Eruvin 50 Tannaic versus Amoraic authority and “רב תנא הוא ופליג”

In the Mishna on 49b, we are told that  a person who is on a journey home on erev Shabbos and realizes that it is starting to get dark and he is still not within 2000 amos of his home or city (but is within 4000 amos) , may designate a place that he knows along the way as his shabbos base, thus allowing himself to walk a further 2000 amos from that designated space and reach his home on Shabbos.

The Mishna stresses though that simply declaring his shabbos base to be under a particular tree does not do the trick- he needs to specify where under the tree, such as at its base, otherwise “he has not done anything.”

Rav and Shmuel dispute what the Mishna means by “has not done anything.”

Rav is of the view that he has disqualified his current position from being his shabbos base by showing that he does not intend it to serve this purpose, but has also not successfully declared a new shabbos base, and he is thus confined to his 4 amos for the duration of shabbos (as explained by Rashi, but see Rambam Eruvin 7/5 who appears to rule like Rav but understand that his current position remains his shabbos base.)

Shmuel, in contrast, holds that so long as the entire area under the tree is within 2000 amos of where he is, he may walk to the area under the tree and 2000 amos from it.  However, seeing as he did not specify which area under the tree is to be his shabbos base, this area has the law of a חמר גמל  (donkey and camel man- see earlier post on Eruvin 35) and he may only walk within 2000 amos of the furthest part of it from where he wishes to go.

Most of our daf is dedicated to discussing this issue, and on 50b, the Gemara brings a Beraisa in support of Shmuel and in refutation of Rav, yet the Gemara answers that bringing a Beraisa against Rav is not sufficient to prove him wrong, seeing as “רב תנא הוא ופליג” -Rav is  a “Tana” and argues (with other Tannaim.)

It is taken as axiomatic throughout the shas that the Tannaim (sages of the Mishnaic period) are more authoritative than the Amoraim (sages of the Talmudic period) and that an Amora may never disagree with a Tana unless he has another Tana to back him up- The main job of the sages of the Gemara is to interpret, reconcile, and adjudicate between the Tannaim but not to disagree with them.

Yet on our daf, in addition to various other places in the shas, we are told that the leading Babylonian Amora of the first generation of Amoraim, Rav, is an exception, and is considered a Tana who may and does argue with Tanaim.

In another place where this exception is made (Kesubos 8,) Rav and Rabbi Yochanan are both quoted separately as stating that a groom can be counted in a minyan but a mourner can not (what precisely this is referring to is discussed there.)

The Gemara brings a Beraisa to refute Rav which says that both grooms and mourners may be included in the minyan but responds that רב תנא הוא ופליג- Rav is a Tana and argues with the Beraisa.

It brings the same Beraisa to refute Rabbi Yochanan and answers that the Beraisa is talking about ברכת המזון  (grace after meals) in which the mourner may be included towards the required 10 for זמון בשם  and Rabbi Yochanan is talking about the שורה  (the line for comforting the mourners) in which the mourners may not be counted.

There appears to be some logic in this distinction, given that the purpose of the minyan for ברכת המזון  is to allow Hashem’s name to be mentioned in the zimun, and a mourner is equally obligated in being part of this than anyone else.  However, the purpose of the minyan for the שורה  is to comfort the mourners, and the mourners are not part of the mitzva of comforting themselves.

Yet despite this seemingly obvious distinction, Tosfos points out that the Gemara saw this as a “forced” distinction and preferred to use Rav’s status as a Tana to answer the difficulty on him.

In contrast, seeing as Rabbi Yochanan does not have the status of a Tana (the Rabbi Yochanan quoted in a Beraisa [Nazir ] is a different person, a Tana by that name, possibly Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri,) the Gemara had no choice but to resort to this distinction.

Given the apparent superiority of Rav over Rabbi  Yochanan to the point that Rav had the status of a Tana and was thus able to argue with Tanaim, and Rabbi Yochanan did not, it seems rather inconsistent that the rule of thumb throughout the Talmud is that we follow Rabbi Yochanan in cases where he argues with Rav.

To solve this apparent inconsistency, it is necessary to examine various possibilities as to why a Tana is more authoritative than an Amora.

1.       One  possibility is that the Tanaim were closer chronologically to the giving of the Torah, and thus their מסורת  is considered purer and more uncorrupted.

2.       Another option is that the Tanaim were objectively greater in learning than the Amoraim.

3.       A third possibility is that the Amoraim simply had  different roles to that of the Tannaim because  once Rebbe sealed the Mishna, its words become like the authoritative ruling of the great court which could no longer be over-ruled. As such, their only role and sphere of authority was now in interpreting, reconciling, and adjudicating disputes in the Mishna.

Whereas possibilities 1 and 3 above are less likely to allow for individual exceptions, the second reason might leave the door open for an unusually great Amora whose learning was equal or greater to that of some Tannaim  to be able to argue with at least some of them.

According to this reason, it could simply be that Rav’s greatness in learning was such that it was recognized throughout the Talmudic world as being on par with the Tanaim, something that other Amoraim lacked.

However, we would then need to explain why Rabbi Yochanan is considered more authoritative than Rav, despite Rav being on par learning-wise with Tannaim and his apparent failure to be considered as such.

According to the first option, it is certainly possible that the generation that formed the transition between the Tannaim and Amoraim (see Meiri/introduction to Avos who clearly defines this transition, and  includes Rav in this list but not Rabbi Yochanan) were close enough to the מסורות  of the Tannaim  that their מסורות  was sometimes treated as almost or equally as pure.  We would still need to explain why Rabbi Yochanan, though living in the same period, was not included in this transition generation but still was considered more authoritative than Rav when it came to disputes between the two of them.

According to the third reason, it is very possible that when Rebbe and his  court sealed the Mishna as authoritative over all future generations, they excluded certain specific Amoraim who were particularly close to them in terms of the chain of transmission from this limitation, and even conferred them with the type of neo-Tannaic semicha (ordination) needed in order to be exempt from this ruling.

An example of Rebbe’s close relationship and partial ordination of Rav before he went to Bavel can be found in Sanhedrin 5a-5b  where Rabbi Chiya arranged for רשות  (permission to rule) to be given by Rebbe to Rabbah bar bar Chana and to Rav. It is apparent from that sugya that Rav was actually the greater of the two in learning!

It is important to note that this was not actual סמיכה  as in the ordination passed down from Moshe, which might or might not have been held by Rav and/or Rabbi Yochanan, but נטילת רשות להורות  (permission to rule) and to be exempt from liability for errors made- this on its own does not serve as proof of Rav’s exclusion from submission to the Tannaim, but simply as an illustration of his extra closeness to Rebbe.

As Rabbi Yochanan remained in Eretz-Yisroel and might also not have had this same connection to Rebbe, it is possible that he simply never received this special status from Rebbe, and was thus bound by Rebbe’s decree that the words of the Tanaim would be henceforth binding on the Amoraim.

This distinction between Rav and Rabbi Yochanan seems to be mentioned by the Ritva (quoted in Shita Mekubetzes, Kesubos 8a) in order to answer our original question- He explains that we follow Rabbi Yochanan over Rav in a local dispute between the two of them due to Rabbi Yochanan’s greater wisdom but that unlike Rav, Rabbi Yochanan never had the “luck” to be ordained as a Tana in the way that Rav had been.

From the fact that the sugya in Kesubos chose to use Rav’s superior status to refute the proof against him from the beraisa rather than give the answer it gave to uphold Rabbi Yochanan against the same beraisa, it seems that this status is strong enough that it is preferential at least to a “forced” answer, and we indeed see various places in the Rishonim (see Tosfos/Menachos 5a for example)  where they say that instead of giving whatever answer is given to reconcile Rav’s words with a seemingly contradictory beraisa, the Gemara could indeed have chosen to use his superior status as a Tana to answer the question.

Yet in contrast, from the fact that the Gemara regularly poises difficulties on Rav’s statements from various Tannaic sources, it is clear that finding a “non-forced” way of reconciling such difficulties is preferable to resorting to his Tannaic status, which is evidently significantly weaker than that of regular Tannaim.

we see further that some Rishonim in our sugya rule like Shmuel against Rav (see for example Tosfos Eruvin 49b and Piskei Rid Eruvin 50b), even though the halocho almost always follows Rav in a dispute with Shmuel, specifically because the beraisa supports him, implying that this status is not absolute, and that although he may indeed argue with a Tana, other Tannaim are more authoritative than him and the halocho follows them against him, at least when Shmuel rules against him (see though Rif and Rosh who base their ruling like Shmuel on other factors as well.)

It is also clear that his status as a Tana is limited to his ability to argue with Tannaim, but does not limit other Amoraim’s ability to argue with him, or in the case of Rabbi Yochanan in particular, to be considered more authoritative than him when involved in a direct dispute with him.

As such, it seems that the third possibility we raised fits best with Rav’s exceptional status, and that the superiority of Tannaim over Amoraim is not based on either their chronological precedence or their innate superiority in learning, but rather on the authority given by Rebbe’s Beis Din to them over Amoraim, something he likely excluded transition figures such as  Rav from.

While his court excluded Rav from the requirement to submit completely to Tannaim, he did not include him in the list of Tannaim that Amoraim are required to submit.

As a curveball, there is a fourth approach which I would like to entertain.

Perhaps, there was never a specific court ruling or decision that Amoraim may not argue with Tannaim, but it was simply an unwritten agreement that developed amongst the Amoraim of the transition period, for some of the above-suggested or other reasons, which later became established practise.

Amongst the Amoraim of this transition period, some were more accepting of this approach than others, and while Rabbi Yochanan went along with it, Rav did not, as least as far as he himself was concerned.

We can recall that Rav was generally fiercely independent in his approach to halachik decision making and did not accept the many rules of psak that delegated more authority to certain Tannaim over others (see recent  post on Eruvin 47), rules which Rabbi Yochanan did accept and have generally  been accepted to this day.

As usual, there is much more to bring, much more to analyze, and the Rambam’s view on all of this  requires its own unique treatment-hopefully we shall have the opportunity to revisit this again when the topic next occurs.

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 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.

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 88 Choice and coercion in religious life 

On today’s daf, we are faced with 2 very different approaches to how the Torah was giving, so much so that it seems bizarre that the Gemora brings them one after another without noting any contradiction.

On the one hand , the Gemara learns from the passuk ויתישבו בתחתית ההר (” and they settled down at the bottom of ( or underneath) the mountain”- Shmot 19/17)  that Hashem  raised the mountain over us and threatened that if we do not except the Torah, we would be buried under it .

Although it is certainly within normative use to translate the word בתחתית as “at the foot of” , and not “under” , and this is probably the simple פשט , we can  explains that this derasha is based on the contrast between this word and another word used  in an earlier passuk  (Shmos 19/2) to describe their position, namely נגד (by or opposite) the mountain .

It seems clear from this that the Torah was forced on us, to the point that the Amora, Rav Acha bar Yaakov, makes the rather harsh point that this is in fact מודעא רבה לאורייתא , a strong argument for those who do not follow the Torah, seeing as it was given by force .

Straight after this , the Gemara brings statements of Chazal who understand the phrase “נעשה ונשמע” said by the people to imply that we accepted the Torah unconditionally and willingly , committing to keeping it even before we heard what was in it .

We could argue that this has nothing to do with accepting the Torah voluntarily, but rather the unconditional way in which we accepted that which was forced on us .

This could be  similar to if , chalila, a robber or powerful ruler (lehavdil) holds a gun to someone’s head –   one first immediately puts one’s hands up and says “Take anything you want, I will do whatever you say”, before actually hearing what he wants of one .

However, from the description of the 2 crowns that were given as a reward for this, and the story of the Sadducee who bothered Rava and mocked the way we accepted the Torah without first hearing whether we could handle it or not , it seems clear that the common explanation, namely that we indeed did indeed  accept the Torah voluntarily and unconditionally, is the correct one .

It is possible to suggest that these two forms of acceptance both took place, perhaps one after another .

Perhaps we first accepted the Torah voluntarily , but after hearing what was in it, or even before , started to have second thoughts? At which point we were told that it was now already binding on us and we have no choice but to accept it. 

This would be like making a voluntary vow , which once made is now compulsory, or entering a voluntary contract, which once signed , is now binding . See Tosfos on the daf who discussed this issue.

It could also be compared to a convert who voluntarily takes on Judaism, but who is now halachically Jewish, bound by the commandments, and unable to go back .

Alternatively, perhaps we were first coerced into accepting the Torah, and then later became excited about it and accepted it voluntarily. 

This would be similar to a child who is forced to go to school by his parent but then becomes excited about it and goes voluntarily.

Although interesting, the first explanation certainly fits the order of the pessukim better!

Nevertheless, we still need to explain why both these stages were necessary ?

If Hashem knew we would or did accept the Torah voluntarily, why did he force us to do so, particularly given the high risk that we would resent it and abandon it, as pointed out by Rav Acha bar Yaakov ? 

Rav Avraham Rivlin שליט”א , our mashgiach in Kerem b Yavneh, always makes an analogy to the different types of love we bless a bride and groom with ( it should be noted that on the next daf, the giving of the Torah is indeed compared to a wedding!)

Two of these are אהבה ( love) , and אחוה( brotherhood) 

Love is something personal, voluntary. 

A person chooses whom he wishes to love and be friends with. 

Brotherhood is something one has no say in at all- your brother is your brother whether you like it or not .

Love is something that can be temporary, unfortunately – even best friends often split up.

Brotherhood, in contrast is forever – one cannot “divorce one’s brother .”

We bless the bride and groom that their relationship  should experience the passion that comes with choosing who to love, but the stability and permanence of brotherhood .

Similarly, explains Rav Rivlin: It was essential for our love and passion for   Torah, that it be something we accept voluntarily .

Yet easy come, easy go, and something  we choose to love can often become less loved when the initial passion wears out.

As such, it was equally essential that our relationship with Torah also  contains “brotherhood”- an eternal and unbreakable bond, that weathers the highs and the lows and can never be broken.

This approach is fascinating, but could perhaps be questioned based on Rav Acha bar Yaakov’s point that, on the contrary, the fact that we accepted the Torah by coercion was actually an excuse to abandon it, not a reason to keep it forever !

Although this can perhaps be answered , there is another possibility I would like to suggest, which might also  bare some relation to Rav Rivlin’s approach.

There is a well-known, though counter intuitive Talmudic principle , that גדול המצווה ועושה ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה.” – one who performs a commandment he is obligated to perform is greater (gets greater reward) than one who performs a commandment voluntarily. ( see for example Avodah Zarah 3a, Kiddushim 31a )

This could be because someone who is forced to do something, has a natural temptation  to rebel and has to resist this urge to do so ( see Tosfos A.Z. 3a who takes this approach. ) 

This is in stark contrast to the passion with which  one fulfills a good deed which one has  chooses to do on his own .

As such, a child who becomes an adult celebrates the fact that until now, he only fulfilled commandments voluntarily, but know he will be fulfilling them because he is obligated to do so, and getting the increased merit for doing so.

Perhaps it is specifically for that reason, that once we had already accepted the Torah voluntarily, Hashem now forced the Torah on us.

Rav Acha’s point now supports this decision fully – precisely because we would now have an “excuse ” to rebel against what we had now been forced into , we have the potential to resist this urge and reach a far higher level and the accompanying merit. 

As such, this “coercion” now becomes one of the greatest kindness and opportunities that Hashem bestowed about us, perhaps even as a reward for our initial voluntary and unconditional acceptance! 

רצה ה.ק.ב.ה. לזכות את ישראל לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצוות

(מכות פרק ג פסוק טז)