Eruvin 60 and 61 Do Gedolim have “Ruach haKodesh”

In a rather unusual responsa, Rav Chaim of Sanz (the Divrei Chaim,) founder of the Sanz dynasty of Chasidim (Y.D. 1/105,) dealt with the issue of a school teacher who had told his students that Rabbi Chaim Attar, author of the famed “Ohr haChaim” super-commentary on the Chumash, did not write his work with “ruach haKodesh” (“holy spirit-“ loosely translated as “divine inspiration” and possibly described as a form or means of prophecy.)

The teacher was fired from his position, and the Divrei Chaim was asked whether this was the correct decision, to which he responded in the affirmative, going so far as to say that the author of any great Torah work who is fit for it, can be said to have ruach-hakodesh.

This position seems rather problematic at first glance, given that the Gemara (Sanhedrin 11a and various other places) brings a Beraisa which states that ” משמתו נביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי – נסתלקה רוח הקודש מישראל, ואף על פי כן היו משתמשין בבת קול (Once the last prophets, Chagai, Zecharia, and Malachi died, “ruach haKodesh” departed from Israel, and nevertheless,they would make use of a “bas kol.”

It continues to tell how a voice from heaven once proclaimed that there was someone worthy of having the שכינה rest on him like Moshe Rabbeinu, but the generation was not worthy, and the sages assumed it was referring to Hillel!

This Beraisa seems to imply a number of things, among them:

  1. Ruach hakodesh is tied to prophecy, and when prophecy ceased, so did it.
  2. Even arguably the greatest sage of the early Tannaic period, Hillel himself, did not have “ruach hakodesh.”

The Divrei Chaim’s claim is also particularly ironic, given that the Ohr haChaim himself (Bereishis 6/3 ( states emphatically that there is not even a ריח (smell) of “Kodesh” left in our time, never mind “ruach hakodesh.” (thanks to http://parsha.blogspot.com/2011/07/or-hachaim-that-we-no-longer-have-ruach.html?m=1 )

Yet at the bottom of Eruvin 60b, Rav Idi quotes an important rule regarding Eruvin in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

Although there is a rule that an entire city (at least a walled one) is considered like 4 amos, and thus counts very little towards the 2000 amos a person is allowed to walk on shabbos, this rule is not absolute, and only applies in certain circumstances.

For example, if a person’s shabbos base is outside the city, and the city fits in its entirety into the 2000 amos of his techum, it only counts as 4 amos and he earns the rest of the length of the city in the same direction on the opposite side of the city. (כלתה מדתו בסוף העיר)

However, if the 2000 amos of his techum ends somewhere in the middle of the city (כלתה מדתו בתוך העיר) , then the city counts as part of the 2000 amos, and he may not move past the point where it ends, even within the city itself.

After reporting this view in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, Rav Idi comments that “אין אלו אלא דברי נביאות” (lit- these are only matters of prophecy), as on a logical level, there should be no difference in the law between the two cases.- either the city should count as part of the 2000 amos either way, or be considered as 4 amos in both cases!

Rava then takes issue with Rav Idi’s comment by bringing evidence from the next Mishna that this distinction indeed exists, after which Rav Idi holds his ground and explains the Mishna in a way that it does not serve as precedent for our case, in a discussion that carries over onto Eruvin 61a.

There are various ways to interpret the comment of Rav Idi regarding Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling being “דברי נביאות”

  1. This could be understood literally as coming to praise and agree with Rabbi Yehoshua’s ben Levi’s words by saying that they were derived prophetically by him , without any earlier source or logical principle to back them up. This is the approach that Tosfos takes, bringing another sugya (Bava Basra 12a) to back up his view. In Tosfos haRosh, the Rosh seems to take a similar approach.
  2. Rashi, possibly unwilling to entertain the notion that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi experienced prophecy or even “ruach hakodesh,” takes a more nuanced view of this approach. He too, understands that Rav Idi views the ruling of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi positively and as being, at least to some extent, prophetic, but does not attribute this prophecy to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi himself. Instead, he explains that in the absence of any logical or textual evidence for his rule, he must have received it as a tradition from his Rebbe going back to something heard מפי הגבורה (by Moshe from Hashem) at Sinai! This explanation is also brought by the Ritva.
  3. Rabbeinu Chananel, seemingly unwilling to treat this ruling as any form of prophecy, seems to understand that Rav Idi simply meant that it was a גזירה of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi himself, without textual support or obvious logical basis. He also seems to understand that Rav Idi meant to weaken Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement, not strengthen it.
  4. As mentioned above, it is also possible that Rav Idi is not coming to strengthen the status of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling, but rather to weaken it, and possibly even rule against it. His labelling of his words as דברי נביאות could be somewhat sarcastic, as if to say that the only way he could have come up with something like that was through prophecy, which he clearly did not have.
  5. Without going so far as in the above point, it could be that Rav Idi is attributing a certain degree of prophecy to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, but views such a source for halacha as inferior to one grounded in textual and/or logical support, and perhaps unauthoritative, given the principle of לא בשמים היא.

The Rif and the Rosh both state that we rule like Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi because Rava brings a Mishna to support them, even though Rav Idi was able to explain the Mishna differently. Though they point out that Rav Idi’s main intention was not to rule differently, it seems that they acknowledge that he indeed did hold differently, or at least made his comment to weaken the authority of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling rather than strengthen it. A similar approach can also be seen in the Meiri.

It seems clear from the above that most Rishonim do not take the comment of Rav Idi to mean that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi actually had prophecy and/or “ruach hakodesh, even if this is the most simple reading of the text.

It seems compelling that the reason they did not do so might well be because this would contradict the often quoted earlier source that “ruach hakodesh” and “prophecy” are either equivalent or at least go together, and that both ended with חגי זכריה and מלאכי .

The Tosfos, on the other hand, who do understand Rav Idi’s comment literally, need to deal with this issue, and this takes us into a study of the sugya he quotes in Bava Basra, as well as a fascinating Ramban, which I hope to go into in a couple of days when we revisit this discussion, Hashem willing.

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.