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Pirke Avot chapter three, verse 14: meeting houses of the ignorant

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.

One of the things that makes this set of four things a thematic whole, rather than simply four disparate things, is this sense that they are good things in the wrong way. Sleep at night, not in the morning; drink wine in the evening, not at midday; converse with adults, not children; and sit in the meeting houses of the wise, not the ignorant. While the phrase is couched in its negative aspect, it isn’t telling people not to sleep, drink, talk or congregate. It implies that we should be doing all those things, but doing them right. What the self-help books would call doing them mindfully.

On the other hand, it is an odd collection of things. And why four? Why not three? I don’t get a sense from the Hebrew that there were originally three and the fourth was added later, which sometimes happens with these. And if four, why not five? I mean, why not add something like dressing like a fop or hunting for pleasure or cooking with peppers? I want these to be triples, because I like triples, and also in this case because if you take out the one about my kids, I can agree with it. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on.

I should say that it’s possible that R. Dosa b. Harkinas really does mean the synagogues of the am ha’aretz. It would make some sense in the context. In fact, that could be the whole point of the thing, making it really a triple: morning sleep, midday wine and children’s talk are like a Reform Shul, they put a person out of the world. Except that of course it’s not a reform shul, which has its own well-thought out traditions, and knowledgeable rabbis and lay leaders, but a shul of ignorant people, who muddle along without leadership or knowledge. Four hours ago, I rejected that interpretation, but now I’m coming around to it.

On the other hand, maybe the sage is actually warning against a K’nesset of amoretzes, a Parliament of Fools. Not likely, but possible.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,