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?