that talk about these things (mezuzah, parapet, etc), and a sukkah is not a house. (3b)
I was taught a different reason for not placing a mezuzah on a sukkah: we don't place one on a temporary dwelling, where "temporary" means less than 30 days. That rule is why, at Pennsic (an annual SCA camping event), my little house has a mezuzah case (because my persona, who I'm supposed to "be" at Pennsic, lives there full-time), but the case is empty (because I live there for less than two weeks a year). I've been accused of being overly precise in this aspect of my re-enactment, in case you're wondering. :-)
To people who are interested in it at all, religion is generally an important and deeply personal subject. If not handled well, it can also be extremely polarizing -- wars, pogroms, and jihads have been conducted over religion, to say nothing of people merely getting beat up. Some perceive a critical duty to convert or "save" others, and setting aside that duty would be wrong. And it seems that everybody has an opinion about those heretics over there who are destroying the world. How do you bring people together under these circumstances? How do you have a civil conversation that sheds more light than heat? It's tempting to say that this is fundamentally impossible, except that, as I said, I've seen it work sometimes.
First, of course, everybody needs to actually be there for the purpose of learning and sharing. If people are there primarily to preach, then just give up -- you cannot have a dialogue under those conditions. (In my experience, this is particularly a problem with evangelical Christians, but certainly not only them.) But even if everybody has the right intentions, there are pitfalls. And that's what I'm going to talk about in this entry -- presuming that people have good intentions, what else can go wrong?
I see two critical elements beyond the right intentions: the language people use, and how these conversations are moderated.
On the job front there have been ups and downs but the year ended on an up. After thrashing about earlier in the year, being moved from one short-term or ill-defined task to another while people juggled charge codes and contracts, I finally got to settle into something (a) interesting and (b) that takes advantage of my particular specialty, and I rocked. I got a new manager mid-year (my first remote one, too; he's in AZ), which always carries some uncertainty, but he and I really click. He specifically appreciates what I do and wants to help me find more opportunities to do it. Excellent!
The cats have settled in well. I was only without cats for about 4.5 months, but they felt really empty. I mean, Dani's and my relationship is strong (no worries there!), but there was still something missing. That Erik, Embla, and Baldur all died within a span of 10 months (and the last on the day I returned from a frustrating trip to Israel) may have had something to do with that.
I continue to really enjoy my job as a moderator on Mi Yodeya, and last winter I was also appointed as a moderator on Writers (both Stack Exchange sites). On both sites I get to work with great teams on interesting content. I'm still trying to figure out how to increase the tech-writing content on Writers. I need to ask and perhaps self-answer some questions to nudge things along, I suspect.
2013 was a terrible year on another Stack Exchange site. What was supposed to be an academic-style biblical-studies site turned into a cesspool of Christian dogma. I know it's possible for people of different religions to have civilized, respectful discussions about the bible (and other religious matters); I've seen it. (I have thoughts on what makes it work when it works, but I'll save that for another time.) This site was supposed to be non-religious (though obviously most of its members are religious), like a secular university. But it didn't work out that way, and the evangelical moderators (there's no diversity on that team) either can't see or don't care about the damage being done. Everything I did to try to help get things back on course was thrown in my face -- with personal attacks, offensive (usually anti-Jewish) posts, and assorted misrepresentation. So I'm done with that; I have better things to do with my energy. There are a few good people there who are trying to turn some things around; I wish them much luck, but personally, I'm done.
I've had ups and downs religiously and congregationally. My rabbi is fantastic and I like my congregation, but there have been changes in how we approach services, and too many weeks I just don't go on Friday night because they're doing something kid-oriented or entitled (sisterhood service, Reform-style bar mitzvah, etc), and that's frustrating. The Shabbat morning minyan continues to be excellent and the spiritual high point of my week, so that's all good. I'm just trying to figure out Friday nights, and some of it is bound up in questions about whether the Reform movement is right for me at all (except I have this fantastic rabbi and he's worth staying for). It's just that sometimes, being rather more observant than those around me and caring about the halachic and other details that most shrug off, I feel like a mutant.
This year was the last Darkover Con, so On the Mark re-assembled to do a concert. That was fun, and it was nice to see friends I haven't seen in a while at the con.
I'm sure there's more, but this is what I've got right now. Happy 2014 all!