Eruvin 63 and 64    Could today’s Gedolim have “Ruach haKodesh” Part 2

In the post on Eruvin 60/61, We discussed various interpretations in the Rishonim of the phrase “דברי נביאות”  attributed to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi by Rav Idi.

Whereas most Rishonim do not seem to see this as referring to actual prophecy or “ruach hakodesh,” and some even see it as לגנאי ( a critical statement,) we saw that the Rabbeinu Yitchak, quoted in Tosfos, takes this almost literally and understands it to be referring to actual “ruach hakodesh,” based on a Gemara in Bava Basra.

We mentioned the famous and oft-cited Beraisa that states that “ruach hakodesh” departed from Israel after the death of the last prophets, and suggested that it is due to this Beraisa that most Rishonim did not wish to understand that Rav Idi attributed real “ruach hakodesh” to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

We also discussed the ruling of the Divrei Chaim that a teacher who claimed that the Ohr haChaim did not have “ruach hakodesh” was a heretic and that removing him from his post was the correct thing to do (though he was not willing to rule regarding the monetary implications of this.)

We pointed out how this ruling seems to be contradicted by the above Beraisa, and that the implication of that Beraisa is that even Hillel did not have “ruach hakodesh,” so the teacher appears  at first glance to have said nothing inappropriate.

Although I left the post without coming to any conclusions and noted that the view of the Tosfos, Ramban and the sugya in Bava Basra would be discussed in a follow-up post when it is next relevant to the daf (my intentions were of course for today’s daf,) I  received an unusual amount of both positive feedback and pushback for it.

I even received a mild and friendly rebuke from my Rebbe, Moreinu haGaon haRav Mendel Blachman שליט”א  for seeming to make light of the words of the Divrei Chaim, whose status as one of the great Torah authorities is debated by none- although I thought it was completely clear that this was not my intention, I wish to clarify again that I was merely attempting to build the sugya in an orderly and exciting  manner and was always fully aware that the Divrei Chaim was fully aware of the Beraisa and had his own explanation thereof.

I was also pointed by more than one to the Gemara on our daf today, which I had already planned on discussing at the appropriate time, which seems to be a clear proof for the approach of Tosfos, at least in theory.

Given the danger of people jumping to premature conclusions and not understanding the purpose of these posts, something I clearly need to be clearer about, I have decided to leave my planned post on Eruvin 62 and 63 for another opportunity and try to address  these issues as soon as possible.

The Gemara brings a Beraisa which narrates  how Rabban Gamliel was riding his donkey and Rabbi Ilai was riding behind him (this is a shortened version-please see the daf for the full version.) They saw a loaf of bread on the road, and Rabban Gamliel picked it up and told Rabbi Ilai to take it. They carried on and saw a non-Jew whom Rabban Gamliel addressed by his name, מבגאי  and told to take the loaf from Rabbi Ilai.

Rabbi Ilai then asked the non-Jew where he was from and what his name was. The non-Jew told him where he was from and that his name was מבגאי. Clearly surprised that Rabban Gamliel had “guessed” his name correctly, he asked the non-Jew whether Rabban Gamliel knew him, and he answered in the negative.

The Beraisa says that we learn from this that Rabban Gamliel כון (directed his thoughts) with “ruach hakodesh.” It also brings 3 other rules that we learn from this story, something we need to come back to a little later.

It seems clear as daylight that the author of this “Beraisa, and the Amoraim who brought it, attributed “ruach hakodesh” to Rabban Gamliel, even though he lived long after the last of the prophets!

There are also various other primary sources that attribute “ruach hakodesh” to other great Tannaim, among them  Rabbi Akiva (see Ran/Nedarim 50b) and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (פסיקתא דרב כהנא יא) .

How do we reconcile this with the Beraisa that holds that “ruach hakodesh” departed with the last of the prophets, and that even Hillel never had “ruach hakodesh?”

Several possibilities can be entertained, among them:

i.                    These are contradictory Beraisa’s, reflecting two different views amongst Chazal, and there is no need to reconcile them. Although legal, this approach needs to be reconciled with the Amoraim  who brought each Beraisa, and given that it is not just an aggadic discussion but one that could have major practical ramifications (such as the case in the Divrei Chaim,) one would expect the Gemara to acknowledge such a debate if it indeed existed. It is also an answer of last resort, as the way of Chazal was always to try and avoid machlokes wherever possible and rather reconcile apparently differing views as much as possible.

ii.                  We could be dealing with different types of “ruach hakodesh,” in which case we would need to clearly define each type and prove that such a distinction in fact exists. We shall focus on this approach in more detail below.

iii.                It is possible that נסתלקה רוח הקודש  was not a total end to this experience but rather a general removal whereby it would not be a regular “as needed” experience for all people who merit it, but only an occasional experience by the greatest of people. This could fit well in the context of the Mishnayos and sugya at the end of Sotah, where other things such as chasidim and the wealth of Torah scholars which are said to have ceased after certain key figures died clearly did not disappear completely  (see Beis Shlomo O.C. 112 who makes this point.)

It is thus very plausible that the Beraisa did not mean to say that Hillel and Shmuel haKatan NEVER experienced “ruach hakodesh” but rather that it was not a common experience for them like it was for the Neviim, and/or of a lesser quality.

Evidence for this can be found at the end of this very Beraisa, where we are told that Shmuel haKatan predicted the fates of many of the Tannaim on his death bed, something we also see with Rabbi Eliezer when visited by Rabbi Akiva (Sanhedrin  68a.)- Of course it is also possible that the death-bed of the greatest of people provides a flicker of “ruach hakodesh” not provided during life.

The fact that Rabbi Ilai was so surprised by Rabban Gamliel’s ability to identify the man’s name also attests to how unusual this was, even for Rabban Gamliel, as does that fact that Rabban Gamliel does not seem to have known the halachic status of the loaf via “ruach hakodesh.” (the later point could also indicate that when it comes to halachik rulings, “ruach hakodesh” is not a factor due to the rule of “לא בשמיים היא ” ,or that even unique individuals like Rabban Gamliel did not get assistance via “ruach hakodesh” when it comes to halachik matters. “

Of course, the fact that there were still people great enough during the Tannaic period to merit the occasional “ruach hakodesh,” does not mean that this extended into the period of the Amoraim or later.

Even according to Tosfos who understood that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi had “ruach hakodesh,” it should be pointed out that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi formed part of the transition period between the Tannaim and Amoraim, and also had his own very unique qualities  ( see Shabbos   156a regarding פנקסו של ריב”ל  or Kesubos 77b regarding חולי רעתן for examples of this.)

Yet the sugya in Bava Basra that Tosfos brings as support, as understood by the Ramban, paves the way for distinguishing between different types of “ruach hakodesh” and attributing one type thereof to a far wider circle of Torah scholars as well as on a far more regular basis.

The context for the discussion there regards the law of dividing up shared property.

Such property may only be divided up at the insistence of one of the partners if it is large enough to be divisible into two viable portions for each partner, otherwise mutual agreement is necessary.

Shmuel’s father and the Tana Sumchus are of the view that when it comes to a vineyard, the minimum size  that is called a “vineyard” is one that can produce 3 kav .  Rabbi Yossi comments that these words of Sumchus  are דברי נביאות , the same expression we saw back on Eruvin 60b.

This leads into the words of רב אבדימי דמן חיפה  who states that from the time of the destruction, prophesy was taken away and given to the חכמים, implying that Rabbi Yossi’s statement is a positive statement attributing prophecy to Sumchus  (though see רי מגש who does not understand it this way at all.)

The flow of the sugya and the various interpretations thereof in the Rishonim are too long to analyze in this post, but the view of the Ramban is so critical to our topic that we have to at least give it a rudimentary treatment.

אלא הכי קאמר אף על פי שנטלה נבואת הנביאים שהוא המראה והחזון, נבואת החכמים שהיא בדרך החכמה לא נטלה, אלא יודעים האמת ברוח הקדש שבקרבם

“rather, this is what he is saying- Even though the prophecy of the prophets, which is the sight and the vision, was taken, the prophecy of the wise-men which comes through the way of wisdom, was not taken- rather they know the truth through the “ruach hakodesh” inside them.”

The Ramban seems to be describing a type of prophecy that comes through the “ruach hakodesh” inside the sages which is a product of their wisdom, and that this type of prophecy was not taken away and remained with the sages.

What the Ramban does not do is explain our Beraisa in Sanhedrin that says that ruach hakodesh departed when the last prophets died.

It is clear historically that the last prophets lived well into the period of the Babylonian exile, after the destruction of the first Temple.

In the absence of the continuation of the sugya in Bava Basra, the story on our daf and other similar cases, it could be possible to suggest that there were two stages:

1.       The era of prophecy proper ended with the destruction but remained with the wiser prophets through “ruach hakodesh” for some time and this is the type of prophecy that the last of the prophets experienced in the exile.

2.       When these last sage-prophets died, this “ruach hakodesh” via wisdom type of prophecy also departed.

Yet from the continuation of the sugya in Bava Basra where various Amoraim bring examples of this wisdom-derived prophecy in every-day life, this does not appear to be the case, and cases like those of Rabban Gamliel on our daf also make this suggestion implausible.

It thus seems most likely that just like there are two types of prophecy, there are also two types of “ruach hakodesh” and that the “ruach hakodesh/prophecy” inspired by wisdom outlived the time of the prophets well into the period of the Tannaim, some of the greatest of whom were endowed with it.

It is also possible that this wisdom related “ruach hakodesh” of the Ramban never completely ceased and that at least some of the greatest sages of each generation too have some degree of it, according to their merit, though whether this “ruach hakodesh” simply assists one’s natural intellect to come to correct halachik conclusions or goes so far as to allow one to discern secrets and predict the future is also not clear- whereas the case of Rabban Gamliel certainly seems to involve the later, the examples brought by later Amoraim in Bava Basra seem more focussed on the former.

What seems clear from the case with Rabban Gamliel, however, is that at least the type of “ruach hakodesh” which gives “supernatural” knowledge of facts or possibly even the future, is NOT  a regular event, and was not even experienced by most Tanaim, let alone later authorities- otherwise it would not have been recorded as a novelty.

This is further substantiated by the case in Eruvin 63a of the student of Eliezer who transgressed the serious prohibition of ruling in halacha in front of his Rabbi.

Rabbi Eliezer told his wife that that student would not live through the year, and it was.

When asked whether he was a prophet, he replied that he was not, but that he simply had a tradition that someone who makes a halachik ruling in front of his Rebbe deserves to die.

We see that Rabbi Eliezer’s wife was very surprised that he seemed able to see the future to the point that she asked him incredulously whether he was a prophet- This in itself shows that it was certainly not the norm for great Tannaim to be able to see the future.

Unless it was said merely out of humility, Rabbi Eliezer’s answer also makes it clear that he did not consider himself to have this ability either, and given the context of the sugya which discusses this prohibition and its punishment, this is likely to be what it he meant (though it is still difficult how he knew that the punishment would occur within the year and that it would definitely take place, given that he could always repent and be exempted from this punishment- perhaps he did experience some form of “ruach hakodesh” and his answer was indeed out of humility? Either way, we certainly see that this was certainly not the norm by the Tannaim.)

Back to the wisdom-derived form of “ruach hakodesh” discussed by the Ramban, The Divrei Chaim in the earlier quoted teshuva makes it clear that it is this type of “ruach hakodesh” that he is referring to, and it appears that he had reason to believe that the teacher had denied that the Ohr haChaim had even this kind of “ruach hakodesh,” something he saw as an extreme sign of disrespect for someone he held up as one of the greatest sages of his time.

Whether this is the final word on the subject, whether the teacher indeed had that kind of “ruach hakodesh” in mind, and whether the view of the Ramban is indeed compatible with the view of many of the other Rishonim is beyond the scope of this  post  – much has been written on the subject and I hope we shall get a chance to revisit this again- the reader is encouraged to pursue this topic further outside the scope of this post, obviously based on authoritative sources only.

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 52 and 53  The enlarged techum, nature walks on Shabbos, and Agada

Queenstown/New-Zealand: techum options?

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, who passed-away peacefully Tuesday night in Johannesburg.

It has been my great privilege to work in the international travel space, with the opportunity to show people so many of the wonders of Hashem’s creation around the world.

One of the highlights of spending a Shabbos in such places is the opportunity to enjoy spectacular shabbos walks amongst gorgeous scenery.

Of course, while going for a pleasurable walk on shabbos is a great way of fulfilling the mitzva of oneg shabbos, and might thus even be considered a mitzva as far as certain laws are considered (making an eruv techumim for example,) one has to be aware of the halachik issues involved, amongst them the prohibition against carrying on shabbos outside a closed area and the prohibition of leaving one’s shabbos domain/techum.

One who camps out in nature is very limited by the later and will usually only be allowed to walk within a 2000 amos range of his tent, even if he is not carrying anything.

In fenced resorts, so long as the entire area is מוקף לדירה  (fenced for the sake of human habitation,) one might be able to measure the techum from the fence of the resort.

Moreover, in resort towns and cities, one might be able to measure the techum from the last house of the city, baring in mind that legal city limits and halachik city limits are not the same thing, and that a gap of more than  140 amos between houses or property walls might be considered a break between two halachically separate cities.

This can mean that in spread-out suburbs or resort towns, one might not even be able to walk from one side of the town to the other, and would be limited to 2000 amos from the building or fenced-in property one is staying in, placing a rather substantial limitation on one’s walking options on Shabbos.

The Mishna at the bottom of Eruvin 52 has some consolation, however, which can be very significant:

Although the space between houses that is permitted for them to be considered part of the same town is rather small, the idea of the עבור העיר – extended halachik limits of the city (as in a שנה מעוברת  [leap or extended year] or אשה מעוברת  [pregnant woman], or according to a different version debated on Eruvin 53, אבר (limb) or extra components of the city) means that substantial amounts of empty space might indeed be included in the halachik city limits.

For example, if a house of the city protrudes on its one side (the north-east corner as per Rashi’s example)  forming an irregular shape, we draw a fictitious protrusion opposite it (on the south-east corner) , and then “square” the city with a perpendicular line from the original protrusion to the fictitious one, including the empty space in-between within the city proper.

We will also  see  (Eruvin 57b) that this also applies to other irregularly shaped towns that do not form a typical square or rectangle style grid, and by using this method, large areas of open natural space can often be included in the limits of the city proper, before we even start measuring the 2000 amos techum around it, which we have already seen is also squared in a way that makes it effectively significantly bigger (Eruvin 49b.)

Chazal determined (Eruvin 57b)  that the techum of shabbos needs to be measured physically with a rope 50 amos long, a point which Rashi uses on our daf (Eruvin 52b at the bottom) to explain the view that there is a 15 amah safety net for someone who mistakenly left the techum, a topic I would love to analyze further in the context of halachik safety-nets in general.

As such,  whether one may rely on satellite images such as those available on google earth to measure this techum, or even on a car’s distance metre, is for a different discussion, one I hope to go into when we get there, Hashem willing.

The process of measuring the techum was taken very seriously in Chazal’s time, and markers were placed on the roads to show where the techum ends, as Rashi on our daf also points out.

Given that sufficiently measuring the techum for a once-off trip might not be feasible, and does not even seem to be common -practise in fixed  Jewish communities, possibly because of the common use of Eruvin, the practical use of these very powerful tools might be limited by pragmatism, but one who knows these laws sufficiently should be able to at least pre-measure the route of any planned  nature-walks as well as map-out the shape and geography of the town before shabbos, in order to ensure than everyone can enjoy these gorgeous walks in a halachically correct manner.

In my first post on this masechta, I recalled how despite my fondness for it, there was some concern raised as to how I would be able to keep up with contemporary relevant posts given its technical nature.

I noted then that besides for the great opportunity to focus on some of the most important rules of Eruvin, Shabbos, and halachik psak in general, there are also plenty other topics in the masechta, and even a fair amount of aggadic material, even if less so than  in the first two masechtos in the shas.

In fact, my affection for Eruvin started during my time as a Rebbe in Yeshiva-College, under the late Rosh-Yeshiva Rabbi Tanzer זצ”ל  and יבל”א  his son Rav Dov Tanzer שליט”א, himself a revered Torah giant of note who mentored me not only in chinuch but in the intricacies of constructing eruvin in the many resorts we used for school Shabbatonim and seminars I ran.

I also pointed out that sometimes Chazal used some of the most technical of discussions to teach us some of the most relevant general principles of halacha and Torah life, and that as we focus on the equally essential minute details of each subject, we need to constantly keep our eyes open for these messages.

Today’s daf is one of those, and while it starts with the extremely technical methods used to calculate the extended borders of a city, it moves onto a wealth of aggadic (non-halachik) material.

There is much discussion from Chazal to the Rishonim and beyond as to the status and role of this kind of aggadic material, which the Rambam teaches us contains the secrets of the Torah (Pirush haMishnayos/intro to חלק), but without detracting chalila from their sanctity and importance, Rashi  (Shabbos 30b ) explains that Agadot are a genre used to draw close the hearts of people and get them interested in the material about to be taught.

Chazal were fully aware that as human beings, we love stories and allegories, and that before, after, and sometimes in the midst of our delving deep into complex halachik intricacies, some of their great non-halachik teachings and traditions should be brought delivered in this format.

Going further, the Amora Rabbah was always particular to start every learning session with a   מילתא דבידוחתא, literally a matter of a joke )Shabbos 30b.)

Given that even the everyday chatter of Torah scholars requires study )A.Z. 19b) , there is little doubt that even these jokes contained wisdom, and are certainly different to the extremely frowned upon ליצנתא  (cynical or mocking humor) which Chazal (Derech Eretz 5/5) warned us against.

Our beloved Rosh-Yeshiva, Rabbi Tanzer of blessed memory, as with everyone in his life and career, followed in Chazal’s path, and always started his words of Torah with a joke or story, which in his wisdom he linked and made relevant to the material he was about to teach.

A master of human-nature almost impossible to find, we can never replace him, but we can certainly do our best to follow in his ways, if only our everyday chatter could come close to the level of his.

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.