An Analysis of Darchei HaLimud (Methodologies of Talmud Study) Centering on a Cup of Tea

Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer

    I am attempting to define the differences between the major classical Darchei Halimud in the 19th-20th century Yeshiva world, focusing on a well known jest. This is an albeit light-hearted, but hopefully illustrative example.

    In Brisk they would mockingly say that in Telshe one would klerr (analyze) the following chakira (problem):

    What makes tea sweet, is it the sugar or the spoon stirring?

    Now, the truth is that in Telshe, there were two derachim, that of Reb Chaim Rabinovitz (Reb Chaim Telzer) and that of Reb Yosef Leib Bloch & Reb Shimon Shkop. This chakira captures the hallmark of the former (Reb Chaim Telzer's) derech - Contingencies - but not the latter, which we'll explore later.

    Let us now go through how the various darchei halimud would approach this important conundrum:

Brisker Derech: Intrinsic Categorization and Definition - There are two (tzvei) dinim in sweetening tea: The cheftza (substance), i.e., the sugar; and the pe'ula (activity), i.e., the stirring with the spoon. Everyone knows that Lipton is the "Brisk" tea bacause it has a double (tzvei dinim) tea bag.

Poilisher Derech: Brilliant Novelty (pilpul) - Neither. It is the tea itself, as the heichi timtsei (sine qua non - medium) for making the tea sweet,which makes the tea sweet, for if there was no tea, there would be no sweet tea either.

The Rogatchover's Derech: Combination of the Two Previous Derachim - There are three dinim in sweetening the tea: The cheftza, the peu'la and the niph'al (the impacted entity), i.e., the tea itself.

Hungarian Derech: Extrinsic Resolution - Since wine is sweet and it is not stirred, it follows that the stirring is not what makes the tea sweet, but the sugar.

Reb Yosef Leib & Reb Shimon's Derech: Abstraction to an Essence - It is the Hitztarfus (Fusion) of tea molecules and sugar molecules that makes the tea sweet.

Sephardi Derech: Uncomplicated Grasp - The Sephardi would walk away from the argument that the six Ashkenazim were engaged in over the tea shaking his head in disbelief about how silly these Ashkenazim were - obviously the sugar stirred into the tea is what makes the tea sweet!

Another, more serious example of the difference between the Brisker and Reb Yosef Leib/Reb Shimon Derachim is in the area of Shee'abud HaGuf (personal liens). The Briskers are satisfied to explain Shee'abud as a "partial acquisition" (a "miktzas kinyan"). They classify all such amorphous transactions in a category known as "chalos" (roughly: "transaction"). They concentrate on defining "What." Reb Shimon, on the other hand, feels compelled to explore the "Why." He therefore explains that Shee'abud is a logical construct of the social contract between individuals which precedes Halacha. He draws an analogy between Shee'abud and Emuna in the existence of G-d - which also, perforce, must precede the acceptance of Torah, and is based on logical constructs.

Reb Shimon on Acharecha: Just as it is possible to divide the usages (tashmishim) of an object, that one of the object's usages belongs to one person and the other usage to another, it is also possible to divide up the usages in time, that the usage for this time should belong to A and the usage for that time to B... If a person sells the kinyan peiros (right of usage) of the next few years, such as... a rental for ten years and similarly a palm tree for the next few years of fruit, the essence of this kinyan is that the buyer is buying this aspect of the house or palm, which he acquires immediately by a chazaka in the house or palm, in a manner that now (mei'achshav) he acquires the rights for the entire time that he will possess the house or the palm... There is no distinction between a case where the time of the kinyan peiros starts from today or from several years from now, because each year and every day is adistinct period. Just as one can reserve for himself and his heirs space in a field for fruit of several years, so too he can reserve the fruit for the time after twenty or fifty years, and the time before that will belong to the buyer... This also applies to actual ownership (kinyan haguf).

Converted by Andrew Scriven

Return to National Education Page