“A Stone’s Throw From Jerusalem”: The Curious Habit of Throwing Rocks on Shabbat

25 09 2006

Every now and then you hear another story about some crazy idiot on Bar Ilan St, throwing rocks at passing motorists and yelling, “Shabbos!” I’ve seen these people yelling (because, obviously, the driver is simply unaware of the gravity of their inexcusable sin), but have fortunately never witnessed the throwing of rocks – some of which have caused serious injury and even death.

What can their excuse possibly be? A story is told of a Rabbi who emigrated to America from Poland along with all of his disciples. One Shabbat morning, while walking to shul, he saw a Jewish man mowing his lawn. Immediately, the Rabbi burst into tears. When his disciples wanted to know why he was crying he told them that this was the first time he had ever seen a Jew break Shabbat. The following week, however, he saw the same man doing the same thing on the same day and again he burst into tears. When his disciples wanted to know why he was crying this time he told them, “Already I am becoming used to it.”

It’s an interesting story, and very serious for many people. I was told once, by some bokhurim on Bar Ilan, that when they say “Shabbos!” they are seeking to remind themselves, lest they should ever forget. Interesting. That might account for those who mutter it under their breath, but it certainly doesn’t account for those who scream furiously at the passing cars, eyes wide and mouth foaming. And nothing excuses the throwing of a rock.

Again, why do they do it? A rock, after all, is muqtzeh, meaning that it cannot be picked up on Shabbat anyway. That would mean that the rock had to have been put aside before Shabbat with the intention of being used in this manner. Is that really what people do? I doubt it. It’s more likely that they see this as more important than a simple law of “מוקצה מחמת גופו” (the specific category of muqtzeh into which a rock falls).

Perhaps there is permission to throw rocks on Shabbat, granted by some Rabbi in Bnei Brak. I was thinking about where such proof could come from, and I think I’ve found the answer! [WARNING: The following is not meant to be taken seriously. Really.]

In Mishna Sukkah (4:9) a story is told of a Sadducee who did not comply with Rabbinic law. The law in question related to the pouring of water on the altar during Sukkot, but this Sadducee poured it on his legs instead (thus serving as the origin of the stipulation that the priest must pour the water in full view of the congregation). The outcome? All of the people standing around picked up their etrogim and threw them at the Sadducee, stoning him to death.

This story is also related in the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 48b-49a), but the Talmud’s version of the story is typeset slightly differently, running Mishnayot 4:9 and 4:10 together into one. As Mishna 4:10 commences with the words, “כמעשהו בחל כך מעשהו בשבת” (‘as it was done during the week, so was it done on Shabbat’), this could also be taken to refer to the stoning of the Sadducee. Such an understanding relies on taking the clause completely out of context, but this is not unheard of within the Rabbinic system of exegesis.

What is more, Rashi comments on the clause in a very strange way, indicating the existence of alternative 12/13th century Talmudic manuscripts. In his words, the congregation witnessed the Sadducee pouring the water on his legs, picked up stones and proceeded to throw them at him…

Permission granted?

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