Eruvin 46 and 47 Rules of psak: הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב, דעת יחיד בשעת הדחק, ספק דאורייתא לחומרא ,ספק דרבנן לקולא

This daf is heavily concentrated with some of the most important principles of psak halacha that it is even harder than usual to do it justice.

We shall suffice with a brief explanation of some of them and some notes based on an initial analysis of how they are applied on this daf, hoping to build on what we have already done and continue to do based on their application in other sugyas.

The Mishna on Eruvin 45b recorded a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri and the Chachamim whether a person can acquire his shabbos techum during twilight of erev shabbos if he is asleep.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri rules that he can, whereas chachamim hold that seeing as he was not awake at the time, he did not acquire his 2000 amos from the place where he was, and is limited to the 4 amos in which he was.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is quote by Rav Yaakov bar Idi as ruling in accordance with Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s lenient opinion.

Rabbi Zeira asked Rav Yaakov ben Idi whether he heard this from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi as a specific ruling relating to this case, or deduced it based on a general rule of his, which the Gemara identifies as “הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב” -the law follows the lenient opinion regarding Eruvin.

Rav Yaakov bar Idi replied that he heard it as a specific ruling, and the Gemara explains that this specific ruling was needed in addition to the rule to teach us that this rule applies even when the lenient opinion is a דעת יחיד (single opinion) against the majority opinion, such as in the case of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri versus the Chachamim.

It is not clear at this point whether this leniency is meant to apply only to this case, or whether this case now serves as a precedent for all the laws of Eruvin, or perhaps even all rabbinical disputes

If the former is correct, we need to explain why this dispute in different to all other disputes regarding Eruvin. If the middle option is correct, we need to explain why the laws of Eruvin are treated more leniently than other rabbinical laws, where we are only lenient when there are as many lenient views than stringent ones.

If the latter is correct, we need to explain why we are so lenient with all rabbinical disputes to the point of pushing aside the general rule of אחרי רבים להטות – following the majority, and defend this statement against any other statements of Chazal that imply the opposite.

We also need to investigate whether Rabbi Yehoshua’s rule of הלכה כדברי המקיל בערוב is merely an application of the general rule of ספק דרבנן לקולא (as in the third option above), with the assumption that an unresolved dispute has the status of a doubt, and whose lenient applications are thus shared with all unresolved rabbinical disputes, or whether it is an independent rule that has its own unique leniencies not shared with other rabbinical disputes (as in the middle option above.)

We have touched on a similar question in an earlier post (Eruvin 35-36) where we discussed ספק עירוב לקולא – the rule that in matters of doubt regarding the validity of an eruv, we are lenient, and there is appeared that the Gemara understood this as simply an extension of the general rule of ספק דרבנן לקולא.

Assuming that a ספיקא דדינא ( a doubt as to which authority the halacha follows) is an extension of the concept of ספק דרבנן, this would imply that a dispute regarding Eruvin should also simply be an extension of the rule of leniency in the case of a dispute regarding any rabbinical law.

However, from a question asked by Rava on the Gemara’s understanding of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement, it seems that he understands that disputes regarding Eruvin have their own unique leniences.

Rava asks why there was even a הוא אמינא (initial thought) that we would not follow a lenient single opinion against a stringent majority opinion when it comes to Eruvin?!

He points out that this should be obvious, seeing Eruvin is a rabbinical requirement, and in rabbinical disputes, we always follow the lenient opinion, even if it is an individual against the majority!

Various proofs are brought to dispute this assumption of Rava, and this issue is far from resolved at this point, but from his question, it certainly seems that he understood that his colleagues saw Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s lenient view regarding Eruvin to be unique to Eruvin.

Though Rava’s assumption seems to be rejected, the Gemara clearly seems to understand than in another unique area of rabbinical law, namely the laws of mourning, the rule of הלכה כדברי המקיל באבל applies even when the lenient opinion is a single authority versus the majority!

More than that, Tosfos seems to understand that this rule that we follow the lenient opinion in the laws of mourning applies even on the first day of mourning which is דאורייתא (biblical) in nature, suggesting that this might be the case regarding biblical laws of Eruvin too (such as the larger techum of 4 parsah (about 16 km) which some view as deorayso, or when enclosing a real public domain), certainly a huge חדוש (novelty!)

Given that the usually undisputed rule regarding biblical laws is ספק דאורייתא לחומרא – in disputes we follow the stringent opinion, this is nothing short of remarkable, and we cannot escape the need to distinguish between the laws of mourning and possibly also Eruvin, from other rabbinical, and even biblical laws.

There is a fairly well- known dispute amongst the Rishonim regarding the status of the rule of ספק דאורייתא לחומרא .

The Rambam (see Issurei Biah 18/17, for example) opines that this rule is itself only rabbinical in nature, and that on a biblical level, one is not required to be stringent in the case of a doubt- the Torah by default forbids things that we know are forbidden and not things whose forbidden status is subject to doubt.

In contrast, when it comes to the status of rabbinical laws, he is of the view that all rabbinical laws start out with biblical status by default, based on the commandment of לא תסור (do not go against their words…see for example intro to M.T)

Although the various leniencies Chazal applied to their own laws can still be explained based on the fact that the Torah gave them the power to both make and define their own laws, in the case of a doubt, this is not necessary, given that the Rambam considers all doubts to only be subject to rabbinical law, and the Rabbis chose to be stringent with biblical doubts and lenient with their own.

This means that theoretically, in cases of doubt, Chazal have the authority to apply any leniencies they choose, even if the doubt is biblical in nature- they simply chose to be stringent most of the time.

In the case of mourning laws and possibly Eruvin, it is thus quite legal for Chazal to choose to be lenient even in cases of biblical level doubt, and perhaps out of sensitivity to a mourner already in such a sad state, and a person stuck outside his techum on shabbos, they chose to be lenient.

Whether this can be extended to following a single lenient opinion against the majority in a biblical matter is less straight-forward, as it is possible that even the Rambam admits that when there is clear majority on the side of stringency in a biblical dispute, it is a biblical requirement to follow the majority, based on אחרי רבים להטות .

It could be possible, however, that the Rambam holds that אחרי רבים להטות only applies when the dispute has come to the great Sanhedrin, but that a dispute that has not come before the great Sanhedrin had no such law, and remains a bona fide ספק , over which Chazal have total control.

However, some other Rishonim )see for example Rashba, Kiddushin 73a regarding Mamzer) are of the view that the requirement to follow the stringent opinion in case of doubt is a biblical requirement, and according to them, it seems impossible for Chazal to be able to push this rule aside in biblical aspects of Eruvin and the laws of mourning.

The mere fact that Tosfos suggests that the laws follows the lenient opinion even in biblical disputes when it comes to mourning and Eruvin, as well as the proofs he brings for it, seem to offer support for the Rambam’s view!

When it comes to most of the laws of Eruvin and mourning which are clearly rabbinical, Chazal clearly have total authority over their own laws, and if for the reasons suggested above, or other reasons, they chose to treat Eruvin and mourning even more leniently than their other laws and follow even a single lenient opinion against the majority, the were certainly within their mandate.

For further analysis, particularly regarding whether we follow this leniency even against the majority, the Ramban’s long treatment on the daf is essential reading.

We have seen above that although regarding the laws of mourning, and possibly also Eruvin, we may follow a single lenient opinion against a stringent majority, this is not necessarily the case in other rabbinic laws.

Whereas we are usually lenient in cases of doubts and disputes regarding rabbinic laws, where the stringent opinion is the majority, the majority might still prevail.

Yet there is a time where it seems to be permitted to follow a lenient single opinion against a majority stringent opinion, under certain circumstances, and that is the case of שעת הדחק – an emergency.

There is a debate (Niddah 2a) between Rabbi Eliezer and Chachamim regarding whether a woman who has not had a period in 3 months and then has a period may assume that until that moment, she was still pure- this would affect the purity status of whatever she was in contact with before.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, everything she was in contact with until now is treated as pure, whereas the Chachamim rule that anything susceptible to becoming impure from contact with a Niddah that she was in contact with over the 24 hours prior to her period is considered impure.

This is a rabbinical rule due a concern that she was already a niddah earlier, even though on a biblical level, we would be lenient.

Rebbe commented that he once mistakenly thought that the law is like Rabbi Eliezer and declared the items in question to be pure.

When he later discovered that the law was like the Chachamim, he did not rule them to be impure, saying that כדאי הוא רבי אליעזר לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק – in an emergency, one may rely on Rabbi Eliezer.

The Gemara understands this to mean that unlike Rava’s suggestion, we normally follow the stringent majority against a lenient single opinion even in rabbinical disputes, and only in a שעת הדחק, the minority view may be followed.

It follows from this that even according to Rava’s antagonists, a דעת יחיד may be followed in an urgent situation, at least in a rabbinical matter.

What is not clear yet is the scope of this rule:

  1. Does it apply even to a biblical level dispute? According to Rambam’s above quoted view, it is certainly possible, but according to the stringent views that hold a biblical doubt is subject to biblical level stringency, it seems less likely that שעת הדחק would override that rule.
  2. Does it apply to any dispute, even one already resolved, or only to an unresolved dispute- The Gemara seems to take it for granted that this is limited this to an unresolved dispute (possibly similar to that between Rabbi Yehuda and Chachamim regarding the times for Mincha and Maariv- Brachos,) and that in a dispute that has already been resolved, שעת הדחק would not be a factor. It is still unclear, however, what the Gemara means by a resolved dispute- is this only one that has been resolved by Sanhedrin, do even the Amoraim count, or even post Talmud Geonim and Rishonim?
  3. What is the definition of שעת הדחק as far as this leniency is concerned- Tosfos seems to identify two different levels of שעת הדחק !

The above questions can have immense ramifications in many areas of contemporary halacha, and as we move through the daf cycle, we hope to collect more evidence to help us answer them!

Later on Eruvin 46 and moving onto 47, we move to a different set of rules of psak halacha.

Here we deal with the weight given to various Tannaim against one another when a dispute is given.

Various rules of thumb are given, amongst them:

  1. The halacha follows Rabbi Akiva against a single colleague of his
  2. The halacha follows Rabbi Yossi even against a majority
  3. The halacha follows Rebbe against a single colleague of his

Various other now well-known such rules are also stated, after which רב משרשיה claims that none of these rules actually apply, meaning that each case is in fact to be treated on its own merits- bases this on various ruling of Rav which seem to negate these rules.

After various examples brought to back this claim up, it becomes clear that even those who accept these rules must accept that there are some exceptions. היכא דאיתמר איתמר – in a place where a definitive ruling was made against the general rule, that ruling overrides the general rule. Only in a place where no definitive ruling has been made, do we apply these rules of thumb.

Incredibly, Rav does not except the existence of these rules at all, and even in undecided cases, leaves it up to the individual current authority to rule according to which argument makes most sense to him.

As Rabbi Yochanan does except these rules, the irony is that by the rule of thumb that we follow Rabbi Yochanan against Rav, it should follow that these rules are indeed authoritative, and Rashi on the daf says so explicitly, but what is to force those who choose to follow Rav to accept a ruling based on a rule they do not accept in the first place? Seems Kind of like what came first, the chicken or the egg, but in truth has a lot to do with the power of מעשה בית-דין which still applied to an extent in the time of Rabbi Yochanan!

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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