The Writing on the Wall
The Gemara here discusses the Mishnah about not reading from a written guest list or menu on Shabbat. Is the concern that you might come to erase something from the list, or that it might lead you to reading material that is inappropiate for Shabbat? In this context, the Gemara discusses a case where the list is written on a wall, and how high the wall is, i.e., whether it will be difficult to erase.
Those of us who regularly write out Shabbat menus and guest lists may find this Gemara somewhat strange to say the least. In what civilized home would you write your lists directly on the wall? In this situation, it is helpful to compare our case to one of the few places in the ancient world where the walls and everything on them survived completely intact:
. The volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii Pompeiiin the year 79 CE preserved the city and all its contents, including those people unlucky enough to not escape in time. As such, Pompeiiis a rare “time capsule.” One of the things discovered in Pompeii is that people of all classes wrote all over the walls.
Grafitti was a common practice in the ancient world. It has been found from
Israel to Egypt, from Athensto Rome. A recent book about it quotes a graffito from Pompeii attesting to its prevalence: “I’m amazed, O wall, that you have not fallen in ruins, you who support the tediousness of so many writers.” ( http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Reading-the-Writing-on-Pompeiis-Walls.html#ixzz2MYY2yWN6 )
The graffiti range from those unprintable in a family blog to juicy bits of gossip, love poetry and public service announcements. They provide a fascinating window into the everyday life of the ancient world. Now if only we could find Rebbe’s maid’s menu from a typical Shabbat!