One method in psychological counseling (don’t ask- information from a previous life) is to pay really close attention to the direction of the conversation. Of course you hope your psychologist is listening to what you say, but sometimes the twists and turns of the topic itself is a telling indication of a client’s feelings. What do they avoid talking about, how do they distract the therapist from following a line of questioning, when do they change the subject sometimes so subtly that a fledgling therapist might never notice the intense avoidance under the cover.

The Talmud, though it didn’t happen in real time, is sort of like a recorded conversation. On daf 3b-4a there is a discussion of various kinds of unfortunate situations that may force one to change the planned wedding date. One painful occurrence is if the father of the groom or mother of the bride passes away on Monday, and the wedding is planned for a Wed; the bride and groom get married and are sent into Yichud (to have sex) before the funeral, then they have the burial, 7 days of shevah brachot and wedding feasting, and then 7 days of mourning. The idea behind the strange order of events is that they don’t want to push off the wedding because the very parent who passed away put a lot of effort into the wedding, and if it were to be pushed off no one would be around to finance and organize another wedding. On the other hand once they bury the parent the laws of mourning kick in and it would be inappropriate to hold the wedding. So the wedding is quickly held before the funeral.

Interestingly after this shockingly sad and psychologically uncomfortable mix of emotions the gemarah seems to take a detour from the main issue at hand (which was what day one should get married and under what circumstances can you change the date.) The gemarah goes into painstaking details of whether one could sell a half cooked meal and save the money from this aborted wedding for another time. They discuss the different stages of preparing a wedding feast and the different economic climates of different cities. The escape into the minutia of what kind of meat can be sold in what size city, seems to me to be a defense against the very painful material at hand.

I’d like to suggest that the detour doesn’t display the gemarah’s insensitivity to the emotional situation it just set up- rather the defense mechanism could be a hidden signal that the writers of the Talmud were quite saddened and in touch with these feelings. However, just as someone recently bereaved may loose themselves in the details of planning a funeral, the shiva, the kaddish, the gemarah finds a literary escape from the weight of such situations.

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