Pesaq Without Resolution

In “Invoking Tradition” I suggested that the amora’im of the Yerushalmi would not add their own interpretations to the words of the tana’im. The traditions must be preserved in their integrity. (And in “On Nets and Pieces” I added that instead the Israeli amora’im saw their job as finding patterns that allow them to apply the quotes to other topics and situations.) Because they would not elaborate the original quote, there are many questions in the Yerushalmi left unanswered. Situations on the borderline between two received rulings would simply be left unresolved, the discussion closed with a question and the gemara moves on to the next topic.

A recent gemara is a case in point. Challah 2:3, Vilna 14b (daf yomi for last Sunday). First, this is actually the second time we encountered this discussion. (I lost the citation and gave up on finding it before publishing “Invoking Tradition”. The Penei Moshe points out that the discussion is of a Tosefta in Terumos ch. 3, and the entire section at the end of Challah ch. 2 appears in the Yerushalmi in Terumos 2:1 (10a-b). “Vehasam hu deshaicha, vehacha agav gereirah – it is over there that it belongs, and appears here only because it was dragged in” with the previous line which was needed. As we saw, this is part of the Yerushalmi’s preservation of tradition — rather than tamper with a quote, it is often given in context of any discussion it appeared within.

Now for the gemara itself. The case would take some background, and it’s actually not relevant to the abstract point I’m trying to make about pesaq in general. Let’s just take it for granted that there is a dispute between Rabbi Liezer [Rav Eliezer, as the Bavli would call him], and a group of anonymous rabbis.

רבי טבי רבי יאשיה בשם רבי ינאי הלכה כר’ <לעזר> [ליעזר].  רבי יצחק בר נחמן בשם רבי הושעיה [הלכה] כר’ ליעזר.  רבי הונא בשם רבי חנינא אין הלכה כר’ ליעזר.  רבי יוסי בי ר’ בון רב יהודה בשם שמואל אין הלכה כר’ ליעזר.  אתא עובדא קומיה ולא הורי אמר תרתיי כל קבל תרי אינון.  אמר ליה והא רבי יצחק בר נחמן <מודי> [מורי].  אפילו כן לא הורי:

Rabbi Tavi, Rabbi Yoshiah [both said] in the name of Rabbi Yanai: The halakhah is like Rabbi Liezer.
Rabbi Yitzchaq bar Nachman in the name of R’ Hoshaiah: The halakhah is like Rabbi Liezer.
Rabbi Huna in the name of Rabbi Chanina: The halakhah is not like Rabbi Liezer.
Rabbi Yosi bei Rabbi Bun [i.e. Rav Yosi of the house of Rav Avin]  in the name of Shemu’el: The halakhah is not like Rabbi Liezer.
A case came before him, and he did not rule. He said: Both had an accepted [ruling] by two [rabbis].

Pausing here for a moment, it seems clear that because they lacked a way to clarify this halakhah, the amora’im treated the halakhah as one of doubt. Since there is testimony on both sides, there was no way to resolve the doubt. Continuing…

They said to him: But Rabbi Yitzchaq bar Nachman agrees [with those who say to rule like Rabbi Eliezer.
Even so he would not make a ruling.

Why not? Now he has a majority — 3 against 2 in favor of Rabbi Liezer’s ruling!

I think this illustrates how closely the Yerushalmi follows the laws of doubt resolution.

There is a rule in testimony that “terei kemei’ah” — a set of two witnesses have the same credibility in court as a set of 100. And if two testify for one party while 100 testify for the other, the two sides are equal. When it comes to cases that were under testimony, majority does not apply. (For a suggested logic behind that rule, see this entry.)

Here it is a dispute between people relaying testimony about the halakhah, and it would seem the gemara is invoking a parallel rule.

Halachic decisionmaking in the face of a question where you lack the tools to rule truly is handled as a case of doubt.

The open question is whether we today lack the confidence to give definitive rulings in situations where we do have the tools, and therefore treat cases as though there is doubt when that is not appropriate.

An example: There is a range of rulings on the proper length of an ammah. Is it more appropriate to use R’ Chaim Naeh’s smaller sized ammah when dealing with a minimum size to fulfill a rabbinic obligation and the Chazon Ish’s large ammah when looking to fulfill a Torahitic one? Or is it more appropriate to find a particular definition of ammah and use that consistently?

This question has to be asked case-wize. Before thinking of this doubt-resolution approach to halakhah, have we really exhausted our toolset for finding a specific ruling to follow?

When Science and Torah Conflict

(Initial post: With thanks to R’ Eli Turkel for providing some of the sources and all of the motivation for this post.

(Dec 21st: Significantly expanded to include sources I dug up for further discussion with R’ Zvi Lampel, who I thank as well.)

Obviously (I hope), the scenario described in the subject line of this post can’t happen. There is only one truth — even if we might have conflicting experiences within it — and thus science and Torah can’t conflict. E.g. Rabbi Yehudah haLevi writes (Kuzari 1:67):

חלילה לאל מהיות דבר התורה סותר עדות דבר הנראה עין בעין או דבר שהוכח במופת שכלי

G-d forbid there would be anything in the Torah which contradicts the testimony of something eyewitnesses or proven intellectually.

And similarly the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 2:25) compares why it is okay to say that anthropomorphic descriptions of G-d, such as “yad chazaqah — strong hand”, “vayeired Hashem – and Hashem went down” (as though He were within space) are idiomatic, but he did not take this approach to Creation. After all, Aristotle taught the eternity of the universe, so why didn’t the Rambam reinterpret the first chapter or two of Bereishis idiomatically or allegorically to conform?

We do not reject the Eternity of the Universe, because certain passages in Scripture confirm the Creation; for such passages are not more numerous than those in which God is represented as a corporeal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation. We might have explained them in the same manner as we did in respect to the Incorporeality of God. We should perhaps have had an easier task in showing that the Scriptural passages referred to are in harmony with the theory of the Eternity of the Universe if we accepted the latter, than we had in explaining the anthropomorphisms in the Bible when we rejected the idea that God is corporeal. For two reasons, however, we have not done so, and have not accepted the Eternity of the Universe. First, the Incorporeality of God has been demonstrated by proof: those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be interpreted otherwise. But the Eternity of the Universe has not been proved; a mere argument in favour of a certain theory is not sufficient reason for rejecting the literal meaning of a Biblical text, and explaining it figuratively, when the opposite theory can be supported by an equally good argument.

Secondly, our belief in the Incorporeality of God is not contrary to any of the fundamental principles of our religion: it is not contrary to the words of any prophet. Only ignorant people believe that it is contrary to the teaching of Scripture: but we have shown that this is not the case: on the contrary, Scripture teaches the Incorporeality of God….

The Rambam thus gives two criteria — (1) that the philosophy be a solid proof, which he shows in the previous 10 chapters the argument for eternity is not, and (2) that the conclusion not defy “any of the fundamental principles of our religion… the words of any prophet.” But an actual conflict, in which a philosophical proof does contradict a Jewish teaching? Impossible.

You may have noticed a logical jump I made there. The Rambam discusses “fundamental principles” and prophecy. Why did I generalize that to “Jewish teaching” in general?  It is clear from other instances in the second section of the Moreh Nevuchim that the Rambam sees the meaning of prophecy to be prophecy as Chazal understood it, and not just a blank-slate read of the text of Tanakh.

For example, when discussing the celestial spheres in chapter 5:

The opinion of Aristotle, that the spheres are capable of comprehension and conception, is in accordance with the words of our prophets and our theologians or Sages.

Chapter 11, on metaphysics and ontology, the Rambam defines this same criterion as being “anything taught by our Prophets or by our Sages”:

In the same manner the creative act of the Almighty in giving existence to pure Intelligences endows the first of them with the power of giving existence to another, and so on, down to the Active Intellect, the lowest of the purely spiritual beings. Besides producing other Intelligences, each Intelligence gives existence to one of the spheres, from the highest down to the lowest, which is the sphere of the moon. After the latter follows this transient world, i.e., the materia prima, and all that has been formed of it. In this manner the elements receive certain properties from each sphere, and a succession of genesis and destruction is produced.

We have already mentioned that these theories are not opposed to anything taught by our Prophets or by our Sages….

In discussing the other end of eternity, chapter 27’s discussion of whether the universe will end, again mention of our sages as to what is the Torah’s teaching:

There remains only the question as to what the prophets and our Sages say on this point; whether they affirm that the world will certainly come to an end, or not.

And in ch. 47 the Rambam points out that one shouldn’t take hyporbole in Tanakh too literally — again citing Chazal for justification.

Returning back to our primary example, his rejection of Aristotle’s argument for the eternity of the universe, let’s look at the very next chapter (26):

… But let us premise two general observations.

First, the account given in Scripture of the Creation is not, as is generally believed, intended to be in all its parts literal. For if this were the case, wise men would not have kept its explanation secret, and our Sages would not have employed figurative speech [in treating of the Creation] in order to hide its true meaning, nor would they have objected to discuss it in the presence of the common people. The literal meaning of the words might lead us to conceive corrupt ideas and to form false opinions about God, or even entirely to abandon and reject the principles of our Faith. …

Assuming the description of creation (as opposed to the fact of creation as a whole0 is allegorical is fine because Chazal did so, and being literal would lead to heresy. Continuing:

Secondly, the prophets employ homonymous terms and use words which are not meant to be understood in their ordinary signification, but are only used because of some other meaning which they admit, e.g., “a rod of an almond-tree (shaked),” because of the words which follow, “for I will hasten (shaked)” (Jer. i. 11, 12), as will be shown in the chapter on Prophecy….

The first obsercation is that our sages understood these first chapters of Chumash to include allegory. The second observation is that prophets used idiomatic expression, and in fact homonymity due to idiom is a strong undercurrent of the prophetic process.

We see that when the Rambam speaks of prophesy, and in particular in section 2 of the Guide and its discussion of prophesy and philosophy/science describing the same truths, he is speaking of how the ideas enter the mesorah, but not to the exclusion of the mesoretic transmission and development of those ideas.

So, in the case of incorporeality, the Rambam shows how our mesorah endorses his philosophical interpretation, and therefore the literal read bows to what is logically and mesoretically compelling. And in the case of eternity, the mesorah does not allow for the possibility, and the philosophy isn’t compelling, so there it’s the philosophy that bows.

Notice that within this model, the question isn’t literal vs. figurative readings of Tankh, but whether one has permission to go beyond a mesoretically supported reading. And there the answer is no — because the situation of compelling philosophy contradicting all mesoretically supported readings would never arise.

As I see it,  the often-asked question, “Would the Rambam have found a new interpretation of the Torah if the philosophy was sound?” is meaningless — the Rambam denies the the possibility of that happening. We would never require a new interpretation in response to real proofs, as the hypothetical — a solid proof of something which doesn’t fit the Torah as our mesorah explains it — cannot occur.

Note how the Rambam concludes the chapter. Freidlander’s translation:

If, on the other hand, Aristotle had a proof for his theory, the whole teaching of Scripture would be rejected, and we should be forced to other opinions. I have thus shown that all depends on this question. Note it.

R’ Yosef al-Qafeh (“Kapach”) renders it:

כי אילו הוכח החידוש, ואפילו לפי השקפת אפלטון, היה נופל כל מה שהעזו בו הפילוסופים נגדנו.
וכן אילו נתקיימה להם הוכחה על הקדמות כפי השקפת אריסטו, הייתה נופלת כל התורה ויעבור הדבר להשקפות אחרות.
הנה ביארתי לך שכל הענק תלוי בחקירה זו דעהו.

And Dr Yehudah Schwartz:

כמו כן אילו התאפשרה להם הוכחה מופתית לקדמות על-פי שיטת אריסטו, התורה כולה היתה מתבטלת, והיו מתקבלות דעות אחרות. הבהרתי לך אפוא שהדבר כולו תלוי בבעיה זאת. דע זאת אפוא.

I could only find Ibn Tibbon in PDF, pg 68. So rather than manually type in yet another translation, let me just note he also has “tipol haTorah bikhlalah” (the entire Torah would fall). You would have to take another hashkafah (Kapach) or religion (Schwartz). If Artisto had a solid proof to the eternity of the universe, he would reject “the whole teaching of Scripture”. “All depends on it.” Not just reinterpret the one pereq or two, but it would be a proof against Torah, and Torah would be demonstrated as wrong.

Reinterpreting something allegorically because of non-Torah arguments isn’t on the table. Either things work mesoretically, or we disproved prophecy as understood by the Oral Torah, and the whole enterprise of Yahadus would be undone. Since that is an absurdity, the Rambam concludes with a Reductio ad absurdum.

Explaining Tragedy

It seems to me, the overall question of theodicy and explaining why tragedy enters the lives of anyone but the most evil, can be addressed on two levels. Philosophically, the question is unanswerable. As I wrote a number of years ago (in “The Four Sons Encounter Tragedy“, under the wise son’s response:

R’ Joseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l (“the Rav”) addresses the question posed by the Holocaust in his seminal work on religious Zionism, “Kol Dodi Dofeik”. His position is that the question of why is there human suffering can’t be answered. Any attempt to address theodicy is going to insult the intellect or the emotions, and quite likely both. But “Why?” isn’t the Jewish question. Judaism, with its focus on halakhah, on deed, asks, “What shall I do about it?”

The Rav continues by quoting the Talmudic principle, “Just as we bless [G-d] for the good, so we bless [Him] for the evil.” Just as we dedicate all the good that comes are way to be tools in our avodas Hashem, we also dedicate ourselves through our responses to suffering.

On the philosophical level, the question is unanswerable. This is the ultimate conclusion of the book of Iyov:

לח:א וַיַּֽעַן־יְהוָ֣ה אֶת־אִ֭יּוֹב מנהסערה (מִ֥ן ׀ הַסְּעָרָ֗ה)    וַיֹּאמַֽר׃
ב מִ֤י זֶ֨ה ׀ מַחְשִׁ֖יךְ עֵצָ֥ה בְמִלִּ֗ין    בְּֽלִי־דָֽעַת׃
ג אֱזָר־נָ֣א כְגֶ֣בֶר חֲלָצֶ֑יךָ    וְ֝אֶשְׁאָֽלְךָ֗ וְהֽוֹדִיעֵֽנִי׃
ד אֵיפֹ֣ה הָ֭יִיתָ בְּיָסְדִי־אָ֑רֶץ    הַ֝גֵּ֗ד אִם־יָדַ֥עְתָּ בִינָֽה׃

38:1 Then Hashem responded to Job from out of the whirlwind, and said:
2 Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?
3 Gird up please you loins like a man; for I will make demands of you, and you will acknowledge Me.
4 Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell, if you have the understanding.

And yet on the Mussar level, tragedy provides opportunity for growth, shaking us from our rut, giving us new tools in our avodas Hashem, teaching lessons.

The fact that the two levels differ means a few things:

First, this kind of lesson-taking should not be confused with finding the cause of our suffering. It’s one thing to say that the destruction of the Beis haMiqdash involved much baseless and purposeless hatred (sin’as chinam), and therefore we should learn from it to love our fellow Jew. It is quite another, in fact, to say that we know the Mind of G-d, that we know for certainty that the fall of the Second Temple was a punishment for this one sin in particular.

In fact, every time we find the gemara discuss a tragedy and associate since with it consistently we find a huge variety of opinions. Whether it’s all the various sins associated with the fall of each of the First and Second Temples, the list of sins and middos flaws that are given in the discussion of tzara’as, or the numerous opinions about what the sin was that leads to Dasan  and Aviram’s death.

Another case is the gemara‘s discussion of why a city suffer a tragic fire (Shabbos 118b-120a). The list centers on the burning of Yerushalayim, but discussed in the context of fires in general. It includes: Shabbos desecration (Rav Yehudah berei deRav Shemu’el), neglecting Shema (Rav Avahu), stopping child education (Rav Hamnuna), a loss of shame (Ula), not treating important people with the respect they earned (Rav Yitzchaq), not rebuking each other (Rav Amram), and a loss of honesty (Rava). Two variants on the above: disgracing talmidei chakhamim (R’ Yehudah) and the city not having children learning from their rebbe (Reish Laqish and Ravina).

The gemara appears to be grappling with a problem that they know they won’t fully resolve. Perhaps each amora was finding the lesson that was most useful lesson for their community and its shortcomings.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef spoke to his followers about the fire in the Carmel, and as is usual when he says something controversial, Rav Ovadiah’s words were repeated and spun by the secular media. ROY cites the first opinion in the gemara – a city is afflicted with fire because of a lack of Shabbos observance. I presume Rav Ovadiah’s intent was that the people in the audience work on their own observance. However, in the hands of the media, it was made to sound like the chareidi rabbi (not 100% accurate for a Sepharadic leader) was blaming the tragedy on the seculars.

R’ Moshe Shternbuch, the head of the beis din of the Edah haChareidis, gave a talk on the lessons of the fire. It was summarized by R’ Daniel Yaakov Travis for an anglo chareidi paper — probably Hamodia, but I’m not sure. Then it was put on line by R’ Daniel Eidensohn (whose name might be a little familiar from the book advertisement at the top of his blog).

Interestingly, and in contrast to Rav Ovadiah Yosef, R’ Shternbuch finds an issue that the fire could help us fix, even without any conscious religious or theological analysis — hubris.

There is an Israeli Chanukah song “Mi Yimalel“, which twists a verse that says “Who can tell of the mighty acts of G-d” to “Who can tell of the mighty acts of Israel / Yes, in every generation the hero will arise, the redeemer of the people.” The timing of the fire was on a holiday many Israelis interpret as celebrating a military victory and Jewish might.

The fire taught us that Israel — or any of us — are not capable of responding to every problem. Rather, “ein lanu al mi lehisha’ein, ela al avinu shabashamayim.” (We have no one upon whom to rely, except on our Father in heaven.)

And in practice, Israel was made aware of its unpreparedness. The message of modesty is there even for the most anti-religious to imbibe.

So, he too ties the fire to a sin. The questions I would ask:

  1. Do you (like me) find this less annoying that R’ Ovadiah Yosef’s declaration?
  2. If so, is it because it’s a humanist value rather than a ritual that is being pointed to?
  3. And/or is it because the connection is logical, that he’s effectively spelling out why G-d would choose this tragedy to impress a lesson. Without the need for metaphysics?
  4. And/or was it because he is focusing on tragedy as teaching, rather than punishment. (Not that I think there is a difference between these ideas when speaking of G-d.)

Feel free to answer in the comments section, although my primary point is to get you to think out and realize how you relate to these issues.

Tevel is Called Holy

The Mishnah in Maaser Sheini 5:4 discusses the obligation to be finished with all maaser by the Pesach after the third and sixth years of the shemittah cycle. The mishnah describes messages sent to remind people to remove the maaser from their crops, so that can give it out or destroy it before the deadline. The Yerushalmi (31b) opens the discussion of the mishnah wondering why the obligation to be able to say “I destroyed the qodesh from the house…” would obligate one to do anything to untithed crops, called tevel. The Gemara quotes R’ Hila repeating Shemuel’s answer, “זאת אומרת שהטבל קרוי קודש — this tells [us] that tevel is called qodesh.”

Think about this… Tevel, the farmer’s raw produce, is considered holy. Terumah and maaser don’t become holy, they are the separated-out portions of holiness inherent in the pre-tithed tevel, separating them so that the owner may eat the remainder. Just farming Eretz Yisrael creates holiness in the product.

The word in Hebrew closest to “secular” is “chol”. The root is the same one used for chal, as in the first mishnah of Megillah, where the mishnah discusses the dates on which the megillah is read, depending on which day the 15th of Adar, Purim, falls out — chal — upon.

Chol is a blank slate. One we can write holiness upon. Qedushah means separation. As Chazal comment on the verse (quoted by Rashi), “‘Qedoshim tihyu’ perushim tihyu — ‘You shall be holy’ — [meaning,] you shall be separate. But not separation from, but separation for. The farmer doesn’t create holiness by refusing to farm and leading a guru’s life atop the mountain. He does it by taking his farming and using it to develop G-d’s land.

Similarly, when Yaaqov fled from Esav, he risked returning back to get some “small jugs”. Rashi again quotes Chazal, saying “Tzadiqim cherish their possessions more than their own lives, because they avoid sinning through thievery.” As I wrote on that concept and the Yalqut Reuveini who ties it to other events later in history:

Proper business ethics isn’t “just” the permissable way to conduct business, it actually sanctifies the activity. And therefore, the pachim qetanim were sacred to Yaaqov, not to be simply left behind.

Which brings us to Chanukah…. The Jews lost themselves to Hellene values. To a religion where even the gods represent physical forces: Ares was the god of war, Hermes was the concept of change, Venus of love, etc…

And then they find the jug of oil. The jug of holy wordliness, of sanctifying the universe through halakhah. Not disdain for the physical or the beautiful, but knowing its value — as a tool. And with that concept the Chashmonaim revived Jewish loyalty, disbanded Hellenist oppression, and restored the concept of Jewish autonomy for the next two centuries….

Holiness and Carrying the Yoke with the Other

(The following is based on a class I gave on Shabbat at Mussar Kallah IX, and is the further development of a number of ideas R’ Gil Student and I wrote for Mesuqim MiDevash.)

The question of holiness is central to the title phrase of the sedra of Qedoshim. “Qedoshim tihyu hi Qadosh Ani – Be qadosh [holy, sacred] for I Am Qadosh.” (Vayiqra 19:2) But what is qedushah?

Translating it as “sanctity” or “holiness” falls short as: (1) the meaning of the English is itself not too clear, (2) nor are we sure that they truly capture the connotations of the Hebrew original.

The Sifra[1], commenting on our verse, writes “’qedoshim tihyu': perushim tihyu – ‘be holy': you shall be separated”.

Along these lines, Rashi understands the verse as referring to the list of laws of intimacy with which the previous sedra concluded, as well as other transgressions. And he gives other examples where such a separation is associated with the concept of qedushah.

The Ramban (Nachmanides) writes “make yourself qadosh with that which is permitted to you” by refraining from the permitted.

It would seem that they are both defining qedushah as separation. But there is also a real difference. Rashi discusses things that are specifically prohibited. The Ramban is quite specifically speaking about separating oneself from things that are not the topic of a specific prohibition – there is no ban on the action, but rather the action isn’t in concert with being a holy person.

A parallel division exists in other discussions about qedushah.

In parashas Sheqalim, the portion discussing the mitzvah for each person to donate a 1/2 sheqel coin to the Temple (also counted for a census), we are told to take “half a sheqel of a sheqel haqodesh”. The Ramban (ad loc) explains that these sheqalim were considered sacred because they were used for holy purposes. The funds gathered by this census in the first year were donated towards the construction of the Tabernacle, other “sheqel haqodesh” were used for buying offerings and utensils for the Tabernacle or Temple, or for redeeming a first-born. Along similar lines, Rabbeinu Bachya (ad loc) writes, “Since all mitzvos are the core of holiness and some mitzvos require this currency,” the currency takes on a holiness corresponding to its use.

The Ramban continues, Hebrew is called leshon haqodesh – the holy language – because it was and continues to be used for holy purposes. It is the language in which G-d said “yehi or – let there be light”, in which He gave us the Torah and the Tanakh was written, the language in which our ancestors were named, etc…

However, the Ramban (Nachmanides) notes that the Rambam (Maimonides) has a very different understanding of why Hebrew is called “the holy language”. In his Guide for the Perplexed (3:8), Rambam explains that Hebrew is called sacred because it has no specific words for uniquely male and female body parts, for the acts that lead to conception of a child, nor does it have precise terms for the various bodily emissions and excretions.

Rabbi Shimon Romm [2] explains this dispute between Rambam and Ramban as being a fundamental disagreement over the nature of qedushah, holiness.

According to Ramban (Nachmanides), holiness comes from being committed for a purpose. When currency is used for a mitzvah it becomes sacred and when a language is used to create the world and convey the Torah it becomes sanctified.

According to the Rambam (Maimonides), however, holiness is not due to a positive usage but to a lack of diminution of its purity. A language is inherently sacred and only loses that status when it contains less than holy words. Presumably, the Rambam would explain that the sheqel haqodesh is called holy because, as the Ramban himself suggests at the beginning of his comments, the sheqel coins used in the Torah were entirely pure, lacking all dilution. This purity of content, rather than its sanctity of use, is what earned for these coins the title of qadosh. R’ Romm continued that it would seem that the Rashi we looked at agrees with the Rambam. By not engaging in prohibited action, one lives up to “be holy”.

Someone in the audience when I presented this material at Mussar Kallah IX suggested another way to understand the dispute. It could be that both sides agree in how they define qedushah — holiness. Rather, they disagree about the nature of the mitzvah. Rashi sees the obligation “qedoshim tihyu — be holy” as one to protect the holiness we already have; not to descend the ladder, so to speak. And therefore it’s accomplished by not tainting oneself with sin. The Ramban sees it as a duty to increase one’s holiness, to climb the ladder, and therefore to commit beyond what would otherwise be mandatory.

When a Mussarist wants to understand a middah, the first place to turn is a genre of mussar texts that are organized by middah. Most famously Orchos Tzadiqim and Mesilat Yesharim (Ways of the Righteous, and Path of the Just, respectively.) The last chapter of Mesilat Yesharim (ch. 26) discusses Qedushah. To quote Rav Shraga Simmons’ translation, in part:

Note the distinction between one who is Pure and one who is Holy. The earthy actions of the first are necessary ones, and he is motivated by necessity alone, so that his actions escape the evil in earthiness and remain pure. But they do not approach Holiness, for it were better if one could get along without them. One who is Holy, however, and clings constantly to his God, his soul traveling in channels of truth, amidst the love and fear of his Creator -such a person is as one walking before God in the Land of the Living, here in this world. …

In fine, Holiness consists in one’s clinging so closely to his God that in any deed he might perform he does not depart or move from the Blessed One, until the physical objects of which he makes use become more elevated because of his having used them, than he descends from his communion and from his high plane because of his having occupied himself with them. This obtains, however, only in relation to one whose mind and intelligence cling so closely to the greatness, majesty and Holiness of the Blessed One that it is as if he is united with the celestial angels while yet in this world….

According to Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (the “Ramchal”), a focus on separation is more associated with purity than with holiness. Avoiding unnecessary entanglements with the physical “so that his actions escape the evil in earthiness and remain pure.” Qedushah is clinging to G-d.

Is this a shift in definition from that offered by the Sifra and discussed through the next millennium by Rashi, Rabbeinu Bachya, Nachmanides and Maimonides?

Rav Shimon Shkop (Sha’arei Yosher, introduction) argues that the Sifra’s comment cannot be an actual definition. He points out that separation as a definition would fail for the verse’s next clause – “for I [Hashem] am Qadosh”. There is no purpose or meaning in Hashem restraining Himself, no dangerous entanglements for Him to avoid. (For that matter, it is arguable that such separation on His part would mean the item in question would cease to exist!)

Perhaps we could also note that Nachmanides could not be understanding the Sifra as defining qedushah. You cannot translate a word using another conjugation of the same word. “Qadeish es atmekha bemah shemutar lakh — sanctify yourself with that which is permitted to you” therefore cannot be his elaboration of a definition. Rather, the Ramban is suggesting the way in which to obey the verse and become holy to someone who already knows how to translate the word.

So, qedushah is commitment to Hashem’s goal, which the Ramban is telling us we can reach by separation from the pursuit of other goals.

All that is left is the “simple” question of defining that goal.

Rav Shimon Shkop’s introduction opens (tr. mine):

BLESSED SHALL BE the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker1, Who created us in His “Image” and in the likeness of His “Structure”, and planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were). For everything He created and formed was according to His Will (may it be blessed), [that is] only to be good to the creations. So too His Will is that we walk in His ways. As it says “and you shall walk in His Ways” – that we, the select of what He made – should constantly hold as our purpose to sanctify our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many, according to our abilities.

In my opinion, this whole concept is included in Hashem’s mitzvah “Be holy, [for I am Holy].” The Midrash (Leviticus, Emor, ch. 24) says about this verse: “Can it [truly] be ‘Like Me?’ This is why it continues, ‘for I am Holy’ to teach that My Sanctity is above yours.” And about the foundation of this mitzvah of sanctity the Toras Kohanim [ie the Sifra] has “‘be holy’ – be separate”. Nachmanides, in his commentary on the Torah, explains at length this notion of separation as it is stated in this mitzvah, that it is separation from excessive comfort and pleasure – even if they are actions that are not prohibited to us. In one illustrative statement, he writes that it is possible for a person to be disgusting with [what would otherwise be] the permission of the Torah, see his holy words there.

According to this, it would seem the Midrash is incomprehensible. What relevance does the concept of separation have to being similar to the Holy? The verse tells us with regard to this that His Will is not like this. As it says, “Can it [truly] be ‘Like Me?’ This is why it continues, ‘For I am holy’ to teach that My sanctity is above Yours.” This explanation is incumbent upon us to understand; in truth there is some similarity in the holiness He expects of us to His [Sanctity], except that His Holiness is more general and inclusive. If we say that the essential idea of the holiness He demands of us (in this mitzvah of “be holy”) is distance from the permissible, this kind of holiness has nothing to do with Him.5

And so, it appears to my limited thought that this mitzvah includes the entire foundation and root of the purpose of our lives. All of our work and effort should constantly be sanctified to doing good for the community. We should not use any act, movement, or get benefit or enjoyment that doesn’t have in it some element of helping another. And as understood, all holiness is being set apart for an honorable purpose – which is that a person straightens his path and strives constantly to make his lifestyle dedicated to the community. Then, anything he does even for himself, for the health of his body and soul he also associates to the mitzvah of being holy, for through this he can also do good for the masses. Through the good he does for himself he can do good for the many who rely on him. But if he derives benefit from some kind of permissible thing that isn’t needed for the health of his body and soul, that benefit is in opposition to holiness. For in this he is benefiting himself (for that moment as it seems to him), but no one else.

Maimonides would be bothered by this attempt to explain why Hashem created the universe. It requires assuming our mind can contain His “Thought”. (At the Kallah, this topic took on a life of its own.) However, this approach, that Hashem must have created the world to have someone to whom to be good is found in sources as diverse as Rav Saadia Gaon’s “Emunos veDeios” (an Aristotilian from 9th-10th cent Baghdad) to the Ramchal’s “Derekh Hashem” (an Italian Qabbalist, 18th cent CE). Even a Maimonidian, though, can accept the notion that this is how Hashem presents Himself to us; G-d as He appears through his actions as opposed to the unknowable G-d as He is. In any case…

G-d’s goal is to bestow good on others. Which paradoxically doesn’t mean doing everything for us and making our lives perfect, as that would deprive us of a greater good: the ability to emulate His Good and to bestow good to others. Ours and the world’s imperfections are areas where there is good left for us to bestow.

Is this not, after all, what Hillel famously told the prospective convert?

There is another story [this is the third in a sequence] with one non-Jew who came before Shammai. He said to him [the non-Jew to Shammai], “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one leg.” He [Shammai] pushed him [away] with the builder’s  amah-stick which was in his hand.

He [the non-Jew] went before Hillel, who converted him. He [Hillel] said to him, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your friend. This is the whole Torah in its entirety, the rest is its explanation. Go learn.”

- Shabbos 55a

What then is the role of the more rite-like mitzvot? If Hashem’s goal for us is to emulate Him in being good to others, why do we need kashrut, Shabbat, mezuzah, etc, etc, etc…? (This topic also took on a life of its own). I suggested two coexisting reasons:

First, such mitzvot teach discipline, they habituate us in making more thoughtful decisions. For example, one doesn’t just see food and eat it, one has to pay attention to what one is eating and how the food is prepared. Second, one needs to develop a relationship with G-d in order to accomplish this goal. One cannot bestow Hashem’s good upon others without knowing what that good is. Such knowledge requires the “go learn”, both from Torah texts and from the experiences provided by the mitzvot that mediate the relationship between man and G-d.

Even relaxation can be sanctified; if one rests for the purpose of being able to continue doing one’s mission in life without burnout. To protect future productivity at this goal by not trying to exceed one’s capacity in the short term.

So, you might have started reading this essay picturing a holy person as a hermit in a cave, an ascetic who spends his day in prayer. Referring back to the title of the post, you might have assumed that separation of holiness is in tension with our duty to nosei be’ol im chaveiro — share the burden of the other, to help him “pull his yoke”. Conflicting values we must balance. This is quite far from Rav Shimon’s definition; the separation isn’t asceticism, rather a very focus on being good to others.

We say in the Amidah: “You are Qadosh, and Your Name [Reputation] is Qadosh, and qedoshim praise You every day. Selah! [For you are G-d, King, Great and Qadosh. –Sepharad] Baruch Atah … the Qadosh G-d.”

It is not coincidence that there are three clauses, and three iterations of the word “Qadosh” in the verse at the heart of Qedushah (Isaiah 6:3). As we quote in the prayer UVa leTzion, Targum Yonatan explains that verse as follows: “Qadosh in the heavens above, the home of His Presence; Qadosh on the earth, the product of His Might; Qadosh forever and ever is Hashem Tzevakos – the whole world is full of the Radiance of His Glory.” The “home of His Glory” is where Hashem is Qadosh. The earth, is where Hashem’s name, how people perceive him, is Qadosh. And the qedoshim, the people who allow others to experience Hashem’s good, fill the world with His Glory – their sanctity is his praise.

According to Rav Shimon Shkop, this blessings becomes, “You are committed to bestow food on others, and your reputation is that of an undivided commitment to bestowing good on others, and people who live entirely for sharing your good with others praise you. Selah!” It is not simply that the class of people who are committed to working for others rather than being self-focused also praise Hashem. It is working for the betterment of others which itself is praise.

There are a number of prayers that require a minyan: the repetition of the amidah, and a class of prayers called davar shebiqdushah — proclamations of holiness. Among these prayers are Barekhu, Qaddish and Qedushah. In case you question whether our final definition of holiness is authentic, notice this: One cannot say the prayer of Qedushah alone.

[1] The Sifra, also called Torat Kohanim, is attributed to Rav (175-247 CE). Rav also founded of the Babylonian academy of Sura, which centuries later produced the Talmud. Rav’s real name, was Abba Akira, Abba the tall. He frequently appears in the Talmud, consistently under his honorific.

[2] Rabbi Shimon Romm was a student of the pre-war Mirrer Yeshiva who participated in their flight from Nazi-occupied Vilna to Shanghai. He became a rabbi in Washington Heights, NY and a rosh yeshiva in Yeshiva University. Thanks to R’ Gil Student for relaying this thought.

On Nets and Pieces

The story so far: In the first post, I suggested that it was Rav Yehudah, founder of the Yeshiva in Pumbedisa, who really developed the style of shaqla vetarya (dialectic) that we find in the Talmud Bavli. Which implied that we wouldn’t expect to find the similar argument style in Israel. In the second post, I tried to show how in the Talmud Yerushalmi they not only didn’t use the same dialectic style, they give every appearance of eschewing it. Preferring instead a system of learning more centered on the transmission of traditions, an emphasis on quotes. Therefore the Israeli amoraim not only had less reason to engage in such dialectics, even when they could not resolve a question by dialectic they refused to. In fact, they often ridicule the Bavliim and their circuitous lines of reasoning. Such extrapolation would adulterate memory of the tanna’s actual statement.

This does not mean, however, that there is a dirth of logical argument in the Talmud. Rather, the argument is of a very different style. That will be the topic of the majority of this post. But first, a discussion of how the Yerushalmi does handle unanswered questions.

I already mentioned the difference in nomeclature between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. What the Bavli calls a mesechta, the Yerushalmi calls a meikhla. To translate: The Bavli considers one volume of Talmud to be a “net”, with gaps that the amoraim must fill in. The Yerushalmi considers it a “piece”, and as we’ll see, their analysis involves more connected the pieces to a larger whole.

Lateral Reasoning:

Here is an example of a style of reasoning one would find much more readily in the Yerushalmi than in the Bavli:

  1. רב הונא אמר: ג’ שאכלו זה בפני עצמו וזה בפני עצמו וזה בפני עצמו ונתערבו מזמנין.
  2. רב חסדא אמר: והן שבאו משלש חבורות.
  3. על דעתיה דרבי זעירא וחבורתיה: והן שאכלו ג’ כאחת.

רבי יונה על הדא דרב הונא הטביל ג’ איזובות זה בפני עצמו וזה בפני עצמו ונתערבו מזה בהן.

רב חסדא אמר והן שבאו מג’ חבילות.

על דעתיה דר’ זעירא וחבורתיה והוא שהטביל שלשתן כאחת.

אין תימר אין למידין אזוב מברכה ואנן חזינן רבנן קיימין בסוכה וילפין מטיט הנרוק.  כיי דתנינן תמן הרחיק את הסיכוך מן הדפנות שלשה טפחים פסולה הא פחות מיכן כשירה מהו לישן תחתיו התיב רבי יצחק בן אלישיב הרי טיט הנרוק משלים במקוה ואין מטבילין בו אף הכא משלים בסוכה ואין ישינין תחתיו.

  1. Rav Huna said: Three who eat, this one by himself, this one by himself, and this one by himself, who then mix together should bentch with a mezuman.
  2. Rav Chisda said: But this is [only] when they come from three [separate] groups [of three people, so that each ate with an obligation of zimun, even if from different groups].
  3. According to the logic of Rabbi Zei’ira and his friends: But [the only may make a zimun] when they ate together.
  1. Rabbi Yonah [commented] on that which Rab Hunah [was just quoted as saying]: If [the kohein] dipped three hyssop sprigs [into the water made with the ashes of a parah adumah], this one by itself and this one by itself, and mixed them [the hyssops] together, one may sprinkle [the person needing taharah] with them.
  2. Rav Chisda said: But this is [only] when they come from three [separate] groups [of three sprigs, so that each sprig was dipped as part of a group of three, even if different groups].
  3. Acording to the logic of Rabbi Zei’ira and his friends: But [the only may may be used for sprinkling parah adumah water] when they were dipped together.

- Yerushalmi Berakhos 7:1, 51b

The Yerushalmi draws a parallel between what could have been two separate disputes. One was about zimun, saying the opening blessing before bentchin, and the other about the hyssop used to sprinkle the water from a parah adumah to purify them after contact with a dead body. Both require a group of three. Typically, three men who ate together and now wish to bentch together, or three sprigs that were one bunch when they were dipped as well as when the person is sprinkled.

Rav Hunah says that a group of three is defined by the time of the mitzvah. Therefore, three people could eat separately, and Rabbi Yonah extrapolates that he would say the three sprigs could be dipped separately — as long as they are together at the time of bentching or sprinkling, respectively.

Rav Chisda, who speaks for himself in both disputes, feels that while they only need to be a group for the mitzvah itself, to be a member of the group requires being part of an obligating group when doing the preparation. Therefore, three men who each ate alone could not combine to make a zimun, only three men who each ate in a group of at least three. But they could recombine to create a new group of three for zimun. Similarly, one could take a sprig of hyssop out of three different groups to make a new group, because such sprigs were both dipped as part of a group of three and used for sprinkling as part of a group. This would mean that if a kohein had three people before him to sprinkle and dipped three large bunches of hyssop for them, and then along comes a fourth person, the kohein can redivide the hyssop into four groups and sprinkle all four.

Rav Zeira and his peers require that the group be the same group throughout. You can’t recombine people from different zimun groups, or sprigs from different bunches to make a new one.

This is “horizontal” reasoning. We saw one dispute, we are trying to find how it relates to other topics. The search is for a general philosophy of some aspect of halakhah.

Logical discourse in the Bavli is far more “vertical”, drilling down into the details of the particular decision before us, finding how it can be understood in an internally consistent way. What does either opinion do with the other’s proofs and source texts, and the like.

A second example, from Terumos, vilna 13b, that I will treat more concisely:

תמן תנינן: כביצה אוכלין שהניחן בחמה ונתמעטו, כן כזית מן הנבילה, וכעדשה מן השרץ, כזית פיגול, כזית נותר, כזית חלב — הרי אילו טהורין.
דרומאי אמרי: והוא שיהא כזית מעיקרו.
ר’ יוחנן ור”ש בן לקיש תריהון אמרין: ואע”פ שאין כזית מעיקרו.
תמן תנינן: אמרו לו, “אף היא היתה חסירה או יתירה.” מני אמרו לו? ר”מ: פעמים שהשאור יפה והוא תפוח. הא אילו סולת היתה צמוקה, ועכשיו שהוא שאור יפה והוא תפוח, את רואה את התפוח כילו צמק ונראית חסירה. ופעמים שהשאור רע, והוא צמק. הא אלו סולת היתה תפוחה, ועכשיו שהשאור רע, והוא צמוק את רואה את הצמק כילו תפח ונראית יתירה.
על דעתיה דר’ ירמיה דרומאי ור’ יוחנן ור”ש בן לקיש שלשתן אמרו דבר אחד ביתירה. על דעתייהו דר’ יונה ור’ יוסי שלשתן אמרו דבר אחד בחסירה. אילין דבר פטי בשלון אורז אנשין מתקנתה יתיה חברייא סברין מימר ייסב חיי לו לקביל מבשל אמר לון ר’ יוסי אף אנא אמר כן למה שדרכו לתפוח:

Here the gemara links together three statements, showing how they have a common theme. In all three cases, the issue is whether we measure intial volume, current volume or whether the fact that it is normal to go to that current volume should make a difference. This is seen as being a common principle whether it’s something that dries up and shrinks, or something that soaks up water and bloats, whether we are speaking of tum’ah or of tithing rice.


Suppose you saw a discussion in which the following distinction is made with regard to food bought with money that had the sanctity of maaser sheini placed upon it. (In lieu of bringing the second tenth of one’s fruit to Yerushalayim, the sanctity was transfered to money, which is then used upon arrival to buy food to be eaten there.)

In one ruling, shelamim which one bought with maaser sheini money does not have the sanctity of maaser sheini, only that of the offering. In another, if a kohein buys with such money terumah, the result is that the food bought is now both terumah AND maaser sheini.

Vus iz der chiluq? (What’s the difference between the cases of maaser sheini and terumah?)

There is a mitzvah to buy a qorban shelamim with maaser sheini money. Therefore, if one buys a shelamim with maaser money one completed the job of handling maaser. The chalos sheim maaser sheini (the fitting under the label of maaser sheini) falls off with the purchase.  However, there is no such mitzvah of buying terumah over any other food, and therefore it’s maaser sheini until consumed or as long as it remains edible.

The way I phrased it, this discussion sounds like 19th century lomdus, the style of logic they used for analyzing the Bavli and rishonim. However, the above is a description of the discussion in the Yerushalmi at the top of Maaser Sheini 16a (3:2). (There is also a similar discussion about when a law of maaser sheini ends on Maaser Sheini 1:2 5b.)

What the Brisker method does in its lomdus is divide  laws into categories, often using and reusing the same set of mechanisms. In the above, I invoked the Brisker idiom of “chalos sheim“, when something enters or leaves a halachic state (literally, when a label falls upon an object). Other such meta-principles: mitzvos that depend on the gavra, the subject doing the verb, vs. those that depend on the cheftza, the object. The distinction between a discussion of the pe’ulah, the action, and the chalos, the change in halachic state. Etc…

In Brisk, these rules are used to analyze a specific halakhah. Why do the Rambam and Tosafos disagree? Does one say the chalos comes with the pe’ulah and the other not? Does one see the obligation on the subject’s doing it, while the other sees it on the object having it done (gavra vs cheftzah)? Brisk drills downward.

However, these rules also have an orthoganal value — they are in common across a wide variety of halakhos. To the Brisker, these are tools for finding chaqiros, distinctions, between similar cases that have different rulings, or between one opinion and another. In the Yerushalmi, tools like those used in Brisk and other 19th century Lithuanian yeshivos are a the product of this same notion of lateral analysis. They are principles of mechanics seen in numerous  ways of connecting the law to others than use the same mechanism.

Another example, this one from Pei’ah 3:5, Vilna ed. pg 16a:

משנה: המוכר קלחי אילן בתוך שדהו, נותן פאה מכל אחד ואחד. אמר רבי יהודא: אימתי? בזמן שלא שייר בעל השדה. אבל אם שייר שדהו הוא נותן פאה לכל:
גמרא: עד כדון כשהתחיל לקצור. אפי’ כשלא התחיל לקצור?
נישמעינה מן הדא: לקח גז צאנו של חבירו. אם שייר המוכר, המוכר חייב. ואם לאו, הלוקח חייב. ר’ ירמיה בשם ר’ יוחנן: דר’ יהודא היא.
שנייא היא תמן בין שהתחיל לגזוז צאנו בין שלא התחיל לגזוז. וכא, לא. שניי’ ליה, בין שהתחיל לקצור, בין שלא התחיל לקצור.
מ”ט דר”י? משום דחובת הקציר בקמה, או משום דמוכר לו חוץ מחובתו?
נישמעינה מן הדא: לקח גז צאן חבירו. אם שייר המוכר, המוכר חייב. ואם לאו, הלוקח חייב. א”ר ירמיה בשם ר’ יוחנן: דר’ יהודא היא.
אית לך למימר: תמן, שחובת קציר בקמה לא משום דמכרו לו חוץ מחובתו וכא במכרו חוץ מחובתו.
מה נפק מביניהן?
  1. עבר הלוקח ומפריש. אין תימר משום שחובת הקציר בקמה, הפריש הפריש. ואין תימר משום דמוכר לו חוץ מחובתו, הפריש ונוטל ממנו דמים.
  2. נשרף חלקו של מוכר. אין תימר משום דחובת קציר בקמה, נשרף נשרף. ואין תימר משום במוכר לו חוץ מחובתו, נשרף נוטל ממנו דמים:

Mishnah: Someone who sold tree stalks [i.e. tree trunks or stalks of a plant] from within his field [where the pei'ah, the corner of the field, was not left for the poor to gather], he must give pei’ah from each stalk. Rabbi Yehudah said: When is this? When there is nothing left by the owner of the field [for himself]. But if he did leave something of his field, he gives pei’ah [from that] for the whole.

Gemara: Until now [we were only considering] when he already began to harvest [the crop produced when he started selling the trees themselves]. But what if he didn’t start to harvest?

We hear [this implication] from this [following ruling]: Someone who buys the shearings from his friend’s flock [without the first shearing first being given to a kohein]. If the seller left any [for himself], then the seller if obligated [to give the kohein replacement wool]. If not, the buyer is obligated. Rabbi Yirmiyah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that this is Rabbi Yehudah’s [position].

It makes a difference over there whether he began to shear his sheep or whether he did not begin to shear. Here, could it make no difference whether he began to harvest [the stalks] whether he did not begin to harvest?

What’s the reason of Rabbi Yehudah — Is it because the obligation with respect to harvesting [and pei'ah] is with standing [grain]? Or is it that he sold it to him outside of his obligation?

We hear [this implication] from this [following ruling]: Someone who buys the shearings from his friend’s flock [without the first shearing first being given to a kohein]. If the seller left any [for himself], then the seller if obligated [to give the kohein replacement wool]. If not, the buyer is obligated. Rabbi Yirmiyah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that this is Rabbi Yehudah’s [position].

You must [therefore] say: Over there, it is where the obligation of harvesting is when it’s still standing, and not because he sold it ouside of his obligation, [whereas] here he sold it outside of his obligation.

What is the [pragmatic] distinction between them? …

Notice here a number of things, touching on much of the past two posts in this series.

First, there is a full repetition of a quote rather than abbreviating it in the second iteration. The latter risks compromising how it is passed down in the future, so this would be against the Yerushalmi’s citation culture.

Second, note the lomdisher use of making a distinction based on when the obligation applies. Why does the law of pei’ah from harvested grain that is sold to another differ than the law of reishis hagaz that was sold rather than being given to a kohein? Why is it that in the case of pei’ah it makes no difference whether or not he began to harvest, but when it comes to reishis hagaz it does make a difference whether or not he began to shear? And the difference is that reishis hagaz only comes into effect after the shearing. An issue of when the halachic category takes hold.

Third, note that this lamdus is being used to compare to disparate laws. Lateral reasoning.

What defines greatness

From R’ Gil Student’s blog “Hirhurim“, a sad quote about the underlying greatness of my rebbe:

When I was a bochur in yeshivah I had a scary experience. I had the zekhus of assisting a gadol ba-Torah in his last days. When R. Dovid Lifshitz got very sick, I was assigned the task of helping him out during davening. At the end of his life, I saw something incredible. He would come to the beis medrash and someone else would put tefillin on him. Then he would sit with a siddur and daven. I was waiting to see when he finished the page to turn it for him and I realized that he would keep davening the same page over and over if I let him. Sadly, the illness and the medication took away his memory and almost his ability to function. But one thing he knew, something that was in his very bones, was that he wanted to daven. When you strip away all of the learning, all of the accomplishments, what you end up with is a simple, kosher Jew. Deep down, that is what a gadol ba-Torah is – a kosher Jew.

“If I were to wake you up at 2 o’clock in the morning,” R’ YB Soloveitchik would often ask his students to get their instinctive responses, “how would you answer?”

In one sentence, what Yeshiva chinuch is all about

(Cut-n-paste from R’ Chaim Brown’s blog, Divrei Chaim.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

“In public school, they’ll ask you at the end, ‘Well, what have you learned?’ But here at Rice, the question is, ‘What kind of person have you become?”

- p. 75 in “The Street Stops Here – A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem” by Patrick McCloskey

I don’t think I could come up with a better one sentence summary of what yeshiva education should be all about.

Posted by Chaim B. at 3:28 PM

Book Announcement: Daas Torah: Child and Domestic Abuse

Now available by R’ Dr Daniel Eidensohn and Dr Baruch Shulem!

Daas Torah: Child & Domestic Abuse, vol 1 & 2

This book is divided into two volumes – each of which is a complete work and yet they clearly supplement each other. Volume II deals with the classic Jewish sources that are relevant to define and understand the issue of abuse, obligations to help one another, sexuality and saving others from harm – as well as the nature of rabbinical authority. It includes the responsa from the major poskim on these issues.   These sources are all translated into English but the original Hebrew text is also presented. Volume I serves as a commentary and explanation of the meaning of the material in volume II. It discusses the application of these ideas to contemporary reality, as well as providing religious context for today’s society.

Something to think of buying if you are interested in the topic or to donate to the local synagogue, social work or communal organization to help them better address this critical issue in our communities.

To buy (through AishDas’s Amazon Associate store):

Continue reading

Invoking Tradition

So, I recently described Rav Yehudah’s trip down to Pumbedisa, where he founded a yeshiva where learning was based on the dialectic method, the style of shaqla vetarya (question and answer) that typifies the gemara. So what was happening back in Eretz Yisrael?

To put the same question in a more straightforward way — after learning the first six mesechtos of Talmud Yerushalmi, I would like to discuss some differences in style I noted between the two talmuds.

The Talmud Yerushalmi, despite the name, was written in Northern Israel. In fact, you hear disdain for the “deromai”, the rabbis of the south, those in Judea — including Yerushalayim. As well as those in Babylonia. The work on it begins with Rabbi Yochanan and his student and brother-in-law Rabbi Shimon ben Laqish (“Reish Laqish”), in the very first generation after Rebbe compiled the mishnah. Rabbi Yochanan started out in Tzippori, which was the center of learning and housed the Sanhedrin. However, as a young rabbi, his shiur grew so popular that it caused friction with the older rabbis both due to competition for students and the number of disputes. So rather than hurt them, Rabbi Chanina was named in particular, Rabbi Yochanan moved to Teveryah. (I think something should be made of the point that R’ Chanina, the example of the older generation, is named in past tense, whereas R’ Yochanan has pretty much the future tense version of the same name. The Jerusalem Talmud is thus really a product of his school in Teveryah and the rabbis of either Katzrin (in the Golan) or perhaps Ceasarea.

(Side note: Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Laqish play a parallel role to the one Abayei and Rava do in the Bavli. They started the process that over a century later culminates in the talmud. More so than their being like Rav Ashi and Ravina, who close the vast majority of the text, with only light refinements by the savora’im. However, R’ Yochanan and Reish Laqish appear far more often, at least in the first six mesechtos of the Y-mi, than Abayei veRava do in the Bavli.)

One of the more pronounced differences one sees between the two talmuds is the greater reliance on tradition one finds in the Yerushalmi, and I intend to save other differences for another post.


I don’t just mean that because there was no Bavli-style shaqla vetarya, the Yerushalmi fell back onto relying more on sources. Rather, in Eretz Yisrael the feeling was that citations and word-of-mouth transmission is more reliable and more meaningful than relying on reasoning. And this mode was more viable for people who were actually living on the same land and using the same institutions as the tannaim. We saw that Rav Yehudah held it was prohibited for his students to move from Pumbedisa to Israel, as the loss of deep reasoned learning was too great. But also, that kind of reasoning was more critical in Bavel, where there was that extra discontinuity.

As a metaphor, I am reminded of Rabbi Yehudah haLevi’s description of Greek Philosophy:

(יג) אמר החבר: מה שאתה אומר נכון הוא בנוגע לדת המיסדת על ההגיון ומכונת להנהגת מדינה דת הנובעת אמנם מן העיון אך נופלים בה ספקות רבים ואם עליה תשאל את הפילוסופים לא תמצאם מסכימים על מעשה אחד ולא לדעה אחת כי דת כזאת בנויה על טענות אשר רק חלק מהן יכולים הפילוסופים להוכיח במופת ואלו על אחרות נתן להביא ראיות מספיקות בלבד ויתרן אין להביא עליהן אפילו ראיה מספקת אף כי להוכיחן במופת: (tr. R’ Yehudah ibn Tibon)

13. The Rabbi: That which thou dost express is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and thou wilt find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved. (tr. Hartwig Herschfeld)

Rav Yehudah haLevi says that the dependence on reasoning introduces uncertainty, and is a stop-gap  for those who do not have a tradition. Taking this from philosophy to be a metaphor for halachic styles, this parallels Rabbi Yochanan’s view, as opposed to Rav Yehudah’s down in Pumbedisa.


We see this also in terminology. The term used in Bavel for a volume of the talmud is masekhes, from the word that is also used to refer to the network of threads on a loom. Whereas in the Yerushalmi, the more common term is meikhlah, a measure or portion. (E.g. Shevi’is 10:3, Vilna 30b – R’ Yosi rules that someone who knows one meikhla who comes to a new town where they honor him for knowing two, must confess to only knowing one.) None of the implication of constructivism or filling in the holes in the network that one finds in meseches.

Another example is the difference in meaning of the keyword “ta’ama“. This appears so often in the Bavli, that I am still pretty consistently thrown by the Yerushalmi. When the Bavli asks “Mai ta’ama?” it is asking “What’s the reason?” And the answer will be the logic behind the ruling. However, in the Yerushalmi, “Mai ta’ama?” is answered with a citation of the verse that is the source of the law.

The word ba’ei is used in the Bavli in the sense of “wants to know”, introducing a question. It sometimes appears as be’ai lemeimar, “wants to say”, introducting a suggested novellum. In the Yerushalmi, just the word ba’ei is used for both, and the “wants to say” sense is far more common. In light of their distrust of deductions about existing laws, it makes sense that the rabbis of Teveryah would be more prone to mark them. It also would explain why they didn’t find it confusing to use the same keyword for “R’ X wants to know, is the halachah A?” and for “R’ X wants to say the halakhah is A”.  The difference between not knowing at all, and suggesting something without a basis, apparently wasn’t seen as that being all that great. Since otherwise confusion would have driven one of them away from using the word “ba’ei“.

(Linguistic side note: In the Yerushalmi, it seems that words were pronounced with an emphasis on the later syllables, whereas in the Bavli, the emphasis was moved forward. So, the same amora we know in the Bavli as Rav Avin, the Yerushalmi calls Rabbi Bun. Note how in Bavel, the “-i” fell off the end of “Rabbi”, so that the amoraim there are called “Rav”, and in Israel, the leading letter fell off. Similarly, R’ Elazer becomes R’ Lazer, R’ Yehudah – R’ Yuda, or sometimes, with a more Greek ending, R’ Yudan, but in either case, the hei slurs away. More dramatic — and often confusing — is when the amora the Bavli refers to as Rav Ila is called Rabbi Lo, and one has to guess whether R’ Ila is being quoted, or Rebbe is saying something starting with the word “lo” [no]. We also see alefs simply dropped out of the spelling of words and other inconsistencies, but we don’t know how many of these are simply do to inferior transcription. Unlike what I noted about names, where there is a clear pattern.)

Quoting Style:

So, given the value placed on quotes and citations, the Yerushalmi sometimes quotes entire sections repeatedly. Not just repeating the one opinion, but including the whole dialog. Usually, this is at most two or three repetitions of the same dialog in the same mesechta, each time to bring out a different point related to the current topic. But a stark example, in Mes’ Shevi’is daf 10, an entire segment is repeated in two versions that are only trivially different, Rabbi Yaaqov bar Zevidei’s version vs. Rabbi Mana’s:

1) אמר רבי יעקב בר זבדי קומי רבי אבהו לא כן אמר רבי זעירא ורבי יוחנן בשם רבי ינאי רבי ירמיה רבי יוחנן בשם ר”ש בן יוצדק נמנו בעליית בית נתזה בלוד על כל התורה מניין אם יאמר עכו”ם לישראל לעבור על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה חוץ מעבודה זרה וגילוי עריות ושפיכת דמים יעבור ולא יהרג הדא דתימר בינו לבין עצמו אבל ברבים אפילו מצוה קלה לא ישמע לו כגון לולינוס ופפוס אחיו שנתנו להם מים בכלי זכוכית צבועה ולא קיבלו מהן אמר לא מתכוין משמדתכון ולא איתכווין אלא מיגבי ארנונין כמה הם רבים רבנין דקיסרין אמרי עשרה דכתיב (דף י:) (ויקרא כג) ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל>רבי אבונה זעירא חמנוניה פרי חורי חמרא בשבתא רבי יונה ורבי יוסי הורין מפי לארסקינס בשובתא
2) אמר רבי מנא קשיתי קומי רבי יונה אבא לא כן אמר רבי זעירא רבי יוחנן בשם רבי ינאי רבי ירמיה רבי יוחנן בשם ר”ש בן יוצדק נמנו בעליית בית נתזה בלוד על כל התורה כולה מניין אם יאמר עכו”ם לישראל לעבור על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה חוץ מן העבודה זרה וגילוי עריות ושפיכת דמים יעבור ולא יהרג הדא דתימא בינו לבין עצמו אבל ברבים אפילו מצוה קלה לא ישמע לו כגון לוליינוס ופפוס אחיו שנתנו להם מים בכלי זכוכית צבועה ולא קיבלו מהן אמר לא אתכווין משמדתון ולא אתכווין אלא מיכל פיתא חמימה כמה הם רבים רבנן דקיסרין אמרין עשרה דכתיב (שם) ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל

This shows the significance given to precise citation. Or, this segment from Maaseros 5:3, Vilna 24b. Notice how not only is the mishnah under discussion re-quoted before Rabbi Avohu’s comment is repeated, but R’ Avohu’s introduction, that sometimes the idea he is about to give is said in the name of Rabbi Lazer and sometimes in the name of Rabbi Yossi bei Rabbi Chanina is also repeated just a couple of lines later — all to make the two word point at the end “והוא שהחמיץ” that when Rabbi Yehudah says that water that was run through wine dregs that weren’t tithed and didn’t even increase in volume is obligated in maaser anway (because it was changed by the maaser-requiring dregs), it’s only if the mixture fermented.

משנה המתמד ונתן מים במידה ומצא כדי מדתו פטור.  רבי יהודה מחייב.  …
גמרא א”ר אבהו זימנין אמר לה בשם רבי לעזר זימנין אמר לה בשם רבי יוסי בי רבי חנינא והוא שהחמיץ. תמן תנינן התמד עד שלא החמיץ אינו ניקח בכסף מעשר ופוסל את המקוה.  משהחמיץ ניקח בכסף מעשר ואינו פוסל את המקוה.  מתני’ דרבי יודה היא דתנינן תמן המתמד ונתן מים במידה ומצא כדי מידתו פטור רבי יודה מחייב.  אמר רבי אבהו זמנין אמר לה בשם רבי לעזר וזמנין אמר לה בשם רבי יוסי בי רבי חנינה והוא שהחמיץ.

The Ridvaz comments on this (Maaser Sheini 4:1, vilna pg 28a “תםן ללא יתיר פיריי…”:

פי׳ דהוא שייך למס׳ שביעית פ״ד דשם פריך מהברייתא ההיא לענין שביעית ומשני שם דתננן דלא יתיר פירוי כו׳ ואגב גררא דמביא הברייתא מביא גם כאן זאת כדרך הש״ס הזה  ככמה מקומות כידוע לדרגילין בו :

Meaning, that this is relevant to tractate Shevi’is ch. 4, because there it asksand it answers there… Because of “dragging”, that [once] it brought the beraisa it also brings here [this following discussion], as is the way in this talmud in numerous places, as is known to those who are used to it.

And then there is the opposite extreme — instead of repetitious verbiage in a desire to preserve the older discussion intact, the gemara will instead refer to opinions with the briefest of citations, leaving the commentaries scrambling to chase down what is being referred to. Sometimes, to wildly different conclusions. “A machloqes between what Rabbi Yehudah said on Sukkah and Rabbi Yosi said in Menachos.” Or, “since we see in the famous case of …” (without telling you the case), etc…

Similarly too, the Yerushalmi quotes the tannaim in the Tosefta regularly, far more often than the Bavli.

What one is clearly listening to is a group of rabbanim who follow very closely the exact wording of the statement. And knowing that they relied on studying that wording, they took caution to preserve it.

Things not said:

Therefore, the use of using reasoning to fill in gaps in our knowledge about the din under discussion occurs far less often. Many discussions end with an open question, rather than extrapolating from his words what a tanna probably would have said. Again, this isn’t only because the kind of reasoning Rabbi Yehudah developed was with him in Bavel. As we will see in another post, the Yerushalmi does engage in its own style of reasoning. (To give a teaser: there is more use of analogy to apply the parallel of a din to a different area of halakhah.)

Rather, I think this willingness to leave the question open is because they were very aware of the gap between the actual quote and a deduction. Also, tampering with the quote with suggestions contaminates the repetition process — they are actually detrimental to what the Yerushalmi is trying to do.

One amora who particularly suffered from this was Rabbi Yirmiyah. Every several pages or so, Rabbi Yirmiyah would propose some implausible case, something that would measure the limits of the just-quoted halakhah. In fact, he only arrives in Eretz Yisrael after being thrown out of the beis medrash in Bavel for doing this one time too many (Bava Basra 23b). For example, ֛Maaseros 3:4, 17b discusses how many fruit a picker may hold such that it still qualifies as a snack, as one may only snack in the field from food that hasn’t yet had terumah and maaser removed. R’ Yirmiyah asks about the case where the picker juggles the olives. Does the one in the air count as being “held”? In general, these questions don’t get answered.

Citation Culture:

Less directly connected, but I think part of this culture, is the Yerushalmi’s greater emphasis on finding sources in general.

For example, there is a halachic principle “ein sheliach lidvar aveirah — there are no messengers (or: proxies) for something that is a sin.” The Bavli’s explanation is logical, “the words of the Master, the words of the servant, which do you listen to?” Obviously, when given a choice between Hashem’s law and a person’s order, the Torah comes first. Therefore, someone who accepts such an appointment is culpable for making the wrong choice.

In the Yerushalmi (Terumos 35a), the source is a verse. “שליח לוקה והוא פטור דָּ֣ם יֵֽחָשֵׁ֞ב לָאִ֤ישׁ הַהוּ ולא לשולחיו – the messenger is punished and he [the sender] is not culpable. ‘[The murder] will be considered blood for this man’ — and not the one who sent him.”

We see this more often in the greater emphasis the Yerushalmi gives asmachtos, finding references or mnemonics for rabbinic law in the Torah. For example, by Torah law, there is no minimum for terumah. However, according to Beis Hillel, the Rabbis set that the miserly must give at least 1/60th to a kohein, the norm would be to give 1/50th, and the generous would give 1/40th. According to Beis Shammai, the rabbinic range for terumah was instead 1/50th, 1/40th and 1/30th, respectively.  The Yerushalmi (Terumos 4:3, vilna 19b-20a) textually supports all six measures with asmachtos.

כתיב ששית האיפה מחומר החיטים וששיתם את האיפה מחומר השעורים יכול תורם חיטים א’ משלשים ושעורים אחד מששים ת”ל וכל תרומת שיהיו כל התרומות שוות שמואל אמר תן ששית על ששיתם ונמצא תורם אחד מארבעים בינונית אחד מחמשים א”ר לוי כתיב וממחצית בני ישראל תקח אחד אחוז מן החמשים כל שאתה אוחז ממקום אחר הרי הוא כזה מה זה אחד מן החמשים אף מה שאתה אוחז ממקום אחר הרי הוא כזה והרעה אחד מששים דכתיב וששיתם את האיפה מחומר השעורים. בית שמאי אומרים משלשים וששית האיפה מחומר השעורים בינונית מארבעים מן הדא דשמואל והרעה מששים מן הדא דר’ לוי דאמר רבי לוי בר חינא כל המוציא מעשרותיו כתקנן אינו מפסיד כלום מה טעמא ועשירית החומר יהיה האיפה מן החומר

Last, the Bavli will only cite a mishnah if it provides a clear source as to the law under discussion. In what I think is another instance of “Citation Culture”, the Yerushalmi will quote a mishnah that hints at the law, even if it is not usable as an indisputable proof. On Terumos 6:1, vilna 31b, Rabbi Yosi quotes a mishnah as saying “that which grows from [planting] terumah is terumah“. If someone plants terumah wheat, the entire resulting crop must be given to kohanim as terumah. (This is only rabbinically. Therefore, the Torahitic obligation of tithing still applies to the crop, and must be given by the kohanim.) Rabbi Yosi uses this mishnah to show that it’s specifically when one plants terumah itself. If someone consumes terumah and then has to reimburse the kohanim, “that which goes reimbursement for terumah is not terumah” as the mishnah speaks of terumah specifically, not reimbursements.

(One might see this as reading more into a source than what is there, thus potentially corrupting the purity of the transmitted quote. In short, as defying the entire thesis of this post. I rather see it as an implication inherent in the text, but one that simply doesn’t reach the unimpeachable source level of certainty, and thus in line with trying to find a connection to tradition for every existing law.)

Coming attractions:

In the first installment I argued that the style of dialectic (shaqla vetarya) was honed by Rav Yehudah, the founder of the yeshiva at Pumbedisa. In this essay, I tried to show how rarely the Yerushalmi engages in this argument style, instead preferring a dependency on existing sources. Next, I hope to illustrate the modes of reasoning one does find in the Yerushalmi insead.