Amoraim and Amoraim

I am not a fan of the revadim (layers) method of gemara study. In short, this is a way of analyzing the gemara by teasing out the various layers of halachic discourse through the centuries we simply call “chazal”. My opposition isn’t so much that I think there is anything heretical or evil about it, just that this isn’t the way the gemara is meant to be studied. It’s focusing on a feature we should really consider incidental, in terms of the priorities of talmud Torah. Simply because we should be focusing on halachic authority, not history.

Still, it may be of interest that the voices in Shas can be divided into three eras, and one of those divisions actually has halachic significance.  My tutorial in this area was a PhD thesis by Joshua Even Eisen titled, “Stammaitic Activity versus Stammaitic Chronology; Anonymity’s Impact on the Legal Narrative of the Babylonian Talmud“.

It’s discussed in Doros haRishoinim (R’ Yitzchaq haLevi, Frankfurt, 189 – DhR) and Hischavus haTalmud beShleimuso (R’ Avraham Weiss, New York, 1943). DhR sets out three periods:

  1. The acceptance of Rebbe’s work as The Mishnah to Abyaei veRava (AvR). In this period, halakhah was discussed using Rebbe’s mishnayos as the structure, but not attempt at organizing.
  2. AvR to Rav Ashi veRavina (RAvR). I am preserving the name order used by the Rambam, as it’s likely this Ravina is R’ Ashi’s grandson, not the one of “Ravina veR’ Ashi”. New discussion and redaction of earlier conversations into the start of a formalization.
  3. The savoraim, under whom the basic gemara wasn’t changed much, it was more a cleanup and the insertion of a few notes that ended up in the final text. (To which I would add: whether by intent or not, I have no idea.)

I would also note that with Abayei’s death, Yeshivas Pumpedisa (which is today’s “Falluja“) moved to Mechoza and was taken over by Rava. So there is a geographical discontinuity between (2) and (3) as well.

There is halachic significance to each of these breaks, which is why I think this particular point goes beyond the general issue of revadim.

Halakhah kebasra’i — the halakhah is like the latter [authority]” is only miAbayei veRava va’eilakh (from AvR onward) and before that “ein halakhah ketalmid bemaqom harav — the halakhah is not like the student in the place of the rebbe” held sway. (See “halakhah kebasra’i” for sources.) The Mahariq (shoresh 84) writes that it’s because before AvR a student learned only “al pi qabalas raboseihem, kefi mah shehayu shonim lahem — according to what their rebbes received, what they [the mentors] repeated to them.” But from AvR onward “lomdu kol hadei’os — they learned all the opinions”. Which could be taken to be a change in teaching style, or as a standardization of set shaqlos vetaryos (question-and-answer dialectics) consistent with saying they compiled a proto-Bavli. But what’s important in terms of talmud Torah is the effect, the change in meaning in how we read statements before Abayei veRava, vs. those made by them or after.

And in fact it was in context of learning about when halakhah kebasra’i began from a public speaker (forgot whom) that I was first told of this idea of AvR’s proto-gemara. It was said en passant, not presented as the lecture’s focal chiddush. So I thought I had just filled a lacuna in my own knowledge. (Which was when I found the above-cited thesis.)

There are some who try to show that consistent with this statement, the Rambam never pasqens like material that is provably after RAvR over other positions from Chazal. As the Rambam writes in his introduction to his Code, “Rav Ashi veRavina sof hora’ah — Rav Ashi and Ravina are the end of halachic guidance [of some level].” Although it would seem that other rishonim place the line at the sealing of the Talmud, and thus would include as amoraic (in authority, not history) those opinions of savoraim that were deemed worthy of inclusion.

To compare to the sequence in producing the Yerushalmi… Tradition has it that Rav Yochanan and Reish Laqish authored the Yerushalmi. This can’t be taken at face value, because Rav Yochanan, a student of Rebbe, was the first generation of amoraim and Reish Laqish was his chavrusah — most of the Yerushalmi post-dates them. I would therefore suggest that they compiled proto-Yerushalmi, much the way Abayei and Rava later start the process that produces the Bavli. There is very little stam, unnamed text in the Yerushalmi, and very little editing of quotes. Part of this may be conceptual — the Yerushalmi places more emphasis in tracking and preserving quotes — but part of this is also because the Israeli amoraic tradition ends abruptly, with expulsion. The Yerushalmi is an unfinished book.

While discussing the Rambam and differences in authority in statements of amoraim, I wish to add one more idea. According to the Gra, the Rambam considered named opinions more authoritative than unsigned ones. Therefore, while in general the Rambam sided with the Bavli, he would rule like a named opinion in the Yerushalmi over an unnamed one in the Bavli. There are still a few unnamed passages in the Yerushalmi, which would be yet earlier than most of the Bavli. But even so, these passages do not — according to the Gra — get chosen by the Rambam over later named quotes in the Bavli. It’s not about historical sequence, but of exact citation.

Some dispute this, the matter of how much emphasis the Rambam gave the Yerushalmi is a matter open to debate. One point in favor of assuming greater value was that when the Rabam was 30 — years before writing the Mishneh Torah — he wrote all or part of Halakhos haYerushalmi — a collection of the Yerushalmi’s halachic conclusions, much the way the Rif addressed the Bavli. (Dr Saul Leiberman produced a critical edition of the extant portions.)

Either would stand in contrast to the Ri (Berachos 11b, Tosafos “shekevar niftar“), who explicitly dismisses any role of the Yerushalmi in halakhah where the Bavli states a position — even unnamed, stam.

And a middle road is taken by the author of the Shulchan Arukh (Kessef Mishnah, Hil’ Geirushin 13:18) . He too say the the halakhah is always like the Bavli over the Yerushalmi. But our understanding of the Bavli should be based on the assumption that its conflicts with the Yerushalmi are rare. Therefore, we must sometimes take an understanding of the gemara that would otherwise seem a stretch (dochaq) because assuming the two conflict is implicitly a greater stretch. According to the Shulchan Arukh, then, we need to refer to both Talmuds just to know what the Bavli is saying in order to follow it, even though in theory we are following the Bavli exclusively.

Upcoming Webinar: Building the Temple Within (A Tefillah Workshop)

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A Messenger of…

I became convinced two disputes are related. I am not 100% sure of the nature of the relationship, but as it’s related to parashas Ki Sisa, I want to post what I have so far while it’s still this week’s parashah.

Machloqes #1: Do kohanim serve as sheluchei didan (our messengers), representing us in our service of the Creator? Or are they sheluchei diShmaya (messengers of [the One in] heaven), a conduit of His Message to the Jewish People?

This question is posed on Nedarim 35b. They raise a pragmatic difference. If a Jew swears off getting benefit from a given kohein, can the kohein offer his qorban for him? If the kohein is acting on the person’s behalf in giving the qorban, then this assistance would violate the oath. But if the kohein is acting on Hashem’s behalf in receiving the qorban, then he could perform this service. The discussion goes on for over a page, but without resolution.

Machloqes #2: This section of the Torah is understood two ways. The Ramban assumes the narrative is in chronological order. We receive the Torah, the laws of parshios MishpatimTerumah, and Tetzaveh at Har Sinai, and then after those laws but Moshe had not yet descended from the mountain, we make the Eigel haZahav (the Golden Calf).

Rashi writes that the sin actually occurred before Terumah and Tetzaveh, that we were commanded to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), uniforms for the kohanim etc… as a consequence of the sin. This is why the kohanim and leviim, the people who fought against the sin, are the ones chosen for service. Similarly, Chur dies resisting the masses’ pressing him into service to make the Eigel, and his son Betzalel is in charge of the Mishkan. Then there is the heavy use of gold, the bull — an adult calf — offered by Aharon, who does choose to make the Eigel rather than add his own death to their list of sins, show a process of atonement for the sin. The order of the text was thematic, not chronological.

The Overlap: The Eigel was intended as a replacement for Moshe, who wasn’t descending when they expected him to.

וַיַּרְא הָעָם כִּי בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן הָהָר, וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו: קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ, כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ.

And the nation saw that Moshe delayed in coming down from the mountain, and the nation gathered against Aharon and said to him, “Get up and make for us gods who will go before us; for this man Moshe who took us out of the land of Egypt — we don’t know what happened to him.”

– Shemos 32:1

Moshe is described as a sheliach diShamaya to His People, not our messenger. In Shemos ch. 4, when Hashem appoints Moshe at the Burning Bush, He says “va’eshlachakha el Par’oh — and I will send you to Par’oh” (v. 10), “vezeh lekha ha’os ki Anokhi shelachtikha — and will be for you a sign that I am sending you” (v. 12) Moshe asks “ve’amari lahem, ‘E-lokei avoseikhem shelachani aleikhem — and when I say to them ‘the G-d of your ancestors sent me to you” they will ask for Your Name. (v. 13) And Hashem answers Moshe that he tell them, “This is what you should tell the Benei Yisrael, E-hyeh sent me to you.” (v. 14)

So, if the people were already told that there would be a Mishkan and kohanim before feeling they had to make the Eigel to fill the vacuum they thought was left by Moshe, then they had to believe that Moshe’s role was inherently different than that the kohanim would fill.

So, if they correctly understood that Moshe was Hashem’s messenger, then they clearly thought that kohanim were sheluchei didan.

But there is strong reason to believe that this it was exactly their error — they did not correctly understand the role of Moshe, and thought he was their messenger. After all, some kind of misunderstanding the role of Moshe had to underlie the idea that a teacher could be replaced by a Golden Calf. And after all, we already saw that the Eigel was in response to an appeal to “make for us gods to go before us.” Which would imply that they understood the kohanim as sheluchei deShmaya.

On the other hand, according to Rashi’s model that the Mishkan came after the Eigel and atones for it, then the two rules would have to be the same. But unlike in the Ramban’s case, where all we can deduce is how people would panic based on what they think is going on, here what is most relevant is how Hashem saw their actions, and how their sin impacted existence metaphysically.

Here two there are two possibilities:

The first would say that according to Rashi, since Moshe was a sheleiach diShmaya, the Eigel impinged on that level, and the Mishkan and kohanim would have to be a repair on the same level as well. And so, it would seem to me that the kohanim would have to be sheluchei diShmaya.

The other possibility (paralleling the second possible understanding in the Ramban) is that their whole sin was in misunderstanding Moshe’s role. And so even though their actions belied the role of  Hashem’s messenger, they mistakenly thought their own messenger needed replacing, and they sinned in how to appoint their sheliach didan. And so Hashem shows them the right way to do it, by showing us how to make the kohanim into sheluchei didan.

So, two disputes, and all four combinations are possible. But the reasoning in each of the four cases involves both:

 Kohanim as Sheluchei DidanKohanim as Sheluchei DiShmaya
Ramban: Historical SequenceMoshe is correctly seen as Hashem’s messenger, and so even with kohanim they feel a need to place him.Their whole error was that they thought Moshe was their messenger, so finding out Hashem was appointing His own messenger didn’t help their panic
Rashi: Mishkan as AtonementMoshe is mistakenly seen as sheliach didan, which Hashem corrected by teaching us about the Mishkan and kohanim. and constructively channeling that need. The Benei Yisrael demonstrate their panic about Hashem’s messenger being dead by making an idol to invest with His replacement. Therefore Hashem offers atonement through His true shelichim, the kohanim.

I explored the link between the eigel and the keruvim (via the Egptian cult of Apis the bull-god, the religion Yerav’am established for the Northern Kingdom, and the Chaldean bull-god Kirub, as well as the bull or keruv face on the chayos in Yechezqel’s vision) a few years back in “Angels and Idols“.

What is Frumkeit?

The word “frum” has become a near-synonym for Orthodox. How this came to be is noteworthy.

“Frum” descends from the German “fromm“, meaning pious or devout. In pre-war Yiddish, usage appears to have varied widely. On the one hand, those who named their daughters “Fruma” clearly thought being frum as complementary. On the other, there was an idiom, or as Rav Aharon Kotler often put it, “Frum iz a galech; ehrlich iz a Yid – the town priest is ‘pious’, a Jew is refined.” I also heard the first part from Bergers of that same generation, “frum iz a galech“.  Admittedly, both data points from Lithuanian Iddish.

How did the word “frum”, then, ever catch on in the Yeshiva world, a community that aspires for continuity with the yeshivos of Lithuania? How did a word go from being a scornful description of the wrong kind of religiosity to a self-label?

I think that’s it’s for the same reason why kids who are eating at McDonald’s are branded “at risk”, but those who are chronic liars are not. The first group are “at risk” in the sense of their risk of leaving the community and no longer staying exposed to our values — and thus losing the likelihood of returning. Which means we’re defining ourselves by how we differ from non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews — not by what’s most important.

To some extent, when we use it as a self-identification, we are still thinking of frum in its original, ritual centric, meaning. A frum Jew is one who belongs to our community, and thus is following Orach Chaim, Even haEzer and Yoreh Dei’ah. And as implied by my comparison, this is an important threshold — it’s the line between someone who wishes to remain influenced by our teachings and culture, and those who do not. But it does not accurately reflect priorities. “Ehrlich is a yid.”

It is the original derogatory usage which is clearly the starting point for Rav Shelmo Wolbe’s essay on Frumkeit, in Alei Shur II pp 152-155. R’ Wolbe takes the informal usage of yore and gives it a robust, specific, technical meaning. In his hands, the word “frumkeit” refers to an etiology for a specific kind of cul-de-sac on the path of religious growth. Rav Wolbe opens:

וְאָמַר “סֹלּוּ! סֹלּוּ! פַּנּוּ-דָרֶךְ! הָרִימוּ מִכְשׁוֹל מִדֶּרֶךְ עַמִּי.”

And He will say, “Build it up! Build it up! Clear the way! Lift the stumbling-block out of the way of My people.

- Yeshaiah 57:14

On the narrow path to Truth in serving G‑d there is a major impediment which is called “frumkeit” (religiosity) – a term which has no clear and exact translation. “Frumkeit is the natural urge and instinct to become attached to the Creator. This instinct is also found amongst animals. Dovid said, “The lion cubs roar for their prey and ask G‑d for their food” (Tehilim 104:21). “He gives to the beast his food and to the young ravens who call to Him” (Tehilim 247:9). There is no necessity why these verses should be understood as metaphors [and therefore they will be read according to their literal meaning]. Animals have an instinctive feeling that there is someone who is concerned that they have food and this is the same instinct that works in man – but obviously at a higher level. This natural frumkeit helps us in serving G‑d. Without this natural assistance, serving G‑d would be much more difficult.

As you may have noticed following this blog, I am a strong advocate for a thoughtful and passionate approach to religious observance. As the name says, a fusion of passionate aish with the rigor of das’s law-based rite forming a new thing, a new word, “AishDas“. But in my discussion of thoughtful Judaism, I have always presumed the antonym of thoughtless Judaism, observance based on habit, on culture. Putting on tefillin merely because “that’s what is done.”

Rav Wolbe notes a different alternative to thoughtfulness — instinct. To Rav Wolbe, frumkeit is an instinctive drive to be close to the Creator. It is not even specific to humans; the frumkeit instinct is what King David refers to when he writes, “כְּפִירִים שֹׁאֲגִים לַטָּרֶף, וּלְבַקֵּשׁ מֵאֵ-ל אָכְלָם — lion cubs roar at their prey, and request from G-d their food.” (Tehillim 104:21) And, “נוֹתֵן לִבְהֵמָה לַחְמָהּ, לִבְנֵי עֹרֵב אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאוּ — He gives the animal its food, to the ravens’ offspring who cry.” (147:9)

What can go wrong with something that draws us to the Almighty, even if it is instinctive? Rav Wolbe explains:

However this frumkeit, as in all instinctive urges that occur in man, is inherently egoistic and self-centered. Therefore frumkeit pushes man to do only that which is good for himself. Activities between people and actions which are done without ulterior motivations are not derived from frumkeit. One who bases his service of G-d entirely on frumkeit remains self-centered. Even if a person places many pious restrictions on himself – he will never become a kind person and he will never reach the level of being pure motivated. This is why it is necessary that we base our service of G-d on commonsense (da’as). (Study Sotah 22b lists 7 types of activities which it labels as foolish piety. Each one of them is a manifestation of frumkeit without commonsense). Commonsense has to direct our service of G-d. From the moment we desert commonsense and act only according to frumkeit, our Divine service becomes corrupted. This is true even for a person on the level of a Torah scholar.

Instincts are inherently about survival, self-preservation. As we see in the pesuqim cited in Alei Shur, the lion cub and the raven calls out to Hashem to get their food. Rather than being motivated by thoughtfulness, frumkeit is the use of religion to serve my ends.

A while back I posted about something I called the paradox of performing mitzvos bein adam lachaveiros lishmah — doing interpersonal mitzvos for the sake of the mitzvah:

What is the purpose of such mitzvos? To develop feelings of love and caring toward others; to expand our natural focus on ourselves to include others. Does the lishmah (lit: for itself) mean doing the mitzvah for the sake of doing a mitzvah? If it does, then we are not focusing on caring for other people, we are focusing on Hashem. On the other hand, if we define lishmah as being “for the purpose for which we were given the mitzvah (as best we can understand it)”, we would conclude that mitzvah bein adam lachaveiro “for itself” means doing it without thought to its being a mitzvah. As I said, a paradox.

Rav Wolbe quotes the Alter of Slabodka’s treatment of this question:

Ve’ahavta lereiakha komakhaand you shall love your peers like yourself.” That you should love your peer the way you love yourself. You do not love yourself because it is a mitzvah, rather, a plain love. And that is how you should love your peer.

To which Rav Wolbe notes, “This approach is entirely alien to frumkeit.” The frum person is the one who makes sure to have Shabbos guests each week, but whose guests end up feeling much like his tefillin — an object with which he did a mitzvah. A person acting out of frumkeit doesn’t love to love, he loves in order to be a holier person. And ironically, he thereby fails — because he never develops that Image of the Holy One he was created to become. The person who acts from self-interest, even from the interest of ascending closer to G-d, will not reach Him.

One must approach a mitzvah with a drive to see the deed done, rather than the self-interested drive to be the one doing it. This is “mimaaqim qarasikha Hashem — from the depths I call out to you, Hashem.” I reach for G-d not while instinctively grasping for loftiness, focusing on how can I make me more lofty, but when I subdue myself for the sake of the deed. To honor Shabbos out of a sense of honor, to give to the poor because one feels such love and empathy that nothing else would be thinkable.

This is why mussar is primarily a study of da’as, of wisdom and thoughtfulness.