Eruvin 12-13 Tolerance, the origins of dispute, and “”אלו ואלו

In the Mishna on 12b, there is a 3-way dispute between Beis Shamai, Beis Hillel, and Rabbi Eliezer, regarding what is required to mark the open fourth side of a מבוי closed on the other 3 sides.

Whereas we have been working until now under the correct assumption that the lenient view requiring only one post on either side is authoritative, we see that though this is the view of Beis Hillel, Beis Shamai require a post and a beam, and Rabbi Eliezer requires 2 posts, one on each side.

In an early post )Shabbos 130b), we discussed the way Rabbi Eliezer was referred to by the Gemara there as a שמותי , a term that the Yerushalmi quoted in the second explanation in Rashi there, as well as in Tosfos, understood to mean that he belonged to Beis Shamai.

However, as we also know )Avos 2/9) that Rabbi Eliezer was one of the greatest students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, who received his tradition from both Hillel and Shamai, it is very possible that he had influence from the scions of both houses.

In this Mishna, it seems that Rabbi Eliezer was neither bound completely to either Beis Hillel or Beis Shamai, but fiercely independent.

This is somehow despite the fact that he took such pride in the fact that he never said anything that he never heard from his Rabbi (Sukkah 28a.)

This can be explained by the fact that his tradition came directly from Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai who learnt from both Hillel and Shamai, as mentioned above, and thus sometimes was in line with Beis Shamai and sometimes with Beis Hillel.

It can also be that what he meant was not that he heard every precise ruling from his Rebbe, but that he always followed the methodology he learnt from his Rebbe, no matter what conclusion it led to, thus ironically adding to his independence in the realm of practical halacha.

It is a common experience that independents, despite often being revered on both sides of the aisle, usually struggle for acceptance on either side.

Perhaps Rabbi Eliezer was both great and confident enough to have his feet in both worlds, but still able to interpret the Torah and rule according to his own view, even taking a separate stand from both strong “councils of sages.”

Even for the usually tolerant members of Beit Hillel, despite his having learnt from some of their teachers, he was never “Beis Hillel” enough, but a “שמותי”

This independence and consequent lack of acceptance came to a head in the case of the stove of Achnai (Bava Metzia 59b), where his refusal to accept the majority opinion of all the other sages resulted in his virtually unprecedented excommunication, which according to the first explanation in the above-quoted Rashi, was the reason for his being called a שמותי”” , from the word “שמתא” (excommunication.)

The truth is that lacking the safety in numbers that members of both main parties tend to have, independents often suffer the most, and are treated more harshly by members of the dominant party than members of the opposition are treated, even if their ideologies are somewhere in-between.

Whereas Rabbi Eliezer’s independence was virtually stamped out by his colleagues, who burnt all the things that he had declared pure, Beis Hillel are lauded towards the end of daf 13b for their respectful attitude to the views of Beis Shamai, not only quoting their views, but even mentioning them before their own, as illustrated in a Mishna in Sukkah brought by our Gemara.

My beloved son, Noam, asked me the other night, while learning mishnayos Shabbos together, why Beis Shamai are mentioned first so often in Mishnayos even though Beis Hillel are more authoritative.

I answered that this could very well be a reflection of this tolerant attitude first illustrated in the Mishna in sukkah quoted by our Gemara, which Rabbi Yehuda haNasi, a direct descendant of Hillel, carried on when he compiled the Mishna.

This tolerance of the other side, is given in our Gemara as the reason that the view of Beis Hillel became normatively accepted over that of Beis Shamai- In order for one’s view to be accepted, it seems important that one is open-minded, respectful, and confident enough to hear, consider, and even quote dissenting views. This shows that this view was acquired after fully considering all sides and without automatically putting down the other side and is thus a view worthy of acceptance.

Our Gemara points out that this preference given to Beis Hillel was not because the rulings of Shamai were not legitimate, but rather for the above reason- objectively speaking, “אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים”-“these and those are the words of the living G-d!”

It might seem logically impossible that two seemingly contradictory views can both be considered objectively part of the divine Torah, but this seems to be precisely what the Gemara is saying.

The Torah is the word of the “living G-d” and thus constantly branching off into different explanations and possibilities.

So long as different views are all based on the “מסורה”, that living chain of transmission that goes back to Moshe at Sinai, it is not so much the actual conclusion that makes them legitimate, but the way that was achieved.

Not every alternative view has halachik legitimacy- only those that can be justified based on previous stages in the tradition.

Both Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai were required to back their views up with pessukim in the Torah, or oral traditions dating back to Moshe at Sinai, and the same applies to those that come after them.

It is not tolerance alone that gave Beis Hillel their authority, as reading this sugya in isolation might imply. In other places, their authority is derived on their greater numbers and on the “voice from heaven” )see Eruvin 7a for example) that proclaimed that the halacha is like them.

In fact, in the earlier sugya in this masechta, it seems that before this voice from heaven, one was permitted to choose which one of these great schools of Torah to follows, and that according to those who did not consider a voice from heaven to be authoritative, such as none other than Rabbi Yehoshua himself, this was permitted even after this voice from heaven, despite the other factors in Beis Hillel’s favor!

We have explained the idea of “אלו ואלו” with the understanding that in matters subject to debate, there is no objectively true answer, but both sides are legitimate “Torah”- the superiority of Beis Hillel is only practical, and as a result of the traits they possess, their superior numbers, and the voice from heaven.

Yet the Rambam appears to limit this idea significantly.

According to him (Mamrim 1/4), matters mentioned explicitly in the Torah or received orally through tradition tracing back to Moshe’s revelation at Sinai are never subject to debate.

Only matters that are derived though Chazal’s use of the rules for interpreting the Torah, can be subject to debate.

Even the later, were subject to the final ruling of the great court, so long as that court was still functioning, and debate was only legitimate until such a ruling was given.

Once it ceased to function, such matters that had not yet been resolved became subject to debate again.

Given that many or most of the disputes between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel occurred at a time when the great court was still functioning, it follows that these disputes were subject to a final ruling by that court.

It is those rulings, according to the Rambam, not the tolerance of Beis Hillel or the voice from heaven, that were authoritative.

This fits well with the view that the main reason for their greater authority was their superior numbers, which would have allowed them to dominate the great court they were part of.

How the Rambam would explain the other reasons given for their authority, is subject to further analysis- it is possible, that as might often be his way, he simply regarded one source to be more authoritative in keeping with other accepted rules of halacha, and rules accordingly.

It is also possible that it is precisely that tolerance and extra willingness to engage in respectful debate that swung the majority of the Sanhedrin, including the “independents” towards their side, and that the “voice from heaven” was the מכה בפטיש (final blow) that brought them to this decision.

This also explains the harsh treatment meted out to Rabbi Eliezer by the members of Beis Hillel.

According to the Rambam above, even matters that were subject to dispute, were eventually concluded by the Sanhedrin while it functioned , and thereafter, no-one had the authority to act to the contrary.

Their opinions were still recorded out of respect, but they were now out of the realm of accepted halacha.

They might still have theoretical value in the study-halls, and even be considered “the words of the living G-d,” but the option for anyone to rule accordingly was now closed.

It follows that in post Sanhedrin times, debate in practical halacha is possible once again, and there is no threat of excommunication for those who follow their own or other minority views, but only in matters that had not already been decided by the Sanhedrin, and in matters that fit the Rambam’s strict criteria for debate.

If so, given that the Talmud itself was sealed by Ravina and Rav Ashi long after the Sanhedrin had ceased to function, how do we explain the universally accepted binding authority given to it by all followers of the מסורות?

We will have to leave this for a difference discussion, but a good place to start is the introduction of the Rambam himself to the Mishna Torah, the great masterwork we just quoted from.

Does everyone agree with the Rambam’s strict criteria regarding which matters are subject to debate, and does the huge collection of debates scattered throughout the Mishna and the Gemara back up this very strong claim? This too, will need to be left for a later discussion.

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.

Shmuli Phillips Ari Kahn Johnny Solomon

Eruvin 7 A philosophy of stringencies or leniencies

There is a tendency in parts of the Torah world to err on the side of caution in all halachik matters and take on the more stringent opinions in all areas of halacha.
On the other hand, there is a tendency amongst other sectors to constantly search for  leniencies, picking and choosing the easier opinion in each area of halacha.
Are either of the above policies legitimate, or is one perhaps required to choose one or more recognized halachik authorities and follow their views in every area of halacha, irrespective of whether they are lenient or stringent?
On the previous daf, we recorded a dispute between Rav and Shmuel regarding how to close off a מבוי מפולש (alley open to the public domain at both ends.)
Rav ruled leniently like the Tana Kama in the beraisa and held that a צורת הפתח (form of an entrance) on one end and a pole or beam on the other end was sufficient.
On the other hand, Shmuel ruled stringently like Beis Hillel according to Chananya, and held that a צורת הפתח was not sufficient on the one side, but doors were required.
We also saw a different dispute, also between Rav and Shmuel, regarding a    מבוי עקום (bent alley.)
Until then, we had been dealing solely with a straight, rectangular מבוי, closed along its lengths and open either on one or two ends.
This dispute, however, centered around an “L” shaped מבוי that makes a right-angled turn in the middle, but is still open at both ends.
As such, the one end is not aligned with the other, and it is unclear whether such a מבוי  is to be treated at each end as if it is only open on that end, making a pole or beam sufficient, or whether it is to be treated like a מבוי open on both ends to a public domain, and thus require one of the more stringent solutions discussed in the Beraisa .
In this case, Rav is stringent, and holds that it is to be regarded as open on both sides (מפולש), whereas Shmuel is lenient and treats it as if it is only open on one side (סתום).
When we combine both disputes, it comes out that such a מבוי does not require doors according to either Rav or Shmuel.
This is because:
1.       Although Rav rules that it is to be treated like a מבוי מפולש (open alley), he also rules like the Tana Kama that a מבוי מפולש (open alley) does not require doors on either side.
2.       Although Shmuel rules that a מבוי מפולש requires doors on one side, he rules that such a מבוי עכום is to be treated like a מבוי סתום (closed alley.)
Despite the fact that we have thus not found ANY authority who holds that a מבוי עכום  requires doors, the Gemara tells us that there was such a מבוי  in the city of Neharda, Shmuel’s home town, and the authorities treated it with the stringencies of both Rav and Shmuel, requiring doors on one side!
This means essentially that they “collected” the stringencies of both, treating it like an open מבוי in accordance with Rav, and requiring an open מבוי to have doors in accordance with Shmuel.
The Gemara is extremely bothered with this approach of collecting חומרות (stringencies,) due to a Beraisa that focusses on general principles applying to disputes between בית הלל and בית שמאי.
The Beraisa rules that the law is in accordance with Beis Hillel in all cases. Yet, one is permitted to choose which of them to follow (the Gemara later explains that this was only before the בת קול  (voice from heaven) that proclaimed that the law is always like Beis Hillel, or according to the view of Rabbi Yehoshua who did not accept the authority of voices from heaven, or that this statement refers to similar disputes amongst later sages that have not yet been resolved.)
The Beraisa, however, condemns those who rely on the leniencies of both of them, calling them “wicked,” and mocks those who follow the stringencies of both of them, applying to them the verse הכסיל בחושך הולך (“the fool walks in darkness”- Koheles 2.)
On today’s daf, 2 approaches are given to explain how the authorities in Neharda had not behaved like “fools” by being stringent like both opinions:
1.       Rav Nachman bar Yitchak is of the view that in practise, even Rav would not be lenient and accept only a צורת הפתח, a claim made already by Rav Huna.
2.       Rav Shizvi seeks to explain this even according to the view of Rav Ada bar Ahava that Rav was indeed lenient in practise. He interprets the Beraisa’s application of the term “fools” to those who practise the stringencies of both houses in a far more limited fashion.
He claims that this only applies when the two disputes are inter-connected, with the lenient view in the one case logically requiring a stringent view in the other, and vice versa.
Where the two debates are completely independent of one another, there is no issue with practicing the stringencies of both.
To support the second approach, Rav Shizvi brings the case of the “spine and the skull,” discussed in a Mishna (Ohalos 2/3)
This Mishna deals with the bones of a corpse that are considered like the whole corpse itself and cause everything in the same אהל (covered area) to become impure.
In contrast, most bones on their own do not cause such impurity, and only cause impurity to things that touch them.
It is universally accepted that the whole spine and whole skull, being the most essentially bones of the body, are treated with the stringencies of the body itself, and make everything under the same roof of them impure.
If the spine or skull is no longer whole, however, they are treated more leniently like any other bone.
There is a dispute between בית הלל and בית שמאי regarding how much of the spine or skull needs to be missing for it to no longer be considered whole.
Regarding the spine, בית שמאי holds that unless at least 2 vertebrae are missing, it is still considered whole and the more stringent rules of impurity apply. בית הלל, on the other hand, hold that as soon as one vertebrae is missing, the spine is no longer considered whole and the more lenient rules of impurity apply.
Regarding the skull, בית שמאי are once again stringent and hold that it still considered whole unless enough is missing to cause death in a living person.
בית הלל once again are more lenient, and say if the amount normally removed by a doctor’s drill (possibly in therapeutic  surgery) from a live person is missing from the dead man’s skull, it is already considered incomplete.
Rav Shizvi then refers to the ruling of Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel that the same criteria apply to the laws of טריפות (terminally injured animals.)
Missing pieces in the spine and skull before slaughter are counted amongst the terminal injuries that render an animal non-kosher even after proper slaughter.
In order for it to be considered “incomplete” and thus non-kosher, בית שמאי use the more stringent criteria they applied to a corpse, essentially making it harder for it to be considered non-kosher. This turns out effectively to be a leniency in the rules of kashrus.
בית הלל in contrast, use the more lenient criteria they use to release the spine and skull from the more stringent laws of impurity, in effect making it easier for the animal to be considered non-kosher, and thus creating a stringency in the laws of kashrus!
This means that in this case, a leniency in one area of halacha, namely impurity, logically requires a corresponding stringency in a different area, namely the laws of kashrus, and vice versa.
Thus being stringent in both areas, and applying the stringent laws of impurity to a spine missing only one bone, but also considering an animal with such a spine to be non-kosher, is logically inconsistent, as is applying the lenient laws of impurity but also considering it to be kosher.
In such cases, says Rav Shizvi, being stringent like both opinions is logically inconsistent and thus foolish.
A generally cautious and stringent approach to halacha in which the stringencies of different authorities are adopted is thus not considered like a “fool walking in the darkness”  according to his interpretation of the Beraisa, unless it leads to logically inconsistency in one’s behaviour.
It is not stringency per se that is the issue, but logically inconsistent behaviour.

A spine missing one vertebra is either considered whole or not, but cannot be both whole and incomplete.

In order to develop a broader approach to this issue, a number of questions need to be raised, among them:
1.       IS Rav Shizvi’s interpretation of the Beraisa only brought in order to reconcile Rav Ada bar Ahava’s view that Rav was lenient in practise regarding a צורת הפתח in a מבוי מפולש, but Rav Nachman bar Yitchak would still prefer the original and  simpler interpretation of the Beraisa that considers collecting stringencies in general to  be a foolish and dark approach?
2.        If this is not so, we would need to explain why Rav Nachman bar Yitchak doesn’t make the obvious distinction that Rav Shizvi makes and instead chooses a view of Rav that is subject to debate.
3.       If Rav Nachman bar Yitchak indeed favors the original and simple approach, do we accept his broader view of the “fool in the dark” or the more limited interpretation of Rav Shizvi?
4.       If Rav Shizvi’s distinction is to be accepted, does this apply only to the Beraisa’s mockery of the chronic מחמיר  (one who is stringent) or does it also apply to the Beraisa’s condemnation of the chronic מקיל   (one who is lenient.) On the one hand, he only makes the distinction regarding stringency, but the need for consistency within the wording of the Beraisa seems to indicate that it applies equally to leniencies. If this is so, he would see no “wickedness” in “collecting” leniencies from different authorities, so long as they are not logically inconsistent with each other.
Answering these questions requires a thorough study of all parallel and related sugyos  and the Rishonim who comment on them. As this is way out of the scope of this post, we shall have to wait for future opportunities to revisit this topic!

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.