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Pirke Avot chapter three, verse 14: morning sleep

R. Dosa b. Harkinas said: Morning sleep and midday wine and children’s talk and sitting in the meeting houses of the ignorant people put a man out of the world.

That’s Herbert Danby’s translation, and it seems to pretty much nail it, for the English. There is a connotation that seems to be in the Hebrew, although of course I may be misreading it through my own ignorance, that the morning sleep is sleeping through shacharit, that is, through the morning service. And the meeting houses are the b’tay k’nessyot, where a bayt k’nesset is a synagogue, although (a) some manuscripts omit the b’tay, making it the meetings of the am ha-aretzes, and (2) it doesn’t seem from this as if R. Dosa means it in the sense of synagogue but in the sense of meeting house. But the point is that I think there may have been, in the original, an emphasis in the bringing together of disparate terms, or in the use of a positive thing (shacharit, bet k’nesset) in a negative context.

Anyway, to the content. Let’s take them in order.

Morning sleep is a good thing. Oh, how I love to sleep in. Mmmm, mm. Do you know the best part of sleeping in? Is when you actually do wake up at the usual time, and then realize you don’t have to get up at all, and you roll over and you fall back asleep. That’s the best. I mean, if you can fall back asleep. I’m good at that.

That said, I get what the Rabbi is on about here. The ingesleeping thing is about putting yourself out of the world, and although I do like to do that now and then (well, honestly, as often as I can), there is also putting yourself into the world, which takes precedence. And sleep in the mornings can be habit-forming.

And also, bye-the-bye, a sign of what we would now call clinical depression. Taken as a description, rather than a proscription, I think R. Dosa b. Harkinas is quite right. R. Travers Herford is down on this verse, saying it “is true so far as it goes, but it does not go very far. At least it leaves a good deal unsaid, which a wider and wiser charity would wish to say.” I disagree. That is, I think that it’s a wider saying than Mr. Herford gives it credit for, a wider and a warmer warning.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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