Saturday, 14 December 2013

On the General Relevance of Brisk

Of course, we learn gemara lishma, in order to understand Hashem's Torah. That's the primary and timeless raison d'etre of our study. Nevertheless, it can be informative to look at how our learning fits into the wider context of our lives outside the ד' אמות of halachic study.

Voltaire's Bastards

In a recent EconTalk, Russ interviewed John Ralston Saul on his 1992 book Voltaire's Bastards. Saul's thesis is basically, that the focus on empirical reasoning that began during the Enlightenment has been taken too far by subsequent generations, to the point where other important models of thought to a large degree excluded from the discourse. Here's an except:

I think if you actually go back and look at what they were saying in the context of the late 18th century...of course they were pushing reason because it was sort of a counterweight to superstition and stupidity and the ignorance of the aristocracy, and so on...So, I don't think that Voltaire or any of the others would have imagined reason being put in a Platonic way on the throne and that everything else would be demoted beneath it...Once you sort of say, look, here's the solution to our problems; this will get us out of everything, let's go down this road--well, then you basically very quickly deform the thing itself...There are lots of other counterweights out there apart from reason. You can be non-rational, you know, which is completely different from irrational. You can use ethics. You can use intuition. You can use imagination. But if you become obsessed by rationalism or reason then you start to construct everything around it and you are dragging everything through what you think is a rational methodology. Well, of course, imagination is not rational. Ethics is not rational. Intuition is not rational. So you are now deforming human intelligence, the ability for humans to act in a sensible way when faced by a crisis or an opportunity.

The idea is that Rationalism, despite it's power in answering certain types of questions, doesn't give such satisfying answers for other types of questions. Instead, modes of thought like ethics, imagination, and intuition are more useful. So, when we nevertheless try and force Rationalism on a subject, we don't necessarily end up with the best results. His example from Art History is especially telling:

Not only have the humanities been singled out as the enemy of reason, but there has been a serious attempt to co-opt them by transforming each sector into a science...Even art history has been converted from a study of beauty and craft into a mathematical view of creativity. The new art historians are interested not so much in art or in history as in technical evolution...The reduction of politics, economics, social problems and the arts to mathematical visions and obscure, hermetically sealed vocabularies may well be looked upon by those who come after us as one of the greatest follies of our civilization.

The Limits of Rationalism

Saul brings a number of examples in general society which he believes have suffered due to this intellectual bias. We could consider each individually and ask whether we agree with his appraisal, but regardless, he is dealing with the question of "the Limis of Rationalism", arguably one of the big questions humanity is struggling with in our era. Certainly there are a plethora of examples from a variety of disciplines:

  • Saul lists the failure to sufficiently address Global Warming as an example
  • Saul discusses the "scientificization" of the Humanities as potentially being "one of the greatest follies of our civilization"
  • In the same interview, Russ characterizes the rise of Fascist movements in the 20th century as being "a natural outgrowth of the worship of reason"
  • Emanual Derman makes a similar argument about the social sciences
  • David Weinberger brought up the limits of scientific empiricism in a world where there are too many facts to analyze saying "There is art as well as science in deciding which of the facts are the foundation upon which you are going to build belief"
  • Tyler Cowen suggests that science has already reaped all of the "Low-Hanging Fruit" and that scientific progress has slowed dramatically as a result
  • William Gibson sees the Post-Apocalyptic and Cyberpunk genres of science fiction as being outgrowths of disappointment with Science's failure to answer many fundamental Human questions
  • Contemporaries, the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Machen are a good example of these outlooks. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is living proof that rationalism can solve anything, given enough time and intellectual ability. Machen's stories, on the other hand, strive to demonstrate the limits of Rationalism in the most dramatic way possible.
  • Bob Chipman attacks the "Objective Film Criticism" he was taught in Film School as being less intellectually interesting than criticism that embraces the critic's own subjective personal world view

Two Approaches to Gemara Learning

I had the good fortune of spending time in different yeshivas and getting to see different דרכי הלימוד (methodologies of learning) at work.

At Ohr Somayach, I would describe the approach to learning a sugya(at least in the shiur I attended) as one of חשבון. We would begin with understanding what a rishon talked about and then try to infer, either deductively or inductively, what he would say on topics that weren't explicitly discussed. In this way, we would build-up each rishon's shita as a list of opinions and a few general סברות to tie them all together. Ultimately, it was a very Rationalist approach, and I remember the Rav once criticizing other approaches which stray too far from the text in their searching for explanations.

In the Gush with it's Brisker approach, the methodology required two steps. First an inductive leap, to come up with a conceptual model to explain a sugya, then a deductive discipline, searching the  gemara and rishonim for support for the model(a search which is not always successful).

It was the initial inductive leap, one which requires a greater part intuition and imagination than Rational logic, that bothered my Rabbi at Ohr Samayach. Ultimately, his approach to Gemara was closer to the pure Rationalist one that bothers Saul, while the Brisker approach uses a combination of intuition, imagination as well as Rationalism to achieve it's results. And my feeling is that the results of the Brisker Methodology are superior, as Rav Lichtenstein says in "The Conceptual Approach to Learning Torah"

For sheer beauty and excitement, tedious plodding through the Maharam Shif cannot hold a candle to Reb Hayyim’s soaring imagination and piercing insights. Radical conceptual analysis cracks open a sugya with illuminating force beyond the range of masters of combination and heshbon.

On the General Relevance of Brisk

So that takes us back to the initial question, of the general relevance of Brisk. The Brisker approach, in addition to fulfilling Torah Lishma, trains it's adepts in the fusion of Rationalism with other important modes of thought, such as intuition and imagination. It does so as no other subject in the typical High School or even University curriculum. These other modes are especially important in this Rationalist, Utilitarian day and age when they have been allowed, to a significant degree, to atrophy on a societal level.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Understanding Self-Incriminating Testimony

So, I attended another class, delving deeper into the concept of אין אדם משים עצמו רשע:

The Rambam(like Rashi) explains the principle of אין אדם משים עצמו רשע as a more general principal than our specific case(סנהדרין ט ב) where the witness cannot invalidate himself. He expands it to capital crimes, saying that the court cannot capitally punish someone based on their own admission. The reason he gives is that we suspect he may be attempting suicide by court.

הגונב כלי שרת מן המקדש והמקלל בקוסם והבועל ארמית אין בית דין נזקקין להן אלא הקנאין פוגעין בהן וכל שהורגן זכה וכן כהן ששמש בטומאה לא היו אחיו הכהנים מביאין אותו לבית דין אלא פרחי כהונה היו מוציאין אותו חוץ לעזרה ופוצעין את מוחו בגזירין גזירת הכתוב היא שאין ממיתין בית דין ולא מלקין את האדם בהודאת פיו אלא על פי שנים עדים וזה שהרג יהושע עכן ודוד לגר עמלקי בהודאת פיהם הוראת שעה היתה או דין מלכות היה אבל הסנהדרין אין ממיתין ולא מלקין המודה בעבירה שמא נטרפה דעתו בדבר זה שמא מן העמלין מרי נפש הוא המחכים למות שתוקעין החרבות בבטנם ומשליכין עצמן מעל הגגות שמא כך זה יבא ויאמר דבר שלא עשה כדי שיהרג וכללו של דבר גזירת מלך היא.

The Radbaz on the Rambam, gives a slightly different explanation, giving the reason that out that one's life is not his own possession, rather it is God's. Nevertheless, the Radbaz's intention isn't so clear-- why shouldn't a person be allowed to confess to the court when they indeed are guilty and deserve the appropriate sentence?

ראייה או סמיכה

Rav M. suggested that the answer lies in the nature of self-testimony. When the court acts based on normal testimony, they are acting based on what is effectively solid, reliable evidence. When they act based on a confession, on the other hand, there is no evidence. Rather, they are relying on a less reliable account, since, anyway the witness' testimony is to his own detriment.

So, in monetary cases, the court acts based on his confession since, anyway it's his own money to lose. But in a capital case, the court cannot act based on his confession, since his life is not his own to give away.

Rav Asher Weiss(מנחת אשר פרשת משפטים מ, ה) expresses this view quite clearly:

ונראה לבאר האי דינא בדרך אחר, והוא דהודאת בעל דין אינו התחייבות או נאמנות אלא 'הנחה' דיש לן להניח כדברי בעל הדין המודה בחובתו ופטורין אנו מלעשוק בדיני ראיות...

So, ultimatley there is a fundamental debate between the Rambam and the Radbaz. The Rambam says that self-incrimination is not admissible because testimony must be objective and we are worried that one confessing may have some ulterior motive. The Radbaz says that confession is it's own weaker category of evidence, not based on proof, which can only be relied upon in specific types of cases.

Confession in Monetary Cases

As an added bonus, the Radbaz's explanation of why the court can accept confession in monetary cases is more satisfactory than that of the Mahari Ben Lev(שו"ת מהר"י בן לב חלק א סימן יט). He explains that when the court listens to self-incriminating testimony in monetary cases, it's isn't even considered a court ruling, rather that the witness is giving the other party a present:

אלא דיראה לי לפי זה הדרך דמה דהוא חייב הוי מטעם מתנה...

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Understanding Rashi's Take

Our recent post about אין אדם משים עצמו רשע left a question open: how does Rashi's understanding jive with the principal of עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה קולה? Our principal allows us to only invalidate part of the testimony, while that principal says that once part of the testimony is invalidated, all of it is invalidated.

Take 1: Legal Loophole

This article, by Rav Ofer Fried, presents it as a legal loophole that the judges can use to get around the problem of the testimony being invalidated by a blood relation. The assumption is that the division of the witness' testimony into different pieces is subjective and the judges can do this at their own discretion:

מ"מ, לכל הראשונים הללו, ה'פלגינן' הוא פעולה שעושה בית הדין כדי לפטור את הבעיה של 'עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה כולה'.

This answer is a bit unsatisfying, though. In general we would prefer to understand the concept as some general fundamental rule, rather than a subjective technicality to be applied at the Judge's whim.

In Pursuit of a More Fundamental Answer

I asked Rav M about this and he gave me a couple of more fundamental answers in brief. After learning up the source for עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה קולה, this is how I understand his answers.  Let's start out by looking at the relevant gemara(בבא קמא עג א)

תנן גנב על פי שנים וטבח ומכר על פיהם ונמצאו זוממין משלמין את הכל מאי לאו שהעידו על הגניבה וחזרו והעידו על הטביחה והוזמו על הגניבה וחזרו והוזמו על הטביחה ואי סלקא דעתך למפרע הוא נפסל הני כיון דאיתזמו להו אגניבה איגלאי מילתא למפרע דכי אסהדו אטביחה פסולין הוו אמאי משלמין אטביחה אמרי הכא במאי עסקינן כגון שהוזמו על הטביחה תחילה אמרי סוף סוף כי הדרי מיתזמי אגניבה איגלאי מילתא דכי אסהדו אטביחה פסולין הוו אמאי משלמי אטביחה והלכתא שהעידו בבת אחת והוזמו 

לימא כתנאי היו שנים מעידין אותו שגנב והן מעידין אותו שטבח והוזמו על הגניבה עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה כולה הוזמו על הטביחה הוא משלם תשלומי כפל והן משלמין תשלומי שלשה א"ר יוסי בד"א בשתי עדיות אבל בעדות אחת עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה כולה מאי בשתי עדיות ומאי בעדות אחת אילימא בשתי עדיות בשתי עדיות ממש בשתי כתות בעדות אחת בכת אחת בזה אחר זה וא"ר יוסי בעדות אחת בכת אחת בזה אחר זה כי מסהדי אגניבה והדר מסהדי אטביחה כי מתזמי אטביחה עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה כולה ואיתזמו להו אגניבה מהיכא תיתי הך אלא לאו בשתי עדיות בעדות אחת כעין שתי עדיות ומאי נינהו כת אחת בזה אחר זה אבל בעדות אחת בבת אחת לא וסברוה דכולי עלמא תוך כדי דיבור כדיבור דמי...

The gemara brings a number of sources about עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה קולה and contemplates the interpretation of the various opinions. In any case, it seems that the principle would apply according to all the opinions in a case like ours in סנהדרין ט ב where the two testimonies come as part of the same sentence. So how do we reconcile this source with our own?

Take 2: Limiting the Principle to Plotting Witnesses

While our sugya discusses a witness disqualified as a blood relative(according to Rashi), the sugya in Bava Kama is dealing with a case where the witnesses were found to be עדים זוממים. Perhaps עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה קולה only applies to the latter group, where the witnesses have been shown to be dishonest people, but in the case of disqualification of a blood relative we say מפלגינן בדיבורא and allow the second testimony to stand.


Take 3: Two Testimonies for Two Defendants

In the case in Bava Kava, the two testimonies both relate to the same theft by the same thief, the question being as to the severity of the theft. In Sanhedrin, on the other hand, the two testimonies are about two different people, engaged in the same act: the accused and the witness himself. Maybe in the latter case, where two different people are concerned, Rava views the testimony as two separate testimonies, while in the former he views it as one.

A Wider Range

 So while we concluded last time that both understandings of אין אדם משים עצמו רשע are pretty similar, we have a wider range of views of the principle of עדות שבטלה מקצתה בטלה קולה. On one hand we have the Raavad's view of Rav, that it's a כלל גדול, a general principal in the disqualification of testimony. On the other side of the spectrum, it may be limited to עדים זוממים or only applicable when the two testimonies are about different aspects of the same act by the same defendant.

Monday, 25 November 2013

אין אדם משים עצמו רשע

This one is actually from a class that I missed, but got the source sheet for. I also heard a brief oral synopsis of the class.

Debate Over Partially Disqualifying Testimony

The gemara(סנהדרין ט ב) introduces a debate about testimony. Rav Yosef says that if a witness' testimony also implicates the witness himself in a transgression, then his testimony is invalidated. Rava, on the other hand, argues that, while the witness' testimony cannot be used to convict the witness himself, it is still used to convict his fellow:

ואמר רב יוסף פלוני רבעו לאונסו הוא ואחר מצטרפין להרגו לרצונו רשע הוא והתורה אמרה אל תשת רשע עד רבא אמר אדם קרוב אצל עצמו ואין אדם משים עצמו רשע

The gemara continues with a related teaching of Rava and gives a name to his side of the debate: מפלגינן דיבורא

אמר רבא פלוני בא על אשתי הוא ואחר מצטרפין להורגו אבל לא להורגה מאי קא משמע לן דמפלגינן בדיבורא

Testimony of a Relative or Not Testimony at All

Now let's go back and look at the principle that one cannot incriminate oneself with one's testimony: אדם קרוב אצל עצמו ואין אדם משים עצמו רשע

Rashi sees this halacha as an extension of the general principle that testimony from a blood relative is invalid:

רבא אמר...כלומר על עדות עצמו אינו נעשה רשע שהרי תורה פסלה קרוב לעדות

The Ran (דף י א, ד"ה מהו דתימא), disagrees with this assessment, bringing in the principle of עדות שבטלה מקצתה נתבטלה קולה, that once part of the testimony has been invalidated, all of it is invalidated. Instead, he brings the Raavad's explanation of Rava, which says that the reason the court cannot accept testimony about the witness himself is that it isn't considered testimony at all. As such מפלגינן בדיבורא, into two parts: the inadmissible admission about himself, and the actual testimony about the other which remains valid.

כמו שפי' הרעב"ד... אבל כשהוא מעיד על עצמו, לא שייך ביה תורת עדות כלל, ומ"ה אמרינן אדם קרוב אצל עצמו ופלגינן דיבורה. ולגבי עצמו לא מהימן ולגבי אחר מהימן

In any case, according to both Rashi and the Raavad, testimony is an objective observer's view of the situation. As such one's account about one's own actions are not admissible, either because it is like a relative's testimony, or because it's not considered testimony at all.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Whether or Not to Encourage a Settlement

The gemara (סנהדרין ו ב) gives four opinions on whether and, if so, when a court should suggest litigants do פשרה/ביצוע:

  1. ר"א בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אסור לבצוע
  2. רבי יהושע בן קרחה אומר מצוה לבצוע
  3. רבי שמעון בן מנסיא אומר...עד שלא תשמע דבריהן או משתשמע דבריהן ואי אתה יודע להיכן דין נוטה אתה רשאי לומר להן צאו ובצעו משתשמע דבריהן ואתה יודע להיכן הדין נוטה אי אתה רשאי לומר להן צאו ובצעו
  4. וריש לקיש אמר שנים שבאו לדין אחד רך ואחד קשה עד שלא תשמע דבריהן או משתשמע דבריהן ואי אתה יודע להיכן דין נוטה אתה רשאי לומר להם אין אני נזקק לכם שמא נתחייב חזק ונמצא חזק רודפו...

The Role of the Court

Rav M's class started out looking at the first two opinions, either that Pshara is prohibited, or that it's a mitzva. He attributed the debate to a fundamental dispute over the role of the court:

Mitzva Reason 1: שלום

Rebbe Yehoshua ben Korcha implies his own reason why settlement is a mitzva via two drashot. The gist of both is that, when two sides go to court, they remain enemies even after the ruling. If, however, they manage to come to a compromise, they will leave friends, each having demonstrated that they are willing to compromise for the sake of the other.

Here, the Torah trusts the court with the role not only of passing judgement, but of keeping the peace and preserving society. The judges must look at the big picture and prefer an outcome which, although it conforms less to the value of justice, better upholds the value of keeping the peace.

Prohibition Reason 1: the Role of the Court

Rebbe Elazar son of Rebbe Yosei Haglili also values compromise, as we see from the example he brings of Aharon Hakohen. So why does he forbid the judges from pushing the litigants to settle? Because he thinks the court's role is solely to pass correct judgement, and to uphold society in that manner. Private individuals can encourage the sides to compromise, but once it reaches the judges, they must do their job with no compromises, however well-meaning.

Alternative Reasons to Prefer Settlement

Ultimately, today's halachik courts do prefer פשרה. One of the reasons for this is the limited authority of halachik courts today: they can't judge דיני קנסות because there is no longer smicha and they also don't have authority to use coercive force. The Rav also brought a few more general reasons to prefer pshara:

Mitzva Reason 2: משפט צדק

Contrary to our initial assumption, sometimes settlement yields a more just result than a formal trial. For instance, consider the case of a thief against whom there is not enough evidence(especially given the strict halachik criteria for admissible evidence). If we do פשרה, then at least he will have paid back some of what he owes.

Mitzva Reason 3: Sparing the Judges

Acting as a halachik judge is a great responsibility. The judge is Hashem's representative and is tasked with a near impossible task: to judge a case with imperfect knowledge. The possibility to err is great, so pshara saves the judge from this responsibility by allowing the litigants to reach their own compromise. Rav M quoted a paper by הרב אליהו ליפשיץ(I tried looking it up but couldn't find a reference) that makes this claim, but he challenged it based on our gemara:

רבי חנין אומר לא תכניס דבריך מפני איש ויהו עדים יודעים את מי הן מעידין ולפני מי הן מעידין ומי עתיד ליפרע מהן שנא' (דברים יט, יז) ועמדו שני האנשים אשר להם הריב לפני ה' ויהו הדיינין יודעין את מי הן דנין ולפני מי הן דנין ומי עתיד ליפרע מהן שנא' (תהלים פב, א) אלהים נצב בעדת אל וכן ביהושפט הוא אומר (דברי הימים ב יט, ו) ויאמר אל השופטים ראו מה אתם עושים כי לא לאדם תשפטו כי (אם) לה' שמא יאמר הדיין מה לי בצער הזה ת"ל עמכם בדבר משפט אין לו לדיין אלא מה שעיניו רואות

Rebbe Chanin emphasizes the weighty responsibility of the judge, but then asks why should the judge accept such a heavy responsibility? He answers with a drasha that the judge needs to judge based on what he sees, and not worry about what he doesn't. The gemara seems to be saying that the judge's liability is limited to doing his best with the evidence that is brought before him.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


Last Thursday's class started the topic of פשרה or settlement. Basically, the idea is that, rather than going through the formal process of both sides bringing claims and proofs and arguments in front of the judge and having him decide the case, the litigants come to a compromise on their own.

Strangely, פשרה isn't mentioned in the Mishna at all. Instead, it's main sources are:
  • תוספתא סנהדרין א:ג
  • גמרא סנהדרין ה: למטה עד ו: למעלה


A Type of Litigation or a Private Compromise

The main question the class dealt with was how to define פשרה. On one hand, it may be a way to avoid going through the trouble of the legal process by coming to a private compromise. On the other hand it may itself a type of litigation, albeit a less formal one, in which the litigants agree on a ruling. We saw several debates which seemed to center around this question:

1. Control Over the Process?

There are two stages to arriving at a פשרה:
  1. The compromise itself
  2. The Process i.e. who will judge the case?
Tosafot(ה: ד"ה יפה כח) indicate that the litigants can even choose the judges who will enforce their agreement. This seems to indicate that פשרה is a private agreement, since the process itself is open to negotiation.

The Ran(ה: ד"ה יפה), on the other hand, says that once the compromise itself has been agreed upon, any בית דין can enforce it. This indicates that פשרה is actually a type of litigation, since, as with most litigation, the litigants don't have control over the process.

2. Number of Judges

The gemara(ו א) records a debate as to the number of judges needed for פשרה. Rebbe Meir says 3, while Chachamim say 1:

לימא כתנאי ביצוע בשלשה דברי ר"מ וחכ"א פשרה ביחיד סברוה לכ"ע מקשינן פשרה לדין מאי לאו בהא קמיפלגי דמר סבר דין בשלשה ומר סבר דין בשנים לא דכ"ע דין בשלשה והכא בהא קמיפלגי דמר סבר מקשינן פשרה לדין ומר סבר לא מקשינן פשרה לדין לימא תלתא תנאי בפשרה דמר סבר בשלשה ומר סבר בשנים ומר סבר ביחיד אמר רב אחא בריה דרב איקא ואיתימא רבי יימר בר שלמיא מאן דאמר תרי אפילו חד נמי והאי דקאמר תרי כי היכי דליהוו עליה סהדי אמר רב אשי ש"מ פשרה אינה צריכה קנין דאי סלקא דעתך צריכה קנין למ"ד צריכה תלתא ל"ל תסגי בתרי וליקני מיניה והלכתא פשרה צריכה קנין
Rav M. pointed out that there are two ways to understand this debate. We might read it as a fundamental debate over our issue of how to understand פשרה. If פשרה is a type of litigation, then it is similar to דין and requires 3 judges, just like a normal case. If, however, it is a private agreement, then even a single judge is sufficient.

However, one might also claim that the number of judges isn't subject to our fundamental question about the nature of פשרה. One could understand that both sides of the debate hold that פשרה is a type of litigation, but that חכמים say that since it is a less strict type of litigation so it only requires a single judge.

Rav M. said that while none of the Rishonim say either of these options explicitly, Tosafot Rosh(ד"ה בצוע בשלושה) sounds like he might consider it a fundamental machloket,
ומאן דמחמיר קרי ליה ביצוע שצריך ג' כעין דין שצריך לדקדק ולצמצם ולבצע כפי הראוי מזה וליתן לזה לפי הענין ומאן דמקיל קרי ליה פשרה דאין צריך לדקדק כל כך...
 While the Ran(ד"ה איתיהיה) sounds like he doesn't believe there is a fundamental machloket here:
לפי שדרכו של דין זה מהפך בזכותו של זה וזה מהפך בזכותי של זה מפני שאינן לשלום אלא כעין מלחמה, אבל פשרה שהיא שלום ושניהם מתכוונים בו האחד בשניים...

3. How carefully do we do פשרה?

Another possible difference borrowed from the Tosafot Rosh above is how carefully we do פשרה. The Tosafot Rosh says that according to Rebbe Meir פשרה requires the judges to be just as careful about weighing each side's case as in an official trial. This makes more sense if we assume that פשרה is actually a type of litigation. On the other hand, if it's a private compromise then there's no need for so much formal process and it's more important to get the sides to agree to some compromise.

4. Is a Kinyan Required?

The gemara above brings Rav Ashi's conclusion that if Pshara requires 3 judges, there is no need for a kinyan. The implication is that according to Chachamim who require only 1 judge, we do need a kinyan to make the settlement official. The Ohr Zaruah reads the gemara like this and the implication again seems to be that if פשרה is a private agreement then it requires a kinyan like any private contract, while if it is a type of litigation so the judges authority is what makes it official.

It's worth noting that Rashi reads the gemara's conclusion differently:

והלכתא פשרה צריכה קנין: ואפילו נעשית בשלשה

Surprisingly, Rashi reads the Gemara's conclusion as saying that according to both opinions a kinyan is required. Tosfos(ד"ה והלכתא) explains, however, that this is for an external reason, so that the litigants won't be able to overturn the פשרה by claiming the judges weren't knowledgeable enough.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Those Extra Parts in Shema

So, at some point I acquired the understanding that the main parts of Kriyat Shema are the first line, then there's the fluff in the middle, and then the last line is a separate mitzva of Remembering the Exodus. It's sort of a strange understanding--that Shema contains 3 paragraphs of "filler" in the middle, but it didn't bother me too much. Until now, when I heard a better explanation.

Rav Soloveichik begins his שעורים לזכר אבי מרי ז"ל with two classes about Kriyat Shema:
  • מצות קריאת שמע וזכירת יציאת מצרים
  • שיעור קריאת שמע מן התורה

These essays are well worth reading in full, containing an in-depth analysis of the source, meaning, and dinim of Kriyat Shema, but I want to focus on one of the main conclusions about why we read the various paragraphs of Shema. The Rav describes the entirety of kriyat shema as a חפצה של קבלת עול מלכות שמים and also proposes that the separate mitzva of Remembering the Exodus is actually an essential part of the mitzva of kriyat shema and a philosophical basis for said קבלת עול. In addition, the Rav lists the major themes prevalent throughout Kriyat Shema. Let's go over his list and how they each apply to קבלת עול מלכות שמים.

1. יחוד

A monotheism creed: God is the one, there is no other. Thus we are dedicated to him alone.

Alternatively, a statement of God's all encompassing nature. Because of his central importance in all Existence, we accept the yoke of his commandments.

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד.

2. אהבה

We love God and therefore we keep his commandments.

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ. וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--עַל-לְבָבֶךָ.


3. תלמוד

Accepting the yoke of God's commandments has a corollary: we must learn them in order to keep them.

וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ, וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל-יָדֶךָ; וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל-מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ, וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ. 


4. עול מצות

The main expression of our commitment to do God's will is in the Mitzvot. That is the primary method God has chosen to instruct us in his will.

וְהָיָה אִם-שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל-מִצְו‍ֹתַי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם--לְאַהֲבָה אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁכֶם. וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר-אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ, יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקוֹשׁ; וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ. וְנָתַתִּי עֵשֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ; וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ. הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם, פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם; וְסַרְתֶּם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם לָהֶם. וְחָרָה אַף-יְהוָה בָּכֶם, וְעָצַר אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה מָטָר, וְהָאֲדָמָה לֹא תִתֵּן אֶת-יְבוּלָהּ; וַאֲבַדְתֶּם מְהֵרָה מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה נֹתֵן לָכֶם. וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת-דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה עַל-לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל-נַפְשְׁכֶם; וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל-יֶדְכֶם, וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם. וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם אֶת-בְּנֵיכֶם לְדַבֵּר בָּם, בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ, וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל-מְזוּזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ, וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ. לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם וִימֵי בְנֵיכֶם, עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לָתֵת לָהֶם--כִּימֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם עַל-הָאָרֶץ.

5. ציצית

Similar the previous section. The specific mitzva of Tzitzis is seen as a symbol and a reminder to keep all the Mitzvot.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת. וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם. לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹתָי וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים לֵאלֹהֵיכֶם.

6. יציאת מצרים

When God took us out of slavery in Egypt, we became obligated to him.

 אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיוֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים, אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Permission to Judge, Permission to Teach

So we discussed two types of permission a sage requires to do his job in Rav M's class today. The first is permission to act as a Judge in monetary cases, while the second is permission to teach practical Halacha.

Torah Judgement vs. Kingly Judgement

The King as Judge
What's the issue? This is how I understood it, keeping in mind that I missed a few classes: Today we don't have smicha going back to Moshe Rabeinu, so how can a sage act as a judge in a monetary case? There is another track to acting as Judge: the track of a King. A king from the tribe of Judah has the divine right to rule over Israel and this is independent of smicha. So the King's right to judge is not based on his Torah knowledge as with smicha, it's based on his right to rulership.

Permission to Judge

Now, in the time of the Gemara there was no king, but there were the נשיא and the ריש גלותא and their right to rule the community in exile is based on that of the King. So, their ability to pass judgement in monetary cases is based not on their being a representative of Torah law per say, but on the principle of הפקר בית דין הפקר, basically that the King has the right to decide to take away your property when appropriate. That's where the issue of permission comes in. If only the נשיא and the ריש גלותא have the right to judge monetary cases, then any sage who wants to judge a monetary case must do so with their permission, basically as their representative.

So today's discussion revolved around the following gemara on Sanhedrin 5A:

והא רבה בר רב הונא כי הוה מינצי בהדי דבי ריש גלותא אמר לאו מינייכו נקיטנא רשותא נקיטנא רשותא מאבא מרי ואבא מרי מרב ורב מר' חייא ור' חייא מרבי

The problem is that Raba Bar Rav Huna lived after Rebbe, so how can his permission still hold power after his lifetime? Tosfos(ד"ה נקיטנא) says it works like smicha i.e. it can be passed on to future generations, but it's not so clear why that should be. The Rivash(סימן רעא) says that it's a girsa mistake and really it's an earlier amora, Raba Bar Bar Chana, which makes more sense, although the Ohr Samachach disputes this on textual grounds i.e. that Tosfos' girsa is correct, however hard it is to understand.

Permission to Teach

סמיכת יהושע בן נון

The second part of the class dealt with permission to teach halacha, discussed on Sanhedrin 5B. There are a couple factors at play here. First off, the gemara says that Chazal realized that, with the absence of smicha, there needed to be a minimum standard for teaching halacha, otherwise mistakes would occur.

באותה שעה גזרו תלמיד אל יורה אלא אם כן נוטל רשות מרבו

Additionally the gemara brings a baraita saying that a student shouldn't teach in the proximity of his master.

ותניא תלמיד אל יורה הלכה במקום רבו אלא אם כן היה רחוק ממנו שלש פרסאות כנגד מחנה ישראל

And finally, the rishonim point out another gemara(עירובין סג א) that seems to indicate that a student shouldn't teach in the lifetime of his master regardless of the distance.

אמר רבא בפניו אסור וחייב מיתה שלא בפניו אסור ואין חייב מיתה

So how do we resolve this contradiction?

Tosafot(ד"ה אלא) say that our gemara is talking about where the teacher gave permission to teach and the gemara in Eruvin is where the teacher didn't give permission to teach. But the question then arises, why can't the Rebbe be מוחל על כבודו as with other mitzvas of  כבוד הרב?

כבוד הרב לאומת כבוד המסורת עצמה

The answer seems to be to distinguish between the personal honor of the Rebbe vs. the Honor of the Tradition. Teaching in close proximity to one's teacher doesn't just damage his honor, the lack of deference is viewed as an assault on the mesoret itself and therefore the Rebbe cannot be מוחל.

The Ran brings the opinion of Rabeinu David, who says like Tosafot, but the Ran doesn't understand why the Rebbe can't be מוחל.

The Rambam takes a different approach, essentially saying that our gemara is talking about answering an occasional halachik question vs. opening one's own competing beit midrash. The former is allowed when far from the Rav or in close proximity with the Rav's permission. The latter is never allowed, again, presumably because it's an issue of the honor of the mesoret itself, not just the personal honor of the Master.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Ruling by Majority

The gemara (סנהדרין ג ב) decides after some discussion that all rulings follow the majority opinion among the judges.

מאי טעמא דרבי יהודה (ויקרא ד, טו) וסמכו שנים זקני שנים ואין בית דין שקול מוסיפין עליהן עוד אחד הרי כאן ה' דרבי יאשיה עדיפא מדר' יהודה דאילו ר' יהודה בסנהדרי גדולה הוא דלית ליה הא בשאר בי דינא אית ליה ור' יאשיה בשאר בי דינא נמי לית ליה ואלא האי לנטות מאי עביד ליה מוקים לה בדיני נפשות אבל בדיני ממונות לא אלא הא דתנן שנים אומרים זכאי ואחד אומר חייב זכאי שנים אומרים חייב ואחד אומר זכאי חייב נימא דלא כרבי יאשיה אפילו תימא רבי יאשיה מייתי לה בקל וחומר מדיני נפשות ומה דיני נפשות דחמירי אמר רחמנא זיל בתר רובא דיני ממונות לא כל שכן:

So let's say we have a case and the judges don't come to a unanimous decision. How do we relate to the Majority and the Minority opinions. Rav M. suggested two possibilities:
  1. Indication of Correctness- the fact that most of the Judges hold this opinion indicates that is correct and the other is incorrect
  2. Political Necessity- we're not sure which group of Judges is correct, but a decision needs to be made so we follow the majority


Judicial Ruling vs. Halachik Ruling

We see that, unlike Judicial Rulings, Halachik Rulings are not always ruled in favor of the majority opinion. For example, the gemara(יבמות יד א) which says that Beit Shamai's sharp intellects nullify the principal of majority:

למ"ד לא עשו דהא ב"ה רובא ומ"ד עשו כי אזלינן בתר רובא היכא דכי הדדי נינהו הכא בית שמאי מחדדי טפי

To explain this gemara, the Ramban(סנהדרין לב א) differentiates between Judicial Rulings and Halachik Rulings:

ויש לומר התם לא יושבין בדין הם והשואל עושה כרצון עצמו לפי שלבו נוטה אחר חכמה, אבל סנהדרין כולן צריכין לדון וראוי היה שיסכימו כולן לאותו דעת אלא דרחמנא אמר אחרי רבים להטות

The Ramban's opinion seems to be based on the distinction above. Halachik Rulings are solely about finding the truth, so a person can follow the majority, or the wisest sage--whatever seems correct to them in this particular case. Judicial Rulings, on the other hand, also have a strong communal/political aspect, so following the majority is the only appropriate method of decision-making.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Categories of Monetary Cases in Halacha and Common Law

So, in a recent post we discussed the similarity between the distinction between גזילות וחבלות and הודעות והלוות in Halacha and the distinction between Criminal Law and Civil Law in common law. Now let's discuss how they are different.

Criminal vs. Civil

One important difference is the Plaintiff i.e. the party making the claim in court. In Civil Law, the Plaintiff is a private party--an individual, a group, a company. This private party claims that they have been wronged by the Defendant. In Criminal Law, however, the Plaintiff is the state, or it's representative.

So, why are criminal cases viewed as generally more serious than civil cases? The main reason seems to be that it's considered more serious to commit an offense against the State than against an Individual. This idea is easiest to understand in a Democracy, where the rules of the State represent, to some degree, the rules of Society at large. A Civil offense primarily wrongs one's fellow, while a Criminal offense wrongs Society itself.

On could suggest that Friedrich Hayek would disagree with this distinction. In his book Law, Legislation, and Liberty vol. 1 Rules and Order(1973), Hayek distinguishes between Legislation and Law. Legislation is a rule the government made, while Law is a sort of Natural Law that emerges spontaneously in a Society. There's a good deal of overlap between these two categories, but both include rules not contained by the other.  As such, one could imagine a piece of Criminal Legislation which doesn't fall under the category of (Natural) Law, and in that case one might argue that one isn't really wronging Society. For instance, in Eureka, Nevada it is illegal for men who have mustaches to kiss women. Now I doubt that this piece of Legislation is still enforced, but were someone to be tried for it, one could certainly argue that when this rule ceased to be a (Natural) Law, one who transgresses it is not viewed as wronging Society.

I would reject this difficulty from Hayek for two reasons:

  1. There is pretty good correlation between Law and Legislation, so in-general we can view transgressing Legislation as wronging Society
  2. Even in the cases where they don't correlate, as with the Mustache Law, one could make the argument that transgressions of Legislation against a Democratically Elected State undermine said state and therefore wrong Society

גזילות וחבלות vs. הודעות והלוות

So, who is the Plaintiff in these Halachik categories? In the case of both גזילות וחבלות and הודעות והלוות it is an individual claiming damages. So the above distinction, between harming an individual vs. harming society does not seem to apply here. So why are גזילות וחבלות considered more serious than הודעות והלוות? As we suggested previously, because גזילות וחבלות usually begin with violence and/or illicit intent, whereas הודעות והלוות are non-violent and are often cases of misunderstanding of the law by one or both sides.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Judges for הודעות והלוות

Here's the summary of the first part of the third and final shiur on the first sugia of Sanhedrin.

The Two Sides of the Debate

So last time we mentioned the debate over what is the Torah requirement for the number of judges needed to hear a case of הודעות והלוות:
  • Rebbe Abahu and Rava say the Torah requires 3 judges, all of them סמוכים
    • Chazal reduced this requirement to 3 הדיותות שלא לנעול דלת בפני לווין
  • Rav Acha says the Torah requires 1 judge for הודעות והלוות, and it's a machloket rishonim if he needs to be סמוך
    • Chazal increased this number because of יושבי קרנות

The Difficult Baraita


The gemara(סנהדרין ד ב) brings a baraita which seems to contradict both of these opinions. Here we discover a new track, a מומחה לרבים, which doesn't require 3, even מדרבנן:

 תנו רבנן דיני ממונות בשלשה ואם היה מומחה לרבים דן אפילו יחידי

So how do we explain this according to the two opinions?

  • According to Rebbe Abahu and Rava, Chazal reduced the requirement to 3 הדיותות OR 1 מומחה לרבים
  • According to Rav Acha, Chazal didn't increase the requirement to 3 in the case of a מומחה לרבים because in that case there is no worry of יושבי קרנות

This works for Tosfot(ד"ה ואם) but Rashi(ד"ה דן) only quotes the רב אחא side of the machloket.  So why does Rashi think the baraita is incompatible with Rebbe Abahu/Rava?

Rav Markus suggested that it's because Rashi understands that Rebbi Abahu always requires a Beit Din, so it's inconceivable that Chazal would ever reduce the requirement to a single judge, according to him.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Beginning Mesechet Sanhedrin

Well, with Winter beginning, I started attending Rav M's excellent gemara shiur at Yeshiva Ruach Tzfonit once again, so I'll be posting a few notes on individual lectures. Right now we're starting מסכת סנהדרין and this past Thursday's shiur touched on a number of topics.

1. דיני ממונות vs. נזיקין

The first mishna in Sanhedrin begins listing the sorts of cases tried in front of a Beit Din of 3 judges:

 ...דיני ממונות בשלושה גזילות וחבולות בשלושה

The gemara(ב:) immediately asks why the two are mentioned as separate categories. We ultimately hear two answers, that of Rebbe Abahu and that of Rava(on ג.) But while they have a debate on how to read the text of the Mishna, they agree that there are two separate categories:

  • Theft and Damages(גזילות וחבלות)
  • Admissions and Loans(הודאות והלוות)

Why should these be seen as different categories? Rav Marcus explained:
  • It's similar to the difference between Criminal and Civil offenses
    • Criminal offenses usually involve violence or threat of violence, while  Civil offenses involve trickery or misunderstanding(though this model doesn't map precisely to the two halachic categories)
  • Theft and Damages started with an illicit act, while Admissions and Loans start with a perfectly legal arrangement and only become a problem later on

2. Number of Judges

One difference between the two categories that the Sugya mentions is how many judges are required to hear a case, with גזילות וחבלות requiring 3 and הודאות והלוות requiring only 1.

  • Rebbe Abahu/Rava say the torah requires 3 judges, but Chazal reduced this number in the case of   הודאות והלוות so as not to discourage people from giving loans
  • Rav Acha says that the torah requires 1 judge but Chazal required 3 since there would be less chance of an incompetent court(יושבי קרנות)
    • The Rosh takes this literally as a single judge
    • The Yad Rama understands this as meaning one knowledgeable(גמיר) judge and two others

So basically, we have 3 understandings of what the torah requirement is to judge these basic casesThese requirements are for an official בית דין, but if the litigants agree they can choose whoever they want to adjudicate their disagreement.

3. The nature of סמיכה 


The gemara says that judges must not be הדיותות, and Rashi explains this means they must have סמיכה. Rav Marcus then skipped ahead to the story of Rebbi Yehuda ben Baba giving his life to defy the Roman decree against smicha. Why is it so important? Why does the Torah require it?

The Rav suggested that it is not just a question of being knowledgeable. One who has smicha has been chosen to represent Hashem's schina. He has been appointed to fill a spiritual/communal position.


4. שליחותיהו עבדינן או הפקר בית דין הפקר

According to Rebbe Abahu/Rava, Chazal reduced the number of judges required to hear הודעות והלוות. The question remains: How can they override the Torah requirement? By what mechanism do they do this? The rishonim propose two different options:

  • The Ritva in Gittin says שליחותיהו עבדינן
  • The Ran in Sanhedrin says הפקר בית דין הפקר
The Ritva's answer is based on the gemara in גיטין פח:, in the case of כפיית הגט. The Ritva understands that there is a category similar to, but less than smicha called שליחותיהו עבדינן. Basically, even though they didn't give us smicha, the סמוכים gave a הרשאה כללית, a general provision, allowing חחמים who don't have smicha to act as a proxy in their absence.

Why does the Ran reject this answer? My assumption is that the example there actually had living סמוכים to rely on, while in our case we assume that this special provision applies even though there are no smuchim.

The Ran, on the other hand, says that actually the 3 non-סמוחים are not aren't judging, by the Torah definition. Rather, a beit din has the power to take or reassign anyone's money, so they are using that power to enact their judgement.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Beyond Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim

Well, now that we've looked at the scope of Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim, let's look beyond them. Even where these mitzvot don't apply, others may.



The Rambam brings another, broader mizvat aseh into the picture in after introducing Maakeh(רוצח יא:ד)

וכן כל מכשול שיש בו סכנת נפשות--מצות עשה להסירו ולהישמר ממנו ולהיזהר בדבר יפה יפה, שנאמר "הישמר לך ושמור נפשך" (דברים ד,ט). ואם לא הסיר, והניח המכשולות המביאין לידי סכנה--ביטל מצות עשה, ועבר על "לא תשים דמים" (דברים כב,ח).

The pasuk is a curious one to bring, since it sounds more like a warning to keep the mitzvot, than a mitzva to remove hazards:

רק הישמר לך ושמור נפשך מאוד, פן-תשכח את-הדברים אשר-ראו עיניך ופן-יסורו מלבבך, כול, ימי חייך; והודעתם לבניך, ולבני בניך

The source of this drasha is unclear and it appears to be of the Rambam's own invention. The pasuk implies that protecting oneself is a good thing, so even if we don't have a formal mitzva to do so, the Rambam regards this statement of value as halachically binding.


The Ramban on the Torah(דברים כב:ח) brings a different, less novel pasuk(ויקרא יט:טז)

לא תלך רכיל בעמיך לא תעמד על דם רעך אני יהוה

The Sefer Hachinuch counts this as an independent mitzva and describes it as an obligation to save the life of our fellow Jew who is in mortal danger.

This seems like an obvious choice, so why didn't the Rambam bring this pasuk? Perhaps because it is a לא תעשה so it only extends Lo Tasim Damin, not Maakeh.

Why do we need Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim

So in addition to Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim, we have even broader obligations to remove hazards from one or both of these additional sources. So why did the Torah need to command us in mitzvat Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim at all?

One answer that I've heard(I think from Rav Michael Edrei) is that the torah wants us to be more careful in our own home. Normally, we wouldn't be obligated to put up a guard-rail on the roof, since the roof is a place people rarely go, and when they do, they know to be careful. Nevertheless, the Torah gave a higher standard for the home.

Another answer is that these general mitzvot only cover mortal danger, while Lo Tasim Damim also coveres injury.

Another answer is that לא תעמד על דם רעך is only concerned with others, while Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim also are concerned with your safety.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Maakeh & Lo Tasim Damim: Fixed Structures

Another question that arises when discussing the scope of mitzvot Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim is whether they just apply to fixed structures, or to all hazards in general. The question arises because the pasuk and the examples given in the sifrei all seem to focus on structures like buildings and pits.

Two Possibilities for Maakeh

Rav Moshe Taragin claims there are two shitot, regarding Maakeh, although they agree about Lo Tasim Damim:

Rashi(בבא קמא צא:) implies that both mitzvot apply generally, even to a mobile hazard, like a dangerous animal.

The Yam Shel Shlomo indicates that Maakeh applies to a fixed structure, while Lo Tasim Damim applies more generally, even to mobile hazards.

I have to admit, that looking at the gemara, I not certain that Rashi is even talking about Maakeh. The source seems pretty ambiguous to me, but it is certainly possible that I'm missing some detail that Rav Taragin doesn't mention explicitly.


Back to the Question of Connection

Regarding the Yam Shel Shlomo's opinion, our take on the Netziv seems to apply: namely that in the pasuk, Maakeh is stated as a specific mitzva, while Lo Tasim Damim sounds more general, and therefore they have different scopes.

Similarly, Rav Taragin's understanding of Rashi is like the Ramban, who thinks the scope of the mitzvot are connected. The only difference is that, while the Ramban contracted the scope of Lo Tasim Damim, Rashi expands the scope of Maakeh.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim: Severity of Hazards

So, previously we established that there is a debate whether mitzvas of Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim are or are not essentially linked, with the consequence to what degree they cover the same cases. Now we'll take a look at a related question: what cases do these mitzvot actually cover?

The basic case is that brought in the pasuk itself, that of a house with an accessible roof, where the  obligation is to add a guard rail. Once we move beyond that case, then the questions begin. We'll start with the question of severity and then cover other questions in future posts...

Death or Injury

So are these mitzvot concerned with hazards that can cause any injury or just lethal hazards?

Most rishonim understand the gemara(בבא קמא נ:, נא.) and it's 10 tefach limit as implying that these mitzvot are only concerned with hazards which might cause death.  As the Meiri says there(ד"ה בית)

יראה מכאן שאין מצות מעקה לחשש נזקים אלא לחשש מוות

On the other hand, there is the baraita of Rebbi Natan, brought several places in the gemara(בבא קמא טו:,בבא קמא מו.,כתובות מא:), and used in discussing cases of potential injury, not death:

רבי נתן אומר מניין שלא יגדל אדם כלב רע בתוך ביתו ואל יעמיד סולם רעוע בתוך ביתו ת"ל לא תשים דמים בביתך

The Sefer Hachinuch(תקס"ז) takes these gemaras at face value and includes nezikin under the mitzva of לא תשים דמים, although he still says that מעקה is only concerned with lethal hazards(תקלח).

Rav Soloveichik, on the other hand, explains these gemaras according to the other shita, saying that chachamim made a gezeira extending the issur to include nezikin.

Secondary Sources

Rav Moshe Taragin's Shiur on Lo Tasim Damim

Rav Reuven Taragin's Shiur on Lo Tasim Damim in Bava Kama

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Connection Between Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim

So, as I implied in my previous post, I've started working the sugiot of Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim. Interestingly enough, these two mitzvot are learned out from the same pasuk(דברים כב:ח)

כִּי תִבְנֶה בַּיִת חָדָשׁ וְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ וְלֹא תָשִׂים דָּמִים בְּבֵיתֶךָ כִּי יִפֹּל הַנֹּפֵל מִמֶּנּוּ.

The Sifrei brings the drasha:

" 'ועשית מעקה לגגך' - מצות עשה. 'לא תשים דמים בביתך' - מצות לא תעשה".

So, taking the psukim at face value, we have:
  • one positive commandment to build a guardrail around one's roof
  • one prohibition to permit hazards in one's home


The Implied Connection

The fact that these mitzvot share a pasuk seems to indicate a connection and the language of the Sifrei also seems to imply that these mitzvot apply together. Also, when reading many of the sources in chazal, it is not entirely clear if a source is talking about one, the other, or both mitzvot. So a key question for understanding this sugia is: What is the connection between these two mizvot, and when one applies, does the other automatically apply.

In fact, when looking at the Rishonim and Achronim, we can find both a variety of approaches. Two extremes among them are the Ramban, who implies that the two are always applied together, and the Netziv who distinguishes sharply between them.

The Ramban

The Ramban(קידושין לד.) believes that Maakeh is the dominant one of the two mitzvot. Lo Tasim Damim is only there to strengthen the severity of Maakeh. As such, Lo Tasim Damim only applies where Maakeh also applies.

ול"נ שעיקר מצותו עשה, שאין לאו שבו אלא לקיים העשה, דכתב רחמנא ועשית מעקה תחילה והדר לא תשים דמים בביתך כלומר לא תעכב מלעשות מצוה זו, ולאו שאין בו מעשה אחר אלא קיום עשה שבו הוא

The Netziv

The Netziv(סיפרי עמק הנציב על הפסוק) draws a clear distinction between the two mizvot. Maakeh is the specific mitzva of building a guardrail around dangerous drops in and around your house. Lo Tasim Damim is a more general mitzva of removing dangers.

I've already brought the Netziv in full, but here are some relevant passages to understanding his shita. Red lines pertain to Maakeh, while blue pertain to Lo Tasim Damim.

And finally, it's worth checking out Reuven Taragin's shiur on Lo Tasim Damim, which turned me on to these two mekorot.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Treasure Hunting for the Netziv

So the last few day's I've been trying to locate the Netziv's perush on the Sifrei, the Emek Hanetziv.  It hasn't been easy. Google Search turned-up next-to nothing.  Online bookstores don't have it.  Most people I asked never heard of it. The two rabbis who I spoke who did know the book were divided as to whether it's just a standard perush included with the Sifrei or whether it's it's own book.

Well, a couple people told me to check out the library in the Central Ashkenazi Shul in Akko. I went to shacharit there(weekday davening is actually held in the library) and spent half the time peeking surreptitiously at the not-terribly-organized shelves.  Then, suddenly I saw it.  Three volumes of moderate width "Sifrei Emek Hanetziv".

It's a pity there's so little online about the book. These days, you can get all the basic Jewish texts online, at least as a scanned PDF, but there are still a lot of books with little or no mention online. I would love to scan the entire book and put it up, but I don't have the time or the equipment, so here at least are the pages I scanned for my own personal use, about Maakeh.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Hatfasa: Nedarim vs. Shvuot

So let's take a step back and take a look at the topic of התפסה in general: the concept appears in both נדרים and שבועות.  The idea is that a neder, and perhaps a shvua, can be created by copying another חלות.  So my question is: What's the difference?

Overview Via the Sources

The Rambam mentions התפסה in הלכות שבועות:ב, saying that it doesn't work for shvuot.  He ends cryptically, however, saying that there is still some sort of issur.

 ז  [ח] שמע חברו נשבע, ואמר ואני כמותך--הואיל ולא הוציא שבועה מפיו ולא השביעו חברו, הרי זה פטור; וזהו מתפיס בשבועה, שהוא פטור.  [ט] וכן אם נשבע שלא אוכל בשר זה, וחזר ואמר והרי הפת הזו כבשר הזה--הרי זה פטור על הפת, שהרי לא הוציא שבועה עליה אלא התפיסה; ואף על פי שהוא פטור מן המלקות או מן הקרבן, אסור לו לאכול אותה הפת שהתפיסה בשבועה.

It's worth noting that the Rambam is going according to Rava, while other rishonim follow Abaye and say that one can copy a shvua.

אביי אמר- כמוציא שבועה מפיו דמי, ורבא אמר- לאו כמוציא שבועה מפיו דמי. (שבועות כ.)

The Rambam mentions lots of examples of hatfasa in nedarim, some of them implicitly.  Here are a few examples from הלכות נדרים:א.

ז  האומר פירות אלו עליי קרבן, או שאמר הרי הן כקרבן, או שאמר לחברו כל מה שאוכל עימך עליי קרבן, או כקרבן, או הרי הן עליי קרבן--הרי אלו אסורין עליו:  מפני שאפשר שיידור אדם קרבן; ויעשה בהמה שהייתה חול קרבן, ותיאסר.

יג  האומר הרי הן עליי כמעשר בהמה--הרי אלו אסורין, הואיל וקדושתן בידי אדם.  הרי הן עליי כבכור, הרי אלו מותרין--שאין קדושתן בידי אדם, ואינו יכול להתפיסו בנדר:  שנאמר בו "לא יקדיש איש, אותו" 

טו  היה לפניו בשר קודש, אפילו היה בשר שלמים אחר זריקת דמים שהוא מותר לזרים, ואמר הרי הן עליי כבשר זה--הרי אלו אסורין:  שלא התפיס אלא בעיקרו, שהיה אסור.  אבל אם היה בשר בכור--אם לפני זריקת דמים, הרי זה אסור; ואם לאחר זריקת דמים, הרי זה מותר. 



  • Wat is the reasoning behind each side of the Rava/Abaye machloket?
  • Why, with shvuot, do we only mention copying another shvua, while with nedarim we also see examples of copying other issurim like a korban?
  • What does the Rambam mean that there is no shvua but it's still asur?

Understanding Shvuot

Indian Oath
Let's start with the more difficult opinion, that of Rava, that unlike Nedarim, you can't create a Shvua with התפסה.  Why is that? It all comes down to how shvuot work, as opposed to nedarim.

A shvua get's it's power from the name of God that one swears by. The prohibition against violating one's oath is based on chilul Hashem.  Without that ingredient, there is no oath.  That's why there is no possibility of basing a shvua on a korban, no name of God has been taken.  The whole question arises only when you are trying to copy one shvua to another.  Rava apparently says that the requirement of use Hashem's name is so strong, that it can't be "borrowed" from the original shvua.  Each time a shvua is made, God's name must be said.

Abayei, on the other hand, apparently reasons that as long as we're copying a valid shvua, so the original shvua's shem Hashem transfers to this one.

Understanding Nedarim

Monastic Vows
Nedarim, on the other hand, don't work based on chilul Hashem.  They are a special provision that the Torah provides for us to create our own isurim verbally. So there is no essential problem with making a neder via התפסה, it's just another way of verbally expressing the neder.  The neder may therefore be copied either from another neder, or from some other halachic construct such as korban.

The Ran's Understanding of Nedarim

That works for the Rambam, but the Ran(על הרי"ף שבועות ח.) takes it a step further.  He says that all Nedarim work by התפסה. He says that a neder is a Torah provision that allows you to copy certain halachot onto other objects.  According to the Ran, when a person makes a neder without explicit hatfasa, it actually means "like a korban".

שעיקר נדר בהתפסה הוא ואע"פ שאם לא התפיסו חייל ההוא מדין יד הוא דמהני שכשהוא אומר הרי זה אסור עלי אנו גומרין דבריו כקרבן
The Ran also points out why כקורבן is never mentioned with regards to shvua, even if one were to fulfill the requirement of swearing by Hashem's name. A קרבן is an issur cheftza, while a shvua is an issur gavra, so it's unthinkable that one could be created from the other.  They are incompatible

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Two Types of התפסה

In his speech on תעניות ציבור, published in שעורים לזכר אבי מרי ז"ל, Rav Soloveichik points out that there are two types of התפסה for nedarim:

The more traditional type of התפסה copies a איסור חפצה from some previous neder, thus creating a new חלות שם איסור on some previously permitted object.  He calls this התפסה באיסור כקורבן because the neder we are copying is of the standard type, which copies the איסור הנאה from קורבנות.  He brings examples of this type of התפסה from the Rambam(נדרים ג):

ג  כיצד המתפיס בנדרים חייב:  שמע חברו שנדר, ואמר ואני כמוך, בתוך כדי דיבור--הרי זה אסור במה שנאסר בו חברו; שמע השלישי זה שאמר ואני, ואמר ואני--אפילו היו מאה וכל אחד מהן אומר ואני, בתוך כדי דיבורו של חברו--הרי כולן אסורין.
ד  וכן האומר הבשר הזה עליי אסור, וחזר ואמר אפילו אחר כמה ימים, והפת הזאת כבשר הזה--הרי הפת נתפסה ונאסרה; חזר ואמר ודבש זה כפת הזאת, ויין זה כדבש זה--אפילו הן מאה, כולן אסורין.

The second and more novel type is התפסה בחלות שם.  It creates some other type of חלות שם, with any resulting איסורים being the secondary result of that שם. In fact, there can be other, non-איסור halachot which result from the שם.  The two examples the Rav brings of this second type of התפסה are also from the Rambam:

 ה  הרי שמת אביו או רבו היום, ונדר שיצום אותו היום, וצם, ולאחר שנים אמר, הרי יום זה עליו כיום שמת בו אביו או רבו--הרי זה אסור לאכול בו כלום:  שהרי התפיס יום זה, ואסרו כיום האסור לו.  וכן כל כיוצא באלו. (נדרים ג)
 ג  [ב] המתפיס בצדקה, חייב כשאר הנדרים.  כיצד:  אמר הרי סלע זו כזו, הרי זו צדקה.  הפריש סלע ואמר, הרי זו צדקה, ולקח סלע שנייה ואמר, וזו--הרי השנייה צדקה, ואף על פי שלא פירש.  [ג] הנודר צדקה ולא ידע כמה נדר, ייתן עד שיאמר לא לכך נתכוונתי. (מתנות עניים ח)


This really blew my mind.  So you can create other types of חלויות via התפסה, not just nedarim...

  • So is התפסה really a din in nedarim?  It appears to be a more general category.
  • What are the limits as far as what type of חלויות I can create?  Presumably I can't make a kula i.e. turn traif into kosher.  Can I make a weekday shabbat?  Can I make an Israel a Cohen?(apparently not, but why?)
  • Perhaps the answer is that התפסה applies to things that are similar to a neder to bring a korban.  Like tzedaka, a fast day, a commitment to learn a certain Torah text, etc.  Let's call them, "Personal Offerings".

Saturday, 14 September 2013

This Blog

I've already created this blog twice and then deleted it in the past couple years.  I think I'm finally ready...

So, having left yeshiva years ago, and finding it increasingly hard to find a chevruta with a compatible schedule, a good proportion of my learning is solo.  One of the problems there is that another person keeps you honest, calls you out when you don't have a clear understanding.  So I think that keeping a blog could help.  As soon as you are publishing your notes(even if nobody is reading them) you feel the need to read over them again, make sure there aren't any mistakes, make sure your stating an idea clearly.

So currently, I'm reading שעורים לזכר אבי מורי ז"ל and occasionally attending a gemara shiur, so to start I'll be making posts about those.  Language-wise, since this is largely personal notes, I'll be sticking with what's easy for me, so that's English with Hebrew thrown in where appropriate.

Since I'm posting as I learn the sugya, I'm sure I'll make mistakes along the way.  Hopefully I'll realize eventually and make a new post with a corrected understanding.  In any case, I'll try and make a clear distinction between the sources and my understanding of them.  And if you read this and find a mistake, please say so in the comments.