Value and Money

Yerushalmi Mes’ Qiddushin (or, as the Y-mi would itself call it: Meikhas Qiddushin, see here , the section subtitled “Linguistics”, for why I believe the difference in nomenclature is significant) includes three discussions that I believe reflect on the topic of how to relate value to price.

In 2:5, vilna ed. 25a, the gemara discusses the possibility of marrying a woman not by giving her something worth at least a perutah, but by pardoning a loan. Something actually has to be given, though. It’s not sufficient to move money around on ledgers, as this is part of the pro forma of the wedding rite. So the gemara suggests that he is giving her an intangible — the value of the utility/enjoyment of not having to pay the loan back. If he tells her (romantic that he is) to repay the majority of the loan, leaving the rest to be pardoned to effect the marriage, Rav Shim’on ben Elazar quotes R’ Meir, who understandably says that a minimum of a perutah must be left of the loan in order for the marriage to take effect.

Rabbi Yosi disagrees. He suggests that one must leave more than a perutah to the loan. After all, “שמא נותן שוה פרוטה על שוה פרוטה”, would someone pay a perutah to be pardoned of a loan of a perutah? A pardon is worth less than the amount pardoned, because that is the only reasonable purchase price.

Second case is that of tovas hana’ah, the value of being able to pick which kohein to give one’s terumah to. (Or to give sections of his offering, or to pick a levi to receive his ma’aser, or….) The mishnah 2:9 (on 30b) says that a woman can be married by relinquishing that right to her. Rabbi Yosi explains that this utility/enjoyment (if of enough produce for the right itself to be worth more than a perutah) can get a gift for the purpose of marriage. Rabbi Yochanan disagrees with Rabbi Yosi, and says that tovas hana’ah has no market value. Say a man’s daughter married a kohein, so that he himself is not a kohein (a kohein can’t buy terumah, doing business in terumah is both prohibited and ineffective) but his grandson is. Even if the grandfather [aid the farmer for the right, he couldn’t compel the farmer to give his terumah to his grandson.

In the Yerushalmi’s version of the dispute, both sides believe in tovas hana’ah, but Rabbi Yosi says it has market value, and Rabbi Yochanan says it does not.

The third discussion is at 3:6 (37b). The topic is whether one can marry a woman by providing services rather than giving goods. The unnamed opinion in the gemara is that he can. Rabbi Ba (the Bavli’s R’ Abba) says that this is only true if she sets aside an actual sela coin to pay him, and he pardons the payment. The service itself isn’t a “thing” to be given, only the set aside coin would be.

Rabbi Yosi in the first two disputes takes the side that since we say something has value, it must have payment value. Tovas hana’ah exists, so there must be a way to pay for it. And the amount one would pay to pardon a loan is its assessed value.

Rabbi Ba appears to disagree with that basic proposition. (As did R’ Shimon ben Elazar’s tradition about Rav Meir’s position, and R’ Yochanan.) Something can be of value to someone without it being of financial value.

In the end, the majority of the amoraim of Eretz Yisrael hold “Money can’t buy happiness!”

הדרן עליך מסכת קידושין,
וסליקא לה סדר נשים!

Infinite Worth

I have for a while kept a theory that not only do we aggadically consider human life to be of infinite value but that this notion has halachic import.

For example, there is a dispute about what to do when an enemy or criminal gang tell a group of Jews to turn one of their number in to be killed, or else they all will. Consequentally speaking, the logical thing to do is to pick one to be killed, since if you don’t, that person will be killed anyway — along with the rest of the group.

But neither Rav Yochanan nor Reish Laqish tell us to do that. Rather, one may only do so if the enemy says “turn over Sheva ben Bikhri” (to give the example from Shemuel II). According to R’ Yochanan, their naming a particular person is sufficient. But Reish Laqish hold that this was only because David haMelekh knew Sheva ben Bickri was already culpable for the death penalty — their naming a particular victim is not enough to permit handing him over.

This came up in practice during the first Lebanon War. (Story heard from RARakeffetR, but I might be mangling the details.) 5 soldiers went into a building in Beirut to check if it was safe. They make it to the top of the building, and having completed their inspection, gave the all clear. 100 or so soldiers start storming the building when the enemy blows it up.

Does one: Recover the 5 boys at the top of the building in hopes of saving them? But then meanwhile, more of the soldiers who are trapped further down in the rubble will die.

Or: Bulldoze away the top layer of the rubble, killing the 5 boys (some of who are likely dead already, all of whom are going to die without help) in order to save far more boys overall?

(One should preemptively pray that the question never comes up.)

Thinking in terms of transfinite math (doing math with infinities)…

Are there more whole numbers than even numbers? Intuitively, you might say “yes”, because if you have 10 whole numbers, 1 through 10, half of them will be even (2, 4, 6, 8, 10) and the others odd — and so on no matter how big of a collection I pick — 100, 1000, or a google. But not infinity. Because if you take every integer, I can pair it up 1:1 with an integer. Just double it. Pair

1 – 2
2 – 4
3 – 6
613 – 1226
1,000,002 – 2,000,004

So in a very real sense, the numbers are the same. No, it’s not intuitive, but then, neither is the whole concept of taking an infinity of something. 2 * infinity = infinity, 3 * infinity = infinity (by a similar argument), and so on.

So, if each of the captured people have infinite value, then one really can’t say that more value is lost if all 20 are killed than if one. Infinity is infinity no matter what you multiply it by.

Similarly, we violate Shabbos to give them the opportunity to observe another Shabbos. (We violate Shabbos to save a non-Jews for an entirely different reason: darkhei shalom — walking the path of He Who makes peace is a higher value.) This is true even for someone who will die in a short while, nor be capable of doing much in that while, anyway.

One could see this as the flip-side of the previous argument. Just as 20 lives are of the same infinite value as one, a few seconds of Shabbos has the same infinite value as the Shabbos being violated.

What pushed me to post this notion is that I found another use of this infinity theory when learning Yerushalmi Qiddushin 3:1 (32b), although there is a parallel discussion in the Bavli on 60a so in a rare nod to convention, I’ll use that.

If a couple attempt to marry but the woman is already married to someone else, the rite isn’t binding. She doesn’t need a divorce from the second man because there is no marriage.

But, if someone says “You are wed to me from now and after 30 days”, he created a period of limbo. The wedding is performed at one time, but effect a marriage for 30 days.The case Abaye poses is where a second man comes during those 30 days and says “You are wed to me from now and after 20 days” and a third says “You are wed to me from now and after 10 days”… So that each subsequent wedding takes effect before the weddings already performed — first wedding last to take effect, 2nd wedding is 2nd to last, etc…

Abayei says she only needs a gett from the first man and the last man. Either the ineffectiveness of a wedding with a married woman applies based on when the wedding was performed, or when it took effect. So, she might be married to the first groom or the last, but those who neither performed the wedding nor whose as-of date are first are certainly not the husband.

Ula says Rav Yochanan disagreed. (In the Y-mi, Rav Avohu is the one to quote R’ Yochanan, and Abayei and Ula also post-date the JT.) That in such a situation she could be married to any number of men, and since this situation is untenable, each must give her a gett. R Merashia berei deRav Ami explains that this is because Rav Yochanan holds that each man left room for other marriages to take hold to.

The Y-mi continues with variation on the case. What if the second man did a regular wedding, with no delay? Rabbi Leizer (ie R’ Eliezer) says that the third and subsequent men would still be married to her, and she would need gittin from all of them. Rabbi Yitzchaq bar Tavilai asked him why; wouldn’t the second wedding take up all the claim that is left after the first? Isn’t she fully married after two, with none of her single-hood left for the third man’s wedding to connect to? RYbT’s opens “mah nafshach” (literally: what’s your soul?), an idiom that introduces a questioning something’s logic. R’ Leizer’s answers, “Is there a nafshakh when it comes to relations”?

I would like to suggest that R’ Leizer is also appealing to our inability to measure the value of a person. There are two ways to relate to the bride: The first is as an individual, and thus she is married or not as a unit. The second is where that unit was divided, in which case, we’re speaking of something as precious as relations with another human being, and it’s infinite. There is no way to add finite pieces to make up an infinity. And so once the first groom didn’t marry her all-or-nothing at the time of the wedding, any number of weddings would be binding.

Experimental Evidence of the Efficacy of Hispaalus

Scientific American just (June 24,2013) put up a podcast titled “Teaching People To Be Nice” by Christie Nicholson on their “Mind & Brain :: 60 Second Mind” series. To quote (in full):

Can you train someone to be a nicer person? A recent study using meditation techniques shows that it might be possible. (The research is published in the journal Psychological Science.)

One group of subjects learned to practice what’s called “compassionate meditation” by focusing on a specific person while repeating a phrase like, “May you be free from suffering.” The subjects concentrated on five different people: A loved one, a friend, themselves, a stranger and then someone they were in conflict with. Another group of subjects performed general positive thinking. Both groups did the exercise 30 minutes a day for two weeks.

Then everyone was asked to spend money to help a fictional character who had been treated unfairly.

And the subjects who did compassionate meditation were more likely to spend their money to help than those who trained to just think more positively. The researchers also did brain scans of those who behaved most altruistically, before and after training. And people who were most altruistic after training showed the biggest increases in activity in brain areas involved in empathy and positive emotion. So empathy appears to be like a muscle—it can be built up by exercise that causes actual physiological changes.

Nothing Rav Yisrael Salanter didn’t already say when he spoke of learning mussar texts behispa’alus. But it’s nice to see Western Civ finally provide the experimental data to back him up, a mere 150 years later.


My rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, passed away on 9 Tammuz 5753, 20 years ago today. I am posting a gemara that rebbe would often refer to in his shmuessin. Yuma 86a:

At Rabbi Yanai['s school] it was said: Anyone whose peers are embarassed by what is heard about him, that is a desecration of Hashem’s name.
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchaq said: For example, if people say [about him], “May the Lord forgive So-and-so.”

Abaye said: As the beraisa says, “‘And you shall love Hashem your G-d’ — that the Name of Heaven shall be beloved because of you.”

If someone studies Tanakh and Mishnah, and apprentices under the Sages, is trustworthy in business, and speaks pleasantly to people, what do people say about him? “Enriched is his father who taught him Torah! Enriched is his rebbe who taught him Torah! Woe for those who didn’t study Torah! For So-and-so who learned Torah, look how pleasant his ways are, how sweet his deeds!” The pasuq says of him “[Hashem] said to me: Yisrael, you are my servant that in you I will be glorified!” (Yeshaiah 49:3)
But, if someone studies Tanakh and Mishnah, and apprentices under the Sages, but is not trustworthy in business, and his words are unpleasant toward people, what do people say about him? “Woe for his father who taught him Torah! Woe for his rebbe who taught him Torah! So-and-so who learned Torah, look how accursed are his ways, how disgustinghis deeds!” The pasuq says of him, “About them people say: These are Hashem’s people, and they are gone from His land.” (Yechezqeil 36:20)


דבי ר’ ינאי אמר: כל שחביריו מתביישין מחמת שמועתו (היינו חילול השם).
אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק: כגון דקא אמרי אינשי שרא ליה מריה לפלניא.
אביי אמר כדתניא: (דברים ו, ה) וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ — שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך.
שיהא קורא ושונה ומשמש ת”ח ויהא משאו ומתנו בנחת עם הבריות מה הבריות אומרות עליו אשרי אביו שלמדו תורה אשרי רבו שלמדו תורה אוי להם לבריות שלא למדו תורה פלוני שלמדו תורה ראו כמה נאים דרכיו כמה מתוקנים מעשיו עליו הכתוב אומר (ישעיהו מט, ג) וַיֹּאמֶר לִי עַבְדִּי אָתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ אֶתְפָּאָר.
אבל מי שקורא ושונה ומשמש ת”ח ואין משאו ומתנו באמונה ואין דבורו בנחת עם הבריות מה הבריות אומרות עליו אוי לו לפלוני שלמד תורה אוי לו לאביו שלמדו תורה אוי לו לרבו שלמדו תורה פלוני שלמד תורה ראו כמה מקולקלין מעשיו וכמה מכוערין דרכיו ועליו הכתוב אומר (יחזקאל לו, כ) [וַיָּבוֹא אֶל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ שָׁם וַיְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי] בֶּאֱמֹר לָהֶם עַם ה אֵלֶּה וּמֵאַרְצוֹ יָצָאוּ.

Other posts related to Rav Dovid:

  • Rebbe – Bios and hespedim
  • Brisk and Telzh – on how his shiur differed from Brisker derekh (and why I am happy with my choice), published in Kol haMevaser
  • Shalom Rav – on peace and wholeness, and why they share the same root, another theme Rav Dovid often revisited

Process and Permanence

When you drop a drop of ink into a cup of water, the ink spirals around in some chaotic pattern and eventually diffuses until the entire liquid is a uniform light blue. Even though each time you repeat the experiment the dance and spiral is different, something about it in the general is predictable. If you had different snapshots of the sequence that were far enough apart in time, you could place them in historical order – overall the blue area will get larger. Entropy always increases until it reaches the maximum. The system runs a certain way, reaching equilibrium.

History is also a process. At the time of creation, the world was not created in its ideal end-state form. To review an earlier post in which I explored this divergence… It all began on the very first Tuesday:

There is a medrash (Breishis Rabba 5:9) that comments on a change in language in the middle describing of the creation of trees. Hashem orders the earth on the third day to bring forth “eitz peri oseh peri“, fruit trees that make fruit, yet the land actually produces only “eitz oseh peri“. Between the commandment and the fulfillment, something is lost. The medrash explains that originally the wood would have tasted like the fruit, so that it would truly be a “fruit tree”. Instead of the norm being that the wood of the tree would taste like the fruit, this is now the exception. With a couple of exceptions, one of them — note this for later — the esrog, the trees, or the angels entrusted to guard them, were afraid for their survival. If the wood tasted like the fruit, animals would eat the plant rather than the fruit, and they would die out. And so, the earth “disobeyed”.What does this medrash mean? Does the earth have free will, that it can choose to disobey G-d? …

According to Rav Kook [Orot haTeshuvah 6:7], the medrash gives the reason why the holiness of our goal is not felt in our day-to-day life. Our physical framework is limited and needs support. It requires our attention. The trees didn’t embody the ideal because they were afraid for their survival. In truth, the mundane only exists to be the means to an end, but because of the needs of survival, it takes on its own reality.
The second step occurs on day four, with Hashem’s creation of the moon. … In Parshas Bereishis (1:16) the Torah reads: “And G-d made the two large luminaries — the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night — and the stars.” The gemara (Chulin 60b) points out an inconsistency in the pasuq. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The gemara answers with a story. Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory? … [longer exchange deleted]

The Maharsha explains that the story is about the Jewish people and our goals vs the world at large and theirs. … Why do we live in a world that seems to be dominated by Edom’s principal, that might makes right? Why isn’t holiness the dominant idea, and right make might?

… One day 3, the notion of needing to be concerned about the “real world” entered creation, which made it take on a life of its own, hiding its true nature of being merely the means toward holiness. Now, this second thing became a competing power. The moon sees a power struggle between itself, the pursuit of holiness, and the might of the sun.

The gemara (Succah 35a) explains, “‘P’ri eitz hadar’ — that its fruit tastes like the tree.” A defining feature of the esrog is that it did not participate in the rebellion of day three. Based on this, Medrash Rabba (15:6) identifies the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the eitz hada’as, with the esrog. … [Chavah and Adam] ate the fruit bein hashemashos, at the end of the sixth day (Sanhedrin 38b). A period of time when day and night overlap. The sun and moon, might and holiness, vie for rule.

Through these three stages we have the creation of the notion of secular, that which we can’t already see holiness and the goal of the process in it; secular rises to be an opposing power to the holy; and man internalizes this gap by eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

Interestingly, these stages are revisited through the course of last week’s parashah and this one’s — Qorach and Chuqas.

What made me realize this was when we read about one of the miracles that put the complaints of Qorach’s camp to rest. Each of the princes, including Aharon, took a staff and Moshe laid them before the aron. The next morning, Aharon’s staff had produced buds, blossoms, and ripe fruit. Rav Kook raises this point in his discussion of the trees. Aharon’s staff had all the stages of producing fruit at the same time, even though in nature one develops into the other in the course of seasons.

(The almond is the first tree in Israel to bud, but it isn’t harvested until after the fruit dries out and its seed, the nut, is ready. Thus its process to create fruit is the longest of any Israeli crop. Perhaps that is why it was chosen.)

After the dispute with Qorach, the people express terror of the Mishkan. They are afraid that all who enter it die.Hashem teaches us the laws of terumah, ma’aser and other gifts to the kohanim. A farmer is reminded that he does not raise a crop without Hashem’s aid. He is called upon to sanctify that crop by dedicating some of it to the kohanim and levi’im. A sanctification of the secular. A repair of the fruit tree, the moon, and the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

A punishment of eating that fruit was that man became a mortal being (Bereishis 2:17). Overcoming death is the central theme of parashas Chuqas, which tells of the mitzvah of the parah adumah, the death of Miriam and the restoration of food, and the death of Aharon and the restoration of food.

As I wrote in yet another older essay (Chuqas 1995):

The parah [adumah] is a work animal. However, to be usable for the mitzvah, this cow must never have been harnessed. It represents the physical man, which, in the state of tum’ah, is not controlled by the creative mind. For this reason, the parah must be pure red – the color of unadulterated physicality. [Adom - red, related to adamah - earth.]

How does one get past death, and permitted again to enter the beis hamiqdash? By remembering that the physical is not an end in itself. That the body in question was “merely” a tool to be harnessed for the Divine Goal, that what we call secular is the process for reaching holy, in which the eventual holiness is hidden.

With Miriam’s death, this lesson is learned imperfectly. We were receiving water in Miriam’s merit, and with her death we needed a new well. Moshe and Aharon manage to reestablish a source of water, but do so by hitting the rock rather than speaking to it. It is with Aharon’s death that we succeed in continuing what he established in his lifetime.

Non-coincidentally, the next event in the Torah involves Edom, the “sun” in the metaphor of the two great lights. But this devar Torah is long enough…

How does one create permanence? I asked this question a number of years ago in an essay on parashas Pequdei:

When the parts of the Mishkan were completed, the Mishkan was then dedicated in the Shmonas Yimei Hamilu’im, 8 days in which it was assembled and taken down. For the first seven days, it was assembled by Aharon and his sons, the kohanim. On the eight day, Moshe assembled the Mishkan.

What was the purpose of this? If the building of the Mishkan was just practice, to learn how to do it in the future, Moshe would have demonstrated to the kohanim how to assemble the Mishkan on the first day, not the last, after they’ve done it seven times already.

Rav Samson Rephael Hirsch sees in these 8 days a symbol for the subsequent history of all of the sanctuaries. The Mishkan was assembled in five places: Sinai, Gilgal, Shilo, Nov, and Gideon. After the Mishkan, we have had two Batei Mikdash so far, and await the building of the third. In all, sanctuaries are built eight times in Jewish history.

There is a famous Aggadita that explains why Moshe Rabbeinu could not be the one to take us into Eretz Yisrael. Anything Moshe did is permanent. This is important, because if it were possible to abrogate one thing that he did, it brings into question the permanence of the Torah. However, Hashem knew that the time would come when the Jews would deserve punishment. By having Joshua bring us into Israel, it made the choice of exile a possible punishment.

This makes Rabbiner Hirsch’s comment even more interesting. On the eighth day the assembly was done by Moshe. The eighth day also parallels the Third Beis Hamikdosh, which will never be destroyed. Moshe was not merely participating in the consecration of the Mishkan, but also was demonstrating the permanence of the Messianic age. The Temple will not fall again, there will be no more exiles.

But what gave Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions the power of permanence?

R. Yochanan Hasandler (Avos 4:14) describes what gives permanence to a congregation. “Any congregation which is lesheim Shamayim will end up existing, and congregation which is not lesheim Shamayim will not end up existing.”

Perhaps this too is the source of the permanence of Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions. Just as a congregation that is lesheim Shamayim endures, so too other activities.

There is a similar statement about arguments, to which our story of Qorach is set up as a foil. Avos 5:20:

Any dispute which is for the lesheim Shamayim its outcome is that it will be permanent, and any dispute which is not for the lesheim Shamayim — its outcome is that it will not be permanent. What is a dispute which is for the lesheim Shamayim? This is the dispute between Hillel and Shammai. What is the dispute which is not for the lesheim Shamayim? This is the dispute between Qorach and all his followers.

But why do things that are for the sake of heaven persist? For that I think we should return to the cup of water. Enough time has passed that it’s entirely an inky blue. The outcome was predetermined, but the path the process took to get there was not.

History too, is on a path. From the non-ideal state where the tree does not taste like the fruit, the holiness of its goals are not always seen in its means, to the messianic vision of “the whole world will be filled of knowledge of Hashem,” a world in which “Hashem be One and His name, One.” Not divided between tree and fruit, no more wars between the sun and moon.

Qorach played for Edom’s power, and therefore did not succeed. Because his vision did not fit that final state, it did not persist. Moshe and Aharon — and much later, the schools of Hillel and Shammai — saw their authority as a tool for making sanctity manifest, and so they did.

We tend to think of Hashem punishing sin because it’s evil. But we can equally view sin as that which doesn’t fit Hashem’s plan, and thus Hashem forewarns us that according to the rules He set up, it has no permanence. The person aligned with sin and everything he gained through his sin would perforce be destroyed. (This idea and the water-in-ink metaphor are from the Aspaqlaria reader for Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, pg. 45 “The Thermodynamics of History.)

That which is performed for the sake of heaven is part of the greater plan of the process of history — a physical action tied to the sacred goal — and therefore does have permanence. This is what we see from Qorach, teruamah and maaser, and as the parah adumah tells us — even allows what we created to survive death.

(This devar Torah was originally given at shevar berakhos for my nephew and new niece-in-law, phrased to answer the question: Well, everyone wishes you a ba’ayis ne’eman beYisrael. But how does one actually build a “permanent home in Israel?” Mazal tov Pinchas and Malkah!)

Qinyan and Ba’alus

(Originally posted Mar 2007, now enlarged.)

Qinyan” is usually translated “acquisition”, and “ba’alus“, “ownership”. I would suggest that neither translation is precise. And this imprecision only leads to difficulties in understanding the law, rather than the clarity we get by analyzing the halakhah on its own terms.

This is another instance of what we looked at in “The Country of Yir’ah“, where we saw (I hope I succeeded to show people) the limitations of trying to understand and internalize the middah of “yir’ah” by working within the English categories of fear and awe rather than dealing with yir’ah as a fundamental concept, as Jewish tradition cut those borders.


Although a wedding is called qinyan, and the laws are derived from Avraham’s acquisition of a field from Efron, there are a number of ways it differs from the halakhos of a property transfer.

  1. Property transfer requires the agreement of buyer and seller, not of the item (e.g. slave) being bought. Marriage requires the woman’s consent.
  2. Money received in exchange for a qinyan does not itself require a qinyan. I need not do anything to take possession of the money given me to buy my house. However, the ring is put on the woman’s pointer finger so that she can make a qinyan on it by moving it to her ring finger. It is therefore NOT payment.
  3. Also, payment effects the sale. If I were buying land, the land does not become mine until money actually changes hands. If someone owed me money and I pardoned the loan as payment for the land, I did not receive ba’alus. And if the purchase was of merchandise, the curse of “mi shepara” applies only after money exchanged hands; and a pardoned loan would not qualify someone for it.

    However, a woman who owed a man money could be married by pardoning the loan. The measure isn’t the motion of money, but her receipt of hana’ah (benefit / enjoyment) of some measurable value. Again, proving the giving a ring is not about payment.

  4. In his “Perceptions” for Chayei Sarah 5760, R Pinchas Winston writes:

    Given that the amount of money needed to be transferred is minimal and fixed, regardless of the financial worth of either the husband- or wife-to-be, this is obviously not a simple financial transaction taking place over here.

    This is an important point. People aren’t worth only a perutah, and yet that is all marriage requires.

    I might add that the law of “ona’ah” voids any sale where the price was more than 1/6th away from market value in either direction. Yet a marriage can involve the transfer of a perutah, or of a gold ring.

This would establish that the meaning of qinyan is broader than “acquisition”, and is being used in this broader sense when speaking of marriage.

In an earlier entry I extrapolated from R’ JB Soloveitcik’s identification of the root of “qinyan“, \קנה\, with the notion of manufacture and repair. That a qinyan is a means of exchanging ownership caused by developing one thing for the work someone else put into their object or service. I therefore suggested, “By making marriage assume the qinyan format we are acknowledging that the bride and groom were literally made for each other, and hopefully will remain together until the end of time.”

Thus, qinyan refers to the work and to the responsibility of repair. This would explain why many of us, in less than a month, will be performing a qinyan sudar, a kind of qinyan involving handing over a small object, usually cloth, to delegate the job of selling our chameitz. The rabbi isn’t acquiring our chameitz, he can’t own it any more than the rest of us can. He is assuming the responsibility for its sale, to serve as our shaliach, our proxy.

In the same way, Boaz takes responsibility for marrying Rus (in a quasi-yibum) by the exchange of a shoe with the unnamed relative. This too is a qinyan, “vezos hate’udah beyisrael — and this is a contract in Israel”. Qinyan as accepting responsibility.


R’ Dovid Lifshitz was once approached before shiur by someone who had recently bought a co-op. The problem was that the co-op board didn’t allow him to change the appearance of the outside of his domicile from the co-op’s standard by hanging a mezuzah.

Rav Dovid suggested (warning: I can’t recall if this was his conclusion or a hava amina, a possibility raised to be rejected) that perhaps someone who doesn’t have the authority to hang a mezuzah lacks ba’alus, and therefore wouldn’t be obligated to. (In either case, he suggested moving to a friendlier venue.) Note the implication: even if this lack of ba’alus is not sufficient to remove his obligation, it remains that a renter who can hang a mezuzah has more ba’alus than an owner who may not. And in any case, a renter doesn’t own, but is a ba’al with respect to hilkhos mezuzah. Ba’alus is not the same concept as that denoted by the English word “ownership”.

Ba’alus“, and similarly “reshus“, have to do with control over the object. Note the literal translations of the words: one means “master” and the other “has permission”. The ba’al must have the liberty necessary to execute his responsibilities that he was qoneh, and thereby has the permission to use it for himself. Authority without responsibility is immoral, responsibility without the authority to execute it is impossible. A person would accept the responsibility in exchange for the right to be able to use an object.


What is the nafqa minah lehalakhah, the pragmatic difference, between halachic ba’alus and western ownership?

We already saw two:

  1. A qinyan therefore need not imply authority over an object, merely the ability to execute the responsibilities necessary. Thus, it can be used for non-purchasing situations like marriage or appointing a delegate to sell chameitz.
  2. A renter has a measure of ba’alus because he has responsibilities and rights toward the think he rented. Despite a lack of ownership.

There is also a more subtle difference. What about a case where the item is prohibited? He could still possess it in the western legal sense. But he lacks the license necessary to be held responsible for it so we should conclude he lacks ba’alus.

The gemara (Pesachim 6b) tells us, “there are two things which are not in a person’s reshus but the scripture makes it as through they are in his reshus” — a pit (or a hazard in general) dug in a public area and chameitz (Pesachim 6b). The gemara‘s reasoning is straightforward from the distinction we made; since reshus is about control, something from which he is fully prohibited to get any benefit is not in his reshus.

Take the case of someone who did not sell, nullify, disown or destroy his chameiz before Pesach and then dies before the holiday is over. According to the Noda beYehudah (MK OC 20), based on this gemara, the chameitz wasn’t in his reshus when he died, so they don’t inherit it, and they have no obligation to destroy the chameitz on Pesach.

However, the Rambam (Chameitz uMatzah 1:3) writes that someone who buys chameitz on Pesach is punishable with lashes (assuming witnesses who warned him, etc…)! Why? Shouldn’t we argue that there was no sale, since it’s impossible for him to have chameitz in his reshus at the time of the transaction?

There the Noda beYehudah (ibid 19) argues that since the verse makes it as though it is in his reshus, it is sufficiently “as though” for the transaction to be prohibited. The Noda beYehudah seems to be drawing a distinction between inheritance, which is passive, and an attempt to purchase. The gemara‘s “as though it is in his reshus” could not include something with no action and no halachic state. It would therefore be a prohibition against attempts to gain western-style ownership, even though it can never be in your reshus.

And so, the difference between ba’alus and ownership gets the heirs off the hook.

The Broader Picture

This topic touches on two recurring themes in this blog.

First, note the difference between western ownership and halachic ba’alus. Halakhah places the notion of duty first, I can use something because I first accept responsibility for it. This is part of the general distinction in halakhah‘s focus on duties to others, rather than the western focus on my looking at defending rights.

Second, note also that ba’alus is phrased not in terms of the object, but the owner’s relationship to it. Ba’alus is more of the Semitic Perspective, ownership, the Yefetic one.

Mysticism and Rationalism: Act I

I have been exposed to many misunderstandings in online conversations that revolve around the issue of Mysticism and Rationalism as competing strains in Jewish Thought. Including the idea that these accurate describe streams of Jewish Thought altogether. I also want to challenge the notion that the popularization of Qabbalah is somehow a byproduct of the Maimonidian Controversy, an “equal and opposite reaction” to what some saw as the excesses of the Rambam’s Rationalism. (Which is where this first post will end.)

The nevi’im clearly spoke and taught an esoteric aspect of Torah. Aside from the obvious evidence in places like the Maaseh haMerkavah in the beginning of Yechezqeil, the short description by Yeshaiah, or the Man in the Throne in Shemos, it is logically compelled that there be an esoteric element to the prophetic tradition. After all, the nevu’ah is a state of awareness not experienced by the masses. Any discussion of how to get beyond the first steps, what it was like, etc… has to be opaque to the masses. It’s not only like describing music to the deaf by using comparison and contrasts to color, it is trying to do so in sign language.

From the prophetic tradition evolved the Sifrei Heikhalos, which refers a genre, not an individual text. These works describe the “palaces” of heaven, guided meditations that would help someone up the various levels from earth to heaven, allowing the practitioner to approach G-d. These too are filled with physical imagery describing what most of us haven’t experienced and aren’t currently equipped to experience. So we know the descriptions are metaphoric; and yet I presume to the initiate they really capture what they’re trying to describe.

One more famous example is the Shi’ur Qomah by Rabbi Yishma’el, actually self-described as being revealed by the angel Metatron to the tanna. This attribution is more accepted than some others. For example, Gershon Shalom (Jewish Gnosticism, pg 40) gives it tannaitic or at the latest amoraic origins. The book describes G-d in anthropomorphic terms, describing dimensions and each of the limbs of this Divine Form. How the rishonim respond to the text is illustrative.

The Rambam is so sure it’s heretical, he describes the Shi’ur Qomah as a Byzantine forgery (Teshuvos haRambam, Blau, 1:201).

R’ Saadia Gaon (Egypt 882/892 – Baghdad 942) took the approach I implied above, that the book should be read in the same light as the Maaseh haMerkavah. Which means the dispute over Who is the Man in the Throne — whether it’s a symbol to represent the Divine created out of the mind of the perceiver or a created being that is the embodiment of Hashem’s Glory (the Kavod Nivra) — would apply to the Shi’ur Komah as well. (R’ Saadia himself holds the latter with respect to Maaseh haMerkavah. See my earlier discussion in Mesukim MiDevash: Mishpatim.)

Meanwhile, there is a second esoteric tradition that speaks an entirely different language, as found in the numbers, letters, phonetics, combinatorics and discussion of names of G-d of Seifer haYetzirah. Tradition attributes the book to Adam, Avraham avinu, or R’ Aqiva, (R’ Moshe Cordevero says the latter, although he also suggests a hybrid solution — written by Avraham, redacted to its published form by Rabbi Aqiva.) But fortunately, our discussion depends more on when the book was published and studied than on when it was written. We’re looking at streams of thought, not the birthplace of an idea in obscurity. Rabbi Aqiva’s interest in Seifer haYetzirah brings its topics to the fore, to the discussion of Jewish Thought.

Rav Saadia Gaon wrote a commentary to Seifer haYetzirah using a system of Hebrew phonetics he himself devised, mapping it to concepts in a more Aristotelian philosophy system. Our first hint that the mystical and rationalist perspectives on things didn’t historically stand apart. R’ Saadia Gaon sees its discussion in terms of number, geometry and form preceding actual object, and its description of the various names of G-d as applying the various Aristotelian categories to our perception of Him.

In Rav Saadia Gaon’s work describing his own philosophy, Emunos veDei’os, there are no citations from Seifer haYetzirah nor references to its mode of thought. In all probability his work was published in response to public need, which in turn was caused by social pressure. The Moslems of his time were embracing an Aristotelian view of the world. Aristotle was at this point 1300 years old, and so thoroughly dominated the world of science and metaphysics it was accepted as the definitive description of how the world works. Only details were considered questionable. The Kalam (“Dialecticians”) arose among the Moslems, like the Scholastics later to among Christians, who try to unify their religion with this knowledge of the world, unifying revealed and discovered into one complete Truth. The Jews living among them were also struggling with these questions.

Rav Yehudah haLevi (also, “Rihal”; Toledo 1075/1086 – Israel 1141) takes a stance in The Kuzari. There is some speculation that it was written as a response to Emunos veDeios. The Kuzari vehemently rejects the notion of religion based on philosophical speculation. After all, whatever one philosopher proves, you can find another who proves the opposite. (1:13) It is a fitting tool for the Greeks, who lack a mesorah, but Semites and in particular the Jews have a more certain source of knowledge. (1:63) His conception of that tradition is not a collection of select authorities (the great rabbis of the past) but as a living culture of all the Jewish People — including the reader.

However, one can’t pigeonhole the Kuzari as an opposite to Emunos veDei’os. Both employ modes of thought we would consider Rationalist, rather than describing transmitted ideas on the basis of earlier authority (like the Yetzirah), or instructing one how to experience the metaphysical (as the Heikhalos literature does). Although he includes mesorah as a source of givens rather than only working from what can be known a priori, he reasons from those givens in philosophical ways.

Rihal believes that Divine Attributes are “derived from the way His creatures are affected by His decrees and measures”, not actual descriptions of G-d as He Is. But unlike Rav Saadia (and later the Rambam), he also spends time emphasizing the value of these descriptions to the human emotional experience. And also, in contrast to Emunos veDei’os, he discusses Seifer haYetzirah (names of G-d, the concept of sephirah) at length.

The first publication of what we today think of as Qabbalah is the Bahir, originally called after its author, Medrash R’ Nechunya ben Haqanah (1st cent CE). For example, that is how it is cited by the Ramban. Although, part of the work does also refer to the Teverian vowel system, which didn’t exist until the Geonic period, so this attribution doesn’t work for the entire final product. (Which is only to be expected for a text that is composed centuries before it is promulgated in writing. Oral traditions by their very nature grow and evolve, and are supposed to — this is one of the motivations for leaving them oral.) For our purposes, we merely note its publication date, Provence 1126.

The publication of the Bahir was when the public becomes aware of the results of combining the 10 sefiros, which from the Yetzirah are not described beyond their role as digits, with the angelology of the Heikhalot. For the first time the 10 sefiros are described in writing as channels which conduct Divine Influence down to creation, and angels in their own right.

Just 8 years after the Bahir’s revelation to the world, the Rambam was born. Notice this means the trend toward publishing the esoteric predates the Rambam.

The Rambam and the Moreh Nevuchim is a logical place to begin act 2, so I’ll pause here.



Mixed Motives

See the value of a single mitzvah, even if performed for primarily ulterior motives!

From Yerushalmi Qiddushin 22b:

א”ר יוחנן: אם שמעת דבר מר’ ליעזר בנו של ר”י הגלילי, נקב אזנך כאפרכס. הזו ושמע דאמר רבי יוחנן, ר’ ליעזר בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר: אפי’ תשע ומאות ותשעים ותשעה מלאכים מלמדין עליו חובה, ומלאך אחד מלמד עליו זכות, הקב”ה מכריעו לכף זכות. ולא סוף דבר כל אותו המלאך. אלא אפילו תשע מאות ותשעים ותשעה צדדין מאותו המלאך מלמדין עליו חובה, וצד אחד מאותו המלאך מלמד עליו זכות, הקב”ה מכריעו לכף זכות.

מה טעם? “אִם-יֵשׁ עָלָיו מַלְאָךְ מֵלִיץ אֶחָד מִאָלֶף” אין כתיב, אלא “אֶחָד מִנִּי-אָלֶף” מאלף לצדדין של אותו מלאך.

Rav Yochanan said: If you hear something from Rav Leizer the son of Rav Yosi haGelili, place a hearing tube in your ear. Attend and hear that R’ Yochanan said that R’ Leizer the son of Rav Yosi haGelili would say: Even if 999 angels find fault in him, and one angel finds merit in him, the Holy One allocates him to the side of merit. And it doesn’t end with all of that one angel! Rather, even 999 aspects of that angel [also] find fault in him, and one side of that angel find merit. The Holy One [still] allocates him to the side of merit!

What’s the source? It doesn’t say, “If there is one defending angel from 1,000 [mei'alef]“. Rather it says, “one of a thousandth [mini-alef]” (Iyov 33:23) Of the thousand aspects of that one angel.

So, a person who created 999 prosecuting angels by his sins but did one mitzvah, and even that mitzvah was primarily due to bad ulterior motives — so that only 1/1000th of the resulting angel (one one millionth of the angelic retinue) can defend him, Hashem will still take that tiny spark of good and judge the person as meritorious!