Eruvin 55 The extended techum and Table Mountain continued, and self-sacrifice for Torah

Today’s daf has a solid mix of aggadic material and a return to the technical rules regarding how to work out the extended shabbos domain of a city.

I wish to start with the halachik side of the daf, כדרכינו בקודש, even though some of  the aggadic material precedes it, and hope to return to the Agadot thereafter.

For the sake of clarity, the אגדה includes all content in the Talmud that does not involve the halachik (legal) process, including מדרשי אגדה  that comment on the narrative portions of the Tanach or complement them and ethical and other advice- see מבוא התלמוד attributed by many to Rabbeinu Shmuel haNagid, one of the first of the Rishonim  and published at the back of מסכת ברכות  for his exact definition, though note that his view on the source and authority of agada is subject to much debate amongst the Geonim, Rishonim and later authorities (my in-depth Hebrew article on this subject is currently work in progress.)

We have already learnt that the general rule is that the techum (shabbos domain) of a city in which one is permitted to walk on Shabbos  stretches to a maximum of 2000 amos (between about 800-1000 m) from the last house in the city’s halachik borders (recall that 2 houses separated by 141 amos or more of empty space might be considered halachically to be in 2 different “cities.”

We have also seen recently that this applies in theory, but that in practise, the distance one may walk from the last house of the city might be significantly more, for 2 reasons:

  1. The limits of the city proper might stretch significantly beyond the last house, such as when the shape of the city is irregular (non-rectangular or grid-like) in which case some open space might be included in these limits themselves.
  • The techum of the city, while theoretically stretching 2000 amos from the end of the city-proper, is effectively measured by placing a rectangular block at the corners of the city and not a circle, meaning that while the shortest this techum will extend is 2000 amos, at the diagonals, it will extend significantly more (by pythagorus.)

The first rule is not applied universally, and one needs to be familiar with all the different shapes discussed in the sugya and which other shapes would be treated like these shapes, before jumping into using this potentially very useful tool.

For example, while a circular city has a square circumscribed around it, including the empty-space outside the circle but inside the square in the city proper itself, and a trapezium seems to be  viewed as if it is was the smallest rectangle that it could fit inside, a rectangular city is left as is, and  a parallelogram could be more complex.

There is also some discussion as to whether the square needs to be on the North-East-South-West axis of the world or can face any direction.

One of the more fascinating shapes describes is the עיר העשויה כקשת – a city in the form of a bow (or rainbow.)

The Beraisa  initially taught us that we draw a fictitious line from the one extreme of the bow to the other (this line is known as the יתר and represents the string which would be pulled back by the arrow before the arrow is released ) and view all the empty space between this line and the houses of the city as part of the city-proper, measuring the techum from this line.

However, Rav Huna rules that this only applies if the length of this line is no more than 4000 amos, allowing someone whose shabbos base or house is in the middle of this line (the spot where the arrow would be placed)  to walk to the city within his own 2000 amos (see Rabbeinu Chananel for his full explanation.)

However, if the length of this line is more than 4000 amos, the empty space is not included in the city limits, and the techum is measured from each individual house.

According to Rabbah bar Rav Huna, the space between the bow and the middle of the line also needs to be less than 2000 amos in order to include the empty space in the city proper, but according to his son, Rava, this is not necessary, and Abaya supports  his lenient view, seeing as anyone in the city could reach the middle of the  line by walking first to the end of the city.

Tosfos suggests that  according to Rava son of Rabbah bar Rav Huna, if the distance between the bow and the line itself is less than 2000 amos, the 4000 amos  restriction on the length of the line might not apply due to the same reasoning of Abaya- the midpoint of the line could be accessed through the 2000 amos or less route to the bow itself- this too is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Tosfos further assumes that the 4000 amos limitation on  a bow-shaped city does not apply to the case discussed earlier where a house or row of houses  protrudes outside the grid of the city. In such a case, even if it is more than 4000 amos to the fictitious parallel row of houses we draw on the opposite end, the empty space is included in the city proper. 

Although he attempts to explain the reasons for this distinction, he admits that the Ri (one of the two most senior Baalei haTosfos) holds that this limitation applies to that case as well. Once again, this topic has generated much discussion and debate amongst the Rishonim and can also affect L shaped cities.

Though there is so much more to learn and understand regarding the above and other related issues (those whose appetite has been whet might enjoy the extensive treatment of this issue in the Rashba, Ritva, Meiri and other Rishonim) ,it is now clear that including the empty natural space between the extremes of an irregularly shaped city is far more complex than it might have originally seemed.

We are not even close to theoretically allowing climbing table mountain on shabbos or Yom-Tov  even without the other multiple halachik challenges one would face (though as per accompanying images from google Earth, it seems that the “Lions Head” Mountain might fall completely within the techum of Cape Town City, and at least on Yom-Tov where carrying is less of an issue, with the guidance of the local Rabbis and eruv experts, the gorgeous trail up and down MIGHT indeed be permissible.

In the beginning of the daf, various explanations are given of the passuk “לא בשמיים היא ולא מעבר לים היא  ” – (it is not in heaven nor is it on the other side of the sea.)

I would like to focus for a minute on the explanation of רב אבדמי בר חמא בר דוסא  who derives by implication that although the Torah is indeed reachable for us, even if it were not, we would be liable to reach to the sky and cross the sea in order to get it.

There are times indeed when Torah goals seem unobtainable to us, and although we should be encouraged by the fact that in essence, they are vey much obtainable, we need to push ourselves and be prepared for self-sacrifice in order to achieve these goals despite how unobtainable they seem.

The Rosh Yeshiva זצ”ל , Rabbi Tanzer, was a prime example of someone for whom no goal was too far away when it came to his life’s mission of spreading Torah.

Starting with the literally huge distance diagonally over the Atlantic that he set out on together with his young wife, leaving behind their friends and extended families in an era of very limited communication for what was at first envisioned as a 2 year stint in Africa, he moved onto the virtually impossible goal of turning what was then a virtual spiritual wasteland into a vibrant Torah center.

This was not a job he fulfilled from the ivory tower of an office, or even a classroom, but one that took him literally from door to door begging parents to enroll their children in his fledgling Torah day-school.

Almost 6 decades later, the Yeshiva College campus has served  as the largest center of the Johannesburg Jewish Community and educated generations of students who span the Jewish world, from Rabbis and Torah teachers to businessmen and professionals, as well as some combinations of both.

Returning briefly to the more technical parts of daf, the rather superficial summary we have done above and the fastest reading of the daf reveals how an understanding of mathematics is essential to being able to make the complex calculations needed for taking full advantage of the shabbos techum- One also clearly needs some conception of how much a factor raw mathematics was in Chazal’s reasoning, something that only a good knowledge of both Chazal’s methodology and mathematics would allow.

Though those who knew him know that Rabbi Tanzer was first and fore-most a Rosh-Yeshiva who was most at home in the Beis-Midrash and who got the most joy out of those students who went on to become serious Torah Scholars, he always pushed his students to excel in their general education as well, creating a generation of students with the knowledge required not only for their chosen careers, but also for understanding many areas of Torah that are beyond the reach of those who lack this knowledge.

The Gaon of Vilna, broadly considered the greatest Torah figure in many centuries, was famous for stating that it is impossible to fully understand the Torah without understand all the forms of general (I prefer not to use the term secular) wisdom (see “haGaon” by D.E. Eliach for citation) , something he himself accomplished, and though neither he nor our Rosh Yeshiva would encourage one to give more priority to general studies than to Torah, chalila, I personally have found great benefit from the general education I received under Moreinu haRav Tanzer and his team, not just in my business, but most importantly in so many areas of my Torah Study.

Although reaching the wisdom of the Vilna Gaon is certainly like reaching for the sky, and building en empire of Torah like the Rosh Yeshiva did is certainly also above most of us, we can learn from him to be prepared to try our absolute best, and if we do so, the results will speak for themselves, with Hashem’s help!

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.

Eruvin 54 Beruria, Learning out loud, and Torah as a cure

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases שיבדלו לחיים , among them Maran haGadol R’ Chaim Kanievsky שליט”א , and the Karliner Rebbe שליט”א. We also have in mind that great friend of Israel (אולי ככורש בדורו) , President Donald Trump- it goes without saying that we leave politics out of all the above.

As we continue to be cut-off from the batei-midrash and shuls that we hold so dear, one of the things that we all miss while learning at home is the constant buzz of Torah-learning that emanates from these sacred places.

Our halls of study are a stark contrast to the (at least officially) silent libraries and study-halls of the great universities, and are brought to life by the sounds of students and their chavrusos (study-partners) learning out loud, or even screaming in learning at one another.

This distinction is so sharp, that while I was investigating the possibility of zoom providing a feature to simulate this buzz online while still allowing people to focus at a higher volume on their chavrusos, I was told that there is simply no request for such a thing and the technology does not exist!

Our daf begins with the continuation of a story where the famous wife of Rabbi Meir, Berurya rebuked a certain student for learning silently.

We would be remiss in pointing out how despite her tremendous status in learning herself, she seems not to have allowed her own status as an אשה חשובה (“important” or noble woman) to diminish her respect for the teachings of Chazal, including even the seemingly “chauvinist” early ruling of Rabbi Yosi ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim: אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה (do not chat too much with women), something she admonished none other than Rabbi Yosi haGalili for at the bottom of the previous daf!

(This makes a cryptic Rashi who explains the מעשה דברוריה referred to by Chazal (A.Z. 18b ) as a case where she made light of Chazal’s statement that נשים דעתם קלות even harder to explain, but that’s for another discussion, Hashem willing!)

Back to her rebuke of this student, she based this on the passuk “ערוכה בכל ושמורה” (set out in everything and looked after)- “If one’s Torah is set out in all 248 of one’s limbs ( learnt with one’s entire body,) it is looked after (and endures), otherwise it is not.”

The Gemara continues bringing various other statements about the importance of learning out loud, among them the case of a certain student of Rabbi Eliezer who learnt silently and forgot his learning after 3 years.

This leads into another discussion regarding the healing powers of Torah:

One of the pessukim brought to highlight the importance of learning out loud is “כי חיים הם למצאיהם ולכל בשרו מרפא “- the word מצאיהם is read for the purposes of this derasha as מוציאיהם and the passuk is thus rendered as “They (the words of Torah) are life for all those who bring them out (of their lips) and a cure for all his flesh.”

After the Gemara brings various other pessukim to show that the recommended action for one who has a headache, stomachache ,sore-throat, or pain in the bones is to יעסוק בתורה , busy oneself’ with Torah, it uses the second part of the above-quoted passuk (a cure for all flesh) to show that the remedy for pain in the entire body is also to busy oneself with Torah!

However, we also know from earlier discussions (see my posts on Shabbos 61 and 67) that using the Torah as a source of healing can be problematic, to the point that it is a severe prohibition to whisper a verse in order to heal a wound (see Mishna Sanhedrin 11/1) and Shvuos 15b)- this prohibition is taken so seriously by the Rambam, that he writes (A.Z. 11/12) that one who does this has not only transgressed a serious prohibition, but has made light of the Torah which is meant as a cure for the soul, by turning it into a bodily cure like mere medicine.

Whereas the above Rambam rules that it is permitted to say Tehillim for someone who is healthy so that the merit of learning Torah will protect him, he seems to view even the common practise of saying Tehillim for someone who is ill as incorrect, based on this prohibition. Yet it seems pretty clear in the verse we have quoted and the Gemara’s derivation from it that the Torah is indeed a cure for the entire body and that learning Torah as a remedy for physical pain is indeed recommended!

I am not sure how to reconcile this piece of Gemara with the Rambam, and I am not even sure if the Rambam viewed this possibly aggadic material to be authoritative enough to affect his ruling, which is based on how he learnt other more clearly halachik sugyas, but one must certainly acknowledge that a simple reading of this Gemara seems to indicate that Torah is certainly a valid therapy for physical pain, whether this effect is psychological or metaphysical.

One of the things that is most characteristic of great Torah personalities is the constant sound of Torah that comes from their lips- Everyone who knew the late Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tanzer זצ”ל, remembers the almost constant sound of Torah and prayer emanating from his lips, whether he was at home, in his office, or the Beis-Midrash and shul, as well as when he was not feeling so good.

His learning was a constant song of praise to Hashem, and his signature hum displayed the sheer pleasure he got from his Torah and davening- Who can forget the melody of his signature “הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה…שמע ישראל ” or “אני מאמין” and the traditional Yeshivish chant to which he sang the words of Chazal that he learnt and taught?

May our own learning reveal the joy of Torah that he taught us, and may the merit of his Torah and all the Torah we learn because of him truly protect all of us from this terrible plague and all the other challenges life brings us, ודיה לצרה בעתה.

And may Hashem soon spread out upon us the ultimate place of Torah and protection , the fallen Sukkah of David, from where the sounds of the greatest Simchas haTorah imaginable will once again emanate, as we celebrate Simchas beis hashoeiva and hafakos in the newly-built Beis haMikdash, במהרה וימינו אמן.

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.

Shabbos 146 Original sin, the purifying effect of Torah, and converts

It is often though that the idea of original sin, that a person is borne already tainted by the sin of the first man, is a Christian concept (some Christian denominations go further and see every-man as not only tainted by, but guilty as a result of it), whereas the Jewish belief is that each person is borne pure and free of sin, and only becomes tainted by his own sins, mainly after he reaches the ages of majority, namely 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy.

Not only does every person need to purge this original sin in Christian theology, but for many centuries, Jews were persecuted and murdered for their very own “original sin”- namely the crucifixion, for which their persecutors held them responsible, despite it having been carried out by the Romans, not the Jews, and in much earlier generations.

One of our most essential beliefs regarding reward and punishment is indeed the idea that איש בחטאו יומת – each man will be “killed” for his OWN sins, and no one else’s (Devarim 24/16; Melachim II 14/6.)

Yet one cannot escape the fact that there are times where the Tanach and Chazal certainly seem to teach that people can be punished for the sins of their fathers.

Rehavam, the son of King Shlomo (Solomon) had his kingdom split into two, with ten of the 12 tribes rebelling and breaking away from him, due to the sins of his father Shlomo, allowing his wives to bring idolatry into the land (Melachim I 11/12.)

Many of the dynasties of biblical kings came to an end with severe retribution, blamed on the sins of the dynasty’s founder (see Melachim I 16/12 for example,) and we are told that every punishment in history involves a component of the original Jewish sin of the golden calf (Sanhedrin 102a.)

In fact, we are explicitly told (Shmos 34/7) that פוקד עון אבות על בנים ועל בני בנים על שלשים ואל רבעים – “he visits the sins of fathers on their sons and grandsons until 3 or 4 generations.”

In dealing with this contradiction, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 27b) concludes that so long as the son is righteous himself, he will not be punished for the sins of his father.

However, if he knowingly follows in the path of his wicked father, he will be punished not only for his own sins but also for those of his father.

Yet even when later generations are not punished for the sins of their fathers, their does seem to be some concept of “original filth,” if not original sin, that Chazal believed in.

On this daf, we are told that when the snake caused Chava, the first woman, to sin, he engaged in sexual relations with her and implanted זוהמא (filth) into her.

Only when the Jewish people stood on Mount Sinai, the filth that the original snake had given to her, was cleansed from them.

The Gemara asked what about גרים (strangers or converts,) who were not present at Sinai- how were they cleansed of their original impurity.

It answers that even though they were not there physically, their מזל (literally star) was there.

Without a full analysis of the subject of whether such statements of Chazal are meant to be taken literally, which is an important discussion in its own right (spoiler alert- very often at least, they are not,) or what the idea of מזל actually means, one can understand that whatever impurity that came into mankind after he/she disobeyed the divine command that very first time by following the snake instead of his/her maker, was somehow made right by the unconditional acceptance of his Torah on Sinai.

That “cleansing” is not only limited to the Jewish people who were on the mountain and their descendants, but to any righteous convert who takes on the law of G-d on his own volition.

Without getting involved in the discussion as to whether this option applies in our time or not, it is possible that this not only applies to a גר צדק ( someone who converts to Judaism,) but also to a גר תושב , someone who accepts upon himself the 7 Noachide laws but remains non-Jewish, at least at a certain level, for he too has accepted upon himself again the most basic level of divine law.

On a symbolic level, every person has his personality (star) that was present at Sinai and that thus has the potential to receive the benefits of Sinai retroactively- all he needs to do is take the plunge.

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.

Shabbos 145 Daf Yomi on Erev 9 Av

As noted last week, it is incredible that there is so often something on the daf or other regular learning programs we follow, that is so obviously relevant to us at the time we study it.

Incredibly, after a few days focusing on Shabbos and other matters again, today’s daf contains a discussion about the period after the destruction.

We are told that for 52 two years, the land of Yehuda was so desolate that even the birds were in exile.

We are also told that the festivals are (or at least were) happier outside Israel because they were not subject to the curse of חדשיכם ומועדיכם שנאה נפשי היו עלי לטרח (I have hated your new-moons and festivals- they have become a burden to me- Yeshayahu 1,) as we just read in the Haftarah.

We are told that Talmidei Chachamim were not shown respect by default by the people in exile, who were not Bnei Torah and lacked the respect for Torah that was shown in Eretz-Yisrael, and thus had to dress up extremely smart and fancily in order to attract people’s honor, something that was neither common nor necessary in Eretz Yisrael .

Another view is that they needed to dress up in exile because אינם בני מקומם- they are not at home, and thus need to prove themselves more- In Eretz Yisrael, Talmidei Chachamim are on their home ground and do not need to dress up in the same way,

How this distinction could be or is applied today is an interesting discussion itself but let us get on with the subject of our post.

The Rema (O.C 553/2) records that it is our custom to refrain from learning any Torah that is forbidden on 9 Av itself, from midday on the eve of 9 Av.

This is an example of certain Ashkenazi customs that at least seem to have no firm basis in the Gemara and Rishonim, and in this case, ,great authorities like the רש”ל and הגר”א took issue with it and actually held that it caused unnecessary בטול תורה (disruption to Torah learning,) a severe matter indeed- see the discussion in the Mishna Berura on the subject.

The reasoning given is that even though there is plenty to learn on 9 av itself, the Gemara )Avoda Zara 19a) has already noted that אין אדם לומד אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ- a person should only learn from subject matter that he desires to learn.

Although one is obligated to try learn the entire Torah, it is best for one’s learning to start with areas that one enjoys first, and that will hopefully motivate one to explore the rest of the Torah too and even come to enjoy doing so.

This idea has major ramifications for how we should design Torah curriculums for our students in general but is specifically relevant to our question.

As most people do not enjoy the sadder subject matter permitted on 9 Av ( which is the reason why it is permitted), it follows that in the absence of a specific Talmudic injunction against learning on the afternoon before 9 Av, refraining from learning subjects that one enjoys would actually be בטול תורה , at least qualitatively and probably quantitatively too.

This could apply even more to missing one’s regular daily daf- keeping up with the daf is a specific discipline as well as a major source of satisfaction and falling behind can have a major impact on one’s motivation.

Amazingly and rather chillingly, learning much of today’s daf does not present that problem, given that it focuses on the exile and could even be studied on 9 av itself!

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.

Shabbos 134 Autonomy, Submission, and ירידת הדורות revisited.

On this daf, the Mishna tells us that it is permitted to wash the child before and after his bris.
It then tells us that one may   sprinkle water on him with one’s hands but not with a vessel.
Although it is not normally permitted to wash one’s entire body in warm water on shabbos (a subject for its own discussion,) this prohibition is waived, presumably due to pikuach nefesh considerations.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria goes further and permits one to wash the child again on the third day, if it falls on shabbos, because the third day is usually the hardest time during recovery.
The Gemara notes an apparent contradiction in the words of the Tana Kama (first opinion.)
One the one hand, we are told that it is permitted to wash the child properly, but we are then told that one may only sprinkle water on him with one’s hands.
The Amoraim debate how to reconcile this contradiction.
Rav Yehuda and Rabbah bar Avuha understand that the second part of the Mishna is coming to explain the first part- the washing permitted in the first part refers to sprinkling with one’s hand only.
Rava, on the other hand, is unconvinced.
He believes that the word “washing” referred to in the first part is precise, and refers to a proper wash, not just sprinkling.
As such, he interprets the Tana Kama’s words as permitting normal washing with warm water before and after the bris, but only sprinkling with the hand on the third day.
According to this interpretation, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria then comes and permit regular washing even on the third day.
A Beraisa is then brought which supports Rava’s interpretation.         
The Gemara then relates that this question was brought to Rava and he ruled according to his view, permitting regular washing of the infant.
Rava became ill, and he blamed his illness on himself for going against the view of his seniors, Rav Yehuda and Rabbah bar Avuha, who held that the Mishna only permitted sprinkling water with the hands.
This story needs some explanation: Is a later Amora really not allowed to disagree with an earlier one?  In general, the golden rule is that Amoraim(sages of the Talmud) may not disagree with Tannaim (sages of the Mishna), but the entire shas is filled with cases where later Tannaim disagree with earlier Tannaim and later Amoraim disagree with earlier ones! Moreover, under certain conditions when this happens, the rule is even that הלכה כבתראי, the law follows the later authority!
Not only that, but there are many cases of Rabbi’s who have reached an independent status in  their own learning, disagreeing with their own Rabbis (Reish Lakish being one of the most common examples in his regular debates with Rabbi Yochanan!)
Furthermore, is this not a transgression of the prohibition of superstitious behaviour, namely basing one’s actions on logically unrelated signs with no evidence of cause and effect (see Sanhedrin 66a.)
It seems clear from an earlier analysis we did (at least according to Rambam,)  that the dictum אם ראשונים כמלאכים אנו כבני אדם אם ראשונים כבני אדם אנו כחמורים  (If the early one’s were like angels, we are like people, if they were like people, we are like donkeys- Shabbos 112,) is not meant to be a halachik statement preventing a later authority from differing with an earlier one, but rather a statement about a general trend.
We have discussed this in a previous post, and also noted how in a different sugya (Brachos 20), Rav Papa asks Abaya why it is that the earlier generations merited to experience miracles, and their generation did not.
Rav Papa pointed out that it cannot be because they knew more Torah, as Rav Yehuda’s generation were focused on the part of the Talmud that focusses on damages, and they were focused on all 6 sections of the Talmud.
It also could not be that they understood it better, as Rav Yehuda expressed great difficulty with a certain Mishna while they were able to expand on it with ease.
Yet Rav Yehuda only needed to remove his shoe for rain to come, and their generation could daven all day and nothing happened!
Abaya responded that Rav Yehuda’s generation sacrificed themselves to sanctify Hashem’s name (did risky things to preserve the honor of the Torah) and their generation did not.
It seems from there that the superiority of the earlier generations lies NOT in their breadth of knowledge, nor in their greater analytical ability, but rather in their מסירות נפש (self-sacrifice.)
It  also is not likely to be coincidental that Rava was of the same generation of Abaya, and had disagreed with a ruling of Rav Yehuda, the very Amora that Abaya had praised for his superior self-sacrifice, but NOT for his superior learning.(though see our earlier post on daf 112 where we brought the view of the Rosh that  the rule of הלכתא כבתראי  applied only from Abaya and Rava onwards, and not to the period of Rav Yehuda!)
Perhaps Rava was not concerned so much about the fact that he had disagreed with a senior of his, but that he had disagreed with TWO of his seniors, with none of his own colleagues supporting him, possibly without being sure enough of his own position.
It is one thing to have the authority, or even the knowledge, to disagree with one’s seniors, and to use that right where necessary.
It is another thing completely to do this lightly, without being completely sure that it is the correct thing to do.
When disagreeing with a group of scholars who are both his seniors and more numerous than himself, the question is not only whether one MAY do so, but whether one should.
Perhaps Rava, while aware of his own status and ability to disagree, once faced with his illness , had second thoughts, and was modest enough to look at things from scratch and consider that maybe  his more numerous and older antagonists were indeed correct.
The continuation of the sugya shows that this was indeed the case.
Rava’s colleagues expressed surprise at his recanting, pointing to the fact that a Beraita had been quoted supporting his interpretation of the Mishna.
It is likely that Rava too was aware of that Beraita and took it into account when making his decision.
Yet even with what appears to be good evidence against one’s seniors, one needs to have a very strong degree of certainty that the evidence is irrefutable.
Rava replied to his colleagues that even though the Beraita did indeed support him,  he  saw that the wording of the more authoritative Mishna supported Rav Yehuda and Rabbah bar Avuha better, and therefore had serious reason to reconsider his ruling.
We see from this that though one should  have very strong evidence before disagreeing with a plurality of those who came before you,  once one has that evidence,  an event which could be seen as a sign that one was wrong should not on its own be a reason to recant- that could even  be a transgression of the prohibition of superstitious behaviour!
At most, it should serve as a sign that one should look again at the evidence and be open to the possibility that he was wrong.
As Chazal said, though admittedly in a slightly different context  אע”פ שאין נחש יש סימן  (even though we do not base our actions on superstitious interpretations of events that happen, one can see them as a sign! (Chullin 95b)
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.

Shabbos 119 Siyum Masechta, Barmitzva, and Kabbalat Shabbat

On some of the daf we have been studying, we find a large concentration of references to various minhagim and mitzvot which Chazal praised themselves for doing.
These are the kind of dapim that could have a daf post like ours for virtually every line and choosing which one to focus on is a major effort.
However, “לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא אתה בן חורין להפטר ממנה” (the work is not on you to complete, but you are not free to exempt yourself from it.” (Avos 2/16)
Just as a complex and long sugya spanning many daf cannot be given justice in one daf post, neither can daf like these which contain large amounts of short but infinitely deep one-liners.
Let us at least try have a brief look at a few:

  1. The daf opens continuing with the statement of Abaya, who praises himself for making a festive day celebration for his Yeshiva students whenever they completed a Talmudic tractate.
    This is an important primary source for the common practice to make a festive meal, or Siyum, when a tractate is completed, but the implication of the statement seems to be that such an event does not only justify a festive meal, but an actual festival like day, perhaps with the rules of other festive days where melacha is not forbidden, such as Rosh Chodesh, Purim, or Chanuka, on which activities such as fasting, eulogies, and saying תחנונים (supplications) are not allowed.
    We see a similar concept (Bava Kama 87a ) where Rav Yosef declares that if he were to find out that the halacha follows the view that a blind man is liable to perform all commandments, he would make a ימא טבא לרבנן (a festive day for the Rabbis), seeing as Rabbi Chanina taught us (perhaps contra instinctively) that one who is commanded to fulfil a commandment is actually greater than who performs it voluntarily.
    This is the primary source for making a celebratory meal on the day that a boy becomes barmitzvah (and possibly when a girl becomes bat-mitzva), where he celebrates that fact that he is now in the superior category of those who are obligated to perform the mitzvos.
    Once again, although the implication of the words seems to imply that a festive day should be declared, not only for the barmitzvah boy, but for those who participate in his celebration ( a festive day for the Rabbis ,) the minhag seems to be somewhat more limited to having a festive meal, as well as to giving the boy priority when it comes to reading from the Torah- we have not found that this day is treated with the laws of a mini Yom-Tov either for the celebrants or the Barmitzva himself.
    Another apparent anomaly between the wording of Abaya’s statement is that given that the Talmud had not yet been sealed, the completion of a tractate he was referring to is likely to have consisted merely of the Mishnayot, perhaps together with the explanations of the leading Amoraim at the time (שמוש תלמידי חכמים)
    Yet common practice seems to be to only make a festive meal on the completion of an entire tractate of the Talmud as we have in front of us today, including not only the teaching from Abaya and Rava till Ravina and Rav Ashi, but also those parts of the Talmud that were completed after them, as well as all the aggadic material that is not directly tied to the Mishnayot at all.
    Perhaps the answer to these questions is that we do not find that either Abaya or Rav Yosef held that it was an obligation to follow their actions in these cases.
    As such, these were not decrees as such, but simply examples of good practices which the Amoraim performed, and on which similar, but not completely identical later customs were based.
    As a result, all we have is the part of their actions that actually became common practice, and the completion of a tractate and attainment of Bar Mitzva are indeed celebrated with a festive meal, as done by these Amoraim, but not with all the laws associated as a full on celebratory day.
    Similarly, common practice is to follow Abaya’s practise of making a festive meal on the completion of a Masechta, but only when the entire Masechta we have in front of us has been completed.
    Yet, it is always first prize when one can reconcile as much of the existing minhag with its basis in the Talmud as possible.
    Regarding the actual study material required to qualify for a Siyum, our teacher haRav Osher Weiss שליט”א , recently wrote an entire booklet on the subject for his annual shiur on Shas, held in memory of his late wife זצ”ל.
    In addition to showing that a Siyum is also commonly made on the completion of a book of Tanach, he opines that it can be made on an in depth study of even one of the more complex tractates of Mishna, such as those in Zeraim and Taharos which do not have accompanying Talmud Bavli- for more details on his view and reasoning, please refer to this .
    I was then delighted to find that our phrase יומא טבא לרבנן is also used regarding a celebratory meal for one who has recovered from illness.
    The Gemara (Brachos 46a) tells us that when Rabbi Zeira was ill, Rabbi Abahu took it upon himself to make a יומא טבא לרבנן (festive day for the Rabbis) when he would recover.
    The way he fulfilled this commitment was by making a festive meal for the Rabbis!
    This seems to reinforce the common practise of interpreting the phrase יומא טבא לרבנן as a perhaps exaggerated expression referring to making a festive meal, rather than taking it literally as referring to an entire day with the literal status of a minor Yom Tov!
  2. We find in our daf another example of a practice of Amoraim that evolved over time into a related but not identical practice
    Rabbi Chanina used to wrap himself up on Erev Shabbos and say “באו נצא לקראת שבת מלכה”(“let us go out to greet the Shabbos queen.”)
    Rabbi Yannai used to dress up on Erev Shabbos and call out ” באי כלה באי כלה“(come o bride, come o bride.”
    This practice is the primary source for an entire service known as קבלת שבת, greeting the shabbos, which is held as shabbos is coming in, before Maariv.
    It is interesting to note that whereas Rabbi Chanina used to be the one to actively go out and greet the shabbos, Rabbi Yannai used to call to the shabbos to come in, perhaps two different approaches as to how to greet royalty, or alternatively, as to the nature of the special royalty of Shabbos.
    This approach is reflected in the much later Lecha Dodi poem, written roughly 1000 years after the Talmudic period by the Kabbalist of Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz in Safed, which forms a major part of our relatively modern Kabbalat Shabbat.
    The chorus of the verse calls on us to go out and meet the bride (לכה דודי לקראת כלה), whereas the final stanza ends with the words באי כלה באי כלה , (come of bride, come o bride), as on our daf.
    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.

Shabbos 117 and 118 Shalosh Seudot, Melava Malka, and relying on others for support

Our Mishna tells us that should a fire break out in one’s home chalila, it is permitted to save food from a fire that is sufficient for 3 shabbos meals.

This applies if the fire breaks out before dinner on Friday night, otherwise one is only permitted so save enough for the remaining meals on Shabbos.

It should be pointed out that it was normative in Talmudic times to have only 2 meals a day, one in the morning, and one in the evening, and thus having a third meal on shabbos stuck out as a special act of honoring the shabbos.

This might be the reason why this meal, which should technically be called סעודה שלישית (the third meal), is traditionally referred to simply as שלוש סעודות (three meals.)- It is through this meal that it is apparent that all 3 meals are done in honor of shabbos, and not just to satisfy one’s needs.

In our day, when we eat 3 meals a day in any case, how is this result achieved without having 4 meals?
As it is usually forbidden to eat before davening, one generally does not have breakfast, so we are still left with only 3 meals.

Perhaps this is the reason for the custom to have a Kiddush after davening at shul, in lieu of breakfast, so סעודה שלישית is truly an extra meal.

However, if we treat the third meal as a form of early supper as we often do, we are effectively just replacing our Saturday night dinner with an early one (which in summer can be quite late indeed.)

Perhaps this is a halachik reason for the custom to have a Melava Malka (extra meal to escort the Shabbos on her way ) after shabbos as well, so that it is clear that סעודה שלישית is being eaten just for the sake of shabbos?

Yet, as nice as the above ideas sound, we need to investigate whether

there is really an obligation to have one more meal than usual on shabbos, as a fulfilment of the general Mitzva of honoring and enjoying the Shabbos day

OR whether perhaps there is simply a technical obligation to have 3 halachic meals on Shabbos, regardless of circumstance, based on its own independent source, whether or not one eats more meals than one does during the week in practice.

This question could have special application when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos, and bread or Matza is not permitted after midday.

Some have the custom to daven early, wash for Kiddush early as breakfast, and then count lunch as the third meal.

Some communities or Yeshivot also have the custom every week to wash for Kiddush straight after davening, have a light non-meat meal, and then have a heavier meat meal in the afternoon for the third meal.

If there is a requirement that the meal needs to specifically be for shabbos, simply replacing breakfast is probably not sufficient.
On the other hand, if all that is required is to fulfill the technical Mitzva of eating 3 meals on shabbos, then one has clearly done so.

A third possibility is that one can fulfill the basic Mitzva just by fulfilling the technical requirement, but that it is a מצוה מין המובחר (higher level of performing the Mitzva) to make sure that one actually has a meal one would not normally eat during the week.

A further look at our sugya shows that the requirement to eat 3 meals on shabbos is derived according to Rabbi Yochanan from the repetition of the word יום ( day) 3 times , in the passuk containing the instruction to eat מן (Manna) gathered the day before shabbos on shabbos.

The passuk reads (Shmos 16/25):
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אִכְלֻ֣הוּ הַיּ֔וֹם כִּֽי־שַׁבָּ֥ת הַיּ֖וֹם לַיקֹוָ֑ק הַיּ֕וֹם לֹ֥א תִמְצָאֻ֖הוּ בַּשָּׂדֶֽה:
(“and Moshe said, eat it today, for today is Shabbos for Hashem, today you will not find it in the field.”)

A Beraita is brought showing the view of the Chachamim that one is required to eat 3 meals on shabbos, but also cites the view of Rabbi Chidka that one is required to eat FOUR meals on shabbos.
Rabbi Yochanan explains that Rabbi Chidka’s view is based on the same passuk, but given that the requirement is based on the word היום (the day), 3 meals in the day are required, in addition to the one held at night!

The Gemara challenges both views with a Mishna which says that someone who has enough food for 14 meals (one week) is not considered poor enough to collect money from the קופה (charity collection).

If one really needs to have 3 or 4 meals on shabbos, surely the cutoff point should be 15 or 16 meals, not only 14?

The Gemara explains that according to Chachamim, we can simply tell him to have his Saturday night dinner while it is still shabbos and fulfill the Mitzva of שלוש סעודות that way.

This seems to imply that one is not required to have a special Melava Malka meal on Saturday night and that one can fulfill the mitzva of 3 meals on shabbos even if one simply has an early supper, strengthening the possibility that the 3 meals is an objective requirement and there is no obligation for the meal to be specifically for shabbos.

One could counter, however, that all that we see from here is that the requirement to have a meal specifically for shabbos is not מעכב (holding back) the fulfillment of the mitzva, and thus not enough of an obligation that we are required give him charity money for it. It could still be an obligatory part of the mitzva under normal circumstances, or at least a הדור מצוה (better way of doing the Mitzva.)

The Gemara then goes a step further and suggests that according to Rabbi Chidka, we could tell him to have his Friday daytime meal at night once shabbos is in, thus fulfilling one’s Friday evening obligation with his regular Friday dinner and still leaving 2 meals for Shabbos plus his Saturday night meal for the fourth shabbos meal. This possibility is rejected out of hand, seeing as it is not reasonable to expect him to fast all day on Erev Shabbos.

The Gemara then comes out with an idea that in today’s age of entitlement sounds truly unbelievable.
It says that both Chachamim and Rabbi Chidka follow the view of Rabbi Akiva that a person should rather make his shabbos like a weekday (regarding the food he eats) than take help from other people!

Rashi understands this to not only replace the suggestion that he eat his Friday meal on Friday night, but also the suggestion that he eat his Saturday meal early.

Instead, the Gemara understands that the obligation to eat 3 meals on shabbos (according to Chachamim) or 4 meals (according to Rabbi Chidka) only applies to one who has enough of his own money for them.

However, one who cannot afford 3 or 4 meals on shabbos should rather have only 2, just like on a weekday, rather than be a burden on others.

It follows that the Beraisa that talks about the criteria for charity has nothing to do with the requirements for a regular person to have 3 or 4 meals dedicated meals for shabbos, seeing as a person who needs charity should miss this mitzva rather than take charity!

We should note that this is despite the fact that missing the third meal on shabbos is considered so serious by Chazal that it is called עשה שבתך חול, making one’s shabbos into a weekday, clearly a strong admonishment against those who treat this meal lightly.
Without this special meal, the shabbos meal schedule is similar to during the week, and that is called “making one’s shabbos into a weekday!”

Although not a water-tight proof, this strong wording seems to support the view that it is not sufficient just to technically perform the obligation derived from the passuk to have three meals- the extra meal has to be noticeably in addition to the number of meals one has during the week.

As such, it indeed seems preferable that in today’s time, one should indeed be particular to have both Kiddush and Melava Malka, in order to make sure that his סעודה שלישית is not simply in place of breakfast or Saturday dinner.

However, this proof is not water-tight, and at the end of the day, the obligation to have a third meal is independently based by Chazal on a different passuk to the one from which we derive the obligation of honoring the shabbos.

As such, one could probably be lenient on Erev Pesach given that it is שעת הדחק (unusually difficult circumstances), and fulfill one’s second meal with a “breakfast Kiddush” and third meal with an early lunch, if none of the other suggested solutions are appropriate.

It would however seem preferable for shuls and yeshivos not to make a regular practice of it on regular Shabbatot in order to make sure that the third meal is indeed noticeable as something one would not eat during the week- one certainly gains an element of the Mitzva of honoring the shabbos that way, even if it is not an intrinsic part or even an embellishment of the Mitzva of the three meals.

Perhaps those Rabbis and Rashei Yeshiva who do advocate the kiddush/lunch model hold that there is no such requirement whatsoever for there to be quantitively more meals on shabbos than during the week but there is rather simply a technical requirement to eat 3 meals on shabbos, regardless of how many one eats during the week.
Or perhaps, they hold that so long as the extra meal is qualitatively better than it would be during the week, as a lavish Kiddush/lunch could be compared to a regular breakfast, that is sufficient to make it noticeably for shabbos.

In any case, two undebatable messages from this discussion is that

  1. The third Shabbos meal is in some ways the most important of the shabbos meals, and not to be taken lightly
  2. One is supposed to do one’s best to avoid being a burden on the community, and whereas one is permitted to take charity when one really needs it for one’s basic needs, even a mitzva like the third shabbos meal, which is SO intrinsic to the honor of Shabbos is NOT enough of a reason to do so .

(p.s. the 4 cups of wine on Pesach is indeed an exception due to the addition aspect of publicizing the mitzva- see Ran on our sugya who makes this distinction.)

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.

Shabbos 114 Shabbos clothes, The definition of a Talmid Chacham and Chillul Hashem

Our daf continues to discuss the Mitzva of having special clothes for Shabbos, based on the famous Pesukim (Yeshayahu 58), read as the Haftarah for Yom Kippur.

These Pessukim teach us that just like Hashem is not just interested in the technical aspects of the sacrifices, but is even more concerned about the concept behind them, the “spirit of the sacrifices” so to speak, so also when it comes to Shabbat, it is not only the technical specifications about whether something is considered a forbidden melacha that are important, but also the special sanctity of the day- the “spirit of shabbos, “ so to speak.

As such, we are required not only to refrain from biblical forbidden melacha on shabbos and their rabbinically related prohibitions, but also to refrain from things that are associated with the vibe of the weekday (עובדין דחול) and to engage in activities that are special for shabbos and that are in keeping with the sanctity of the day.

This is not an extra chumra (stringency), as many mistakenly believe, but a complete מצוה מדי סופרים (Mitzva of the prophets or later sages), that is binding on everyone, and that might also affect biblical law (possibly a גלוי מלתא as to what is included in the biblical requirement of תשבות, but that is for a different analysis!)

In addition to avoiding any business transactions or even business related talk, walking quickly in long steps or running (see previous daf), one of these requirements is that one’s shabbos clothes should not be the same as those worn during the week, and our daf brings a source in the Chumash itself that changing one’s clothes is a sign of respect from the Kohanim who needed to change their clothes between cleaning out the ashes and performing the actual offerings.

The logic given is that one should not use the same vessel he has used to mix a drink for his master to serve one’s master with.
Similarly, part of the mitzva of honoring shabbos referring to in Yeshayahu, must surely include putting on special clothes that befit the sanctity of the shabbos.

Often, I see people, children and teens in particular, who come to shul on shabbos wearing weekday clothes, such as jeans and t-shirts, and although it is clearly preferable that they come dressed that way rather than not come at all,I believe that parents and Rabbis should use common sense where appropriate to encourage those who are likely to listen to wear the appropriate formal and special attire for Shabbos.

I also often see people, once again children and teens in particular, changing out of their shabbos clothes after lunch on shabbos, and going to play sports in shorts, t-shirts, and the like.

This is a more complex issue, which involves the question of which, if any, sports are permitted or forbidden on shabbos, and whether they fit into the requirement to avoid weekday activities and focus on things appropriate for the day.

If, and only if, one is able to permit such activities as part of עונג שבת, subject to any halachik restrictions involved, are we able to deal with whether it is permitted to change into weekday clothes for such activities.

On the one hand, just like running might be permitted for youth because that is their עונג שבת (enjoyment of the day,) rather than a stressful weekday activity, perhaps wearing comfortable clothing suitable for such activities might also be.

On the other hand, it is possible that any activity that cannot be performed comfortably in shabbos clothes (other than resting or sleeping obviously) might be a weekday activity by definition!

In addition to clothes being a way of highlighting the honor of shabbos and the divine services, they are also a way of highlighting one’s honor for davening(prayer) , and the honor of the Torah , as represented by Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars.)

As such, Talmidei Chachamim traditionally wore special clothing, and were expected to be particularly careful not to have any dirt or stains on their clothes.

The later not only fails to show honor to the Torah they represent, but causes a terrible Chillul Hashem, and as a result, the Gemara uses the very harsh expression חייב מיתה (deserving of death) for one who does so.

This is based on the verse משניאי אהבו מוות (those who make people hate me, love death-Misheli 8/36)
As Rashi explains, when a Talmid Chacham appears dirty, it causes people to hate the Torah that he represents, and ultimately Hashem himself!

These words might seem harsh, but they certainly convey the sensitivity that a Torah society should show to cleanliness, and that a person who is looked up to by others, should highlight in himself.
This presumably applies not only to a stain, but also wearing torn or smelly clothing, or giving off bad body odor or breathe.

Although it is logical that all of us should show sensitivity to this essential value, it is clear from our sugya that the more of a Talmid Chacham one is, the more careful one needs to be.
At this point, this begs the question- how do we define a Talmid Chacham, at least as far as this rule is concerned?

Does this apply only to one of the Gedolei haDor (leading Torah sages), to anyone with a good general knowledge of all areas of Torah, or perhaps to someone with a high level of knowledge in one area of Torah, someone who serves as a community Rabbi or Torah teacher, or anyone who studies Torah daily or who is more knowledgeable than average?

On our daf, Rabbi Yochanan presents 3 definitions of a Talmid Chacham:

  1. A Talmid Chacham on the level that one would return lost property to him without him being requirement to produce simanim (identification signs), as long as he says that he recognizes it- Rabbi Yochanan identifies this as someone who is careful to turn over his shirt if he put it on the wrong way.
  2. A Talmid Chacham who is worthy of being appointed as a פרנס (leader) of the community- this is defined as someone who can be asked a halacha in any area of the Torah and is able to answer, even in less commonly studied areas like the “minor tractate” of Kallah.
  3. A Talmid Chacham whose labor the community is required to perform on his behalf (possibly meaning to support)- Anyone who puts asides his own concerns and focusses on the concerns of heaven.

It seems from the above definitions that the term “Talmid Chacham” is not only used to describe a person’s actual knowledge, but also his trustworthiness, reputation, and self-sacrifice for divine matters (see our earlier post on ירידת הדורות for an interesting parallel.)

When it comes to appointing someone as Rabbinic leader, the person is expected not only to have the correct character traits (which should go without saying, after all דרך ארך קדמה לתורה), but also have total knowledge of the entire corpus of Jewish law, to the point that he can answer any questions that come his way.

As the Gemara later says, in order to be a local community Rabbi, such knowledge in one מסכתא (tractate) is actually sufficient (presumably he will then have the skills to look up or refer questions in area outside his expertise) , and to be the Rosh Yeshiva (presumably of the entire country or nation), such knowledge of the entire Torah is required, as per Rabbi Yochanan’s definition.

However, there are other traits that make the title of Talmid Chacham appropriate for someone:

When it comes to trusting his honesty as a Talmid Chacham is supposed to be trusted, the fact that he has the reputation of an honest and generally well-learned figure is sufficient. (the later requirement being my own assumption, as it is unlikely than any honest person would be referred to as a Talmid Chacham without any minimum level of Torah wisdom/knowledge)

When it comes to giving him the support needed to carry on his holy work, his level of learning and reputation is less of a factor, and his motivation and self-sacrifice is what counts the most.
Seeing as the laws we have discussed regarding being clean and presentable are based on preventing Chillul Hashem and thus dependent very much on the person’s reputation, it seems logical that the appropriate definition for the purposes of this law would be anyone with the reputation of being a Torah personality, such that one would trust his honesty in monetary matters.

As such, it is possible that in today’s time, anyone who is a Ben Torah- someone whose life-center is the study and application of Torah regardless of what trade or profession he follows, might well be in the spotlight of the majority who unfortunately do not yet fit into this category.

In a world where the majority of Jews are not yet observant unfortunately, this argument could possibly be applied to ALL “frum” (religiously observant) people.

As such, anyone in this category needs to be particularly concerned about how he presents him/her self, and of course even more so, about how he/she behaves!

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.

Shabbos 112 Yeridas hadoros (the drop in the generations)

On this Daf, we encounter a fascinating narrative where the sage Chizkiya asks his student, the famous Rabbi Yochanan , a complex question regarding the laws of impurity, and is so impressed with the answer he gives that he exclaims: “This is no man” (but rather an angel, according to Rashi’s explanation.)
A different version of this event is then brought where he exclaims: “THIS is a man.” (ie a real man.)
It appears that there could be a major disagreement between the 2 versions of what Chizkiya said regarding whether an outstanding Torah scholar is to be considered the sign of a truly great man, or an angelic quality, virtually out of reach of a mere human being.
The latter is supported by the well-known statement of Chazal (Bava Metzia 59b) that “לא בשמיים היא “- it is not in heaven. The Torah in supposed to be interpreted, and applied by human beings who have reached the highest levels they can as human beings, NOT by angels, and a voice from heaven is usually not admissible when it comes to halachik rulings.
This is further backed up the exhortation of Hillel (Avos 2\5) that in a place where there is no “man”, one should try to be a man!
However, the continuation of the Gemara does seems to leave both approaches as equally viable options.
It brings the famous statement of Rabbi Zeira in the name of Rava bar Zimuna that אם ראשונים בני מלאכים אנו בני אנשים ואם ראשונים בני אנשים אנו כחמורים… -if the early authorities are like angels, we are human beings, and if they are like human beings, we are like donkeys….
One cannot escape the fact that this statement is brought here in order to refer back to the two different versions of Chizkiya’s statement, and does not only consider both options, but sees the relationship between humans and angels as similar to that between donkeys and humans.
It is clear from this that angelic qualities are considered by our sugya to be superior to human one’s in this regard, but the only debate is as to how we are to be view the qualities of those before us and what Hizkiya considered Rabbi Yochanan’s level to be.
There is much to discuss about it, but one thing that is clear from this sugya is that the later Amoraim considered the scholars of the earlier generations to be far superior in their Torah scholarship to those in their generation.
This is so axiomatic throughout the Shas that entire sugyas are based on ensuring that Amoraim statements do not contradict the statements of the Tannaim before them.
It is necessary, however, to define what precisely this superiority is based on, as well as its scope.
We need to investigate whether this superiority based on the assumption that the quality of quantity of their knowledge and/or reasoning was better, the fact that their divine inspiration and guidance was better, their superiority in righteousness, or their being closer in history to the Sinaitic tradition?
Although Amoraim generally could not or would not argue with Tannaim, its is common for later Tannaim to disagree with earlier Tannaim or for later Amoraim to disagree with earlier Amoraim.
In fact, in a dispute between later Amoraim and earlier Amoraim, we ironically apply the rule of הלכתא כבתראי – the law is like the later authority! (see however Rosh, Bava Metzia 57 who opines that this rule only applies from Abaya and Rava onwards and not before, against the Rif who seems not to differentiate.)
How does this fit in with the idea of אם ראשונים כמלאכים?
In a fascinating case (Brachos 20), Rav Papa asks Abaya why it is that the earlier generations merited to experience miracles, and their generation did not.
He points out that it cannot be because they knew more Torah, as Rav Yehuda’s generation (notably second generation Amoraim) were focused on the part of the Talmud that focusses on damages, and they were focused on all 6 sections of the Talmud.
It also could not be that they understood it better, as Rav Yehuda expressed great difficulty with a certain Mishna while they were able to expand on it with ease.
Yet Rav Yehuda only needed to remove his shoe for rain to come, and their generation could daven all day and nothing happened!
Abaya responded that Rav Yehuda’s generation sacrificed themselves to sanctify Hashem’s name (did risky things in order to preserve the honor of the Torah) and their generation did not.
It seems from here that the superiority of the earlier generations lies NOT in their breadth of knowledge, nor in their greater analytical ability, but rather in their מסירות נפש (self-sacrifice.)
This contrasts greatly with the view expressed by Rabbi Zeira on our daf which seems to put it down to greater analytical ability.
It should also be noted that BOTH of these examples are brought by later Amoraim in reference to earlier ones (whether Rabbi Zeira comparing his generation of scholars to those of Rabbi Yochanan or Abaya comparing his to that of Rav Yehuda.)
Perhaps one answer lies in a radical Rambam (Mamrim 2/1 ) which states that even though when it comes to גזירות made by Chazal, a later Beis Din cannot annul the ruling of an earlier one unless it is greater than them in wisdom and numbers (see Megilla 2a), this does not apply to things that Chazal derives from the Torah itself via the logical rules of interpretation (יג עקרים ).
The Kesef Mishna is extremely bothered by this Rambam, given that we have a rule throughout the Shas that an Amora cannot disagree with a Tanna in anything!
However, a reading of the Rambam’s introduction to the Mishna Torah reveals that he too agrees with this rule, and holds that nobody after the sealing of the Talmud can argue with the ruling of the Talmud either.
This is indeed the answer given by the Kesef Mishna, without reference to the above introduction.
However, his reasoning has nothing to do with the superiority of these different groups of sages in their learning, but rather is explained by the fact that the ruling of the Mishna and later the Gemara were accepted by the entire Jewish people and the leading scholars of the time, and thus had the status of a ruling of the great Sanhedrin.
However, within one period, such as amongst the Tannaim , amongst the Amoraim, or amongst the post-Talmudic sages, there is no such restriction, other than the general rule regarding decrees only being annullable by a greater and more numerous Beis Din.
In case one might argue that such is impossible, as each generation is weaker than the previous one, the Rambam ( Mamrim 2/2) makes it clear that it is certainly possible, even if one cannot get a larger court than that of 71 judges, should there be more Torah scholars who support them.
It is clear from the above that the Rambam has a very limited view of ירידת הדורות and does not subscribe any halachik weight to the statement of Rabbi Zeira on our daf.
It is possible that he views the case in Brachos which attributes the superiority of the earlier generations to their greater מסירות נפש, as the more authoritative of the two, but sees neither case as forbidding disagreement per say with the earlier generations, the only exception being Amoraim disagreeing with Tannaim and post Talmudic authorities disagreeing with Amoraim, for entirely different reasons as mentioned above.
Whether the view of the Rambam is accepted by other authorities and whether this indeed is his view required further study, but in the context of a daf post, this should serve as a basis for opening the discussion.