Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Parshat Yisro #1: A Jewish Scholar class?

There is an interesting editorial in Haaretz by Member of Knesset Meir Porush (UTJ) about the historical role of a class of Jews who devoted themselves solely to learning, rather than working. He is responding to an article by Moshe Kaveh, the president of Bar-Ilan University.

Blogger Nathan G takes exception to Porush's article (which tipped me onto it in the first place), specifically to the claim that the masses throughout the generations "devoted themselves to studying Torah and fulfilled the precept to 'speak about it day and night."

Anyway, Porush gives the example of the Yissachar-Zevulun agreement for people who devoted themselves entirely to the study of Torah. There is also an interesting example in this week's parsha, parshat Yisro. Upon Yisro's suggestion, (Shemot 18:25)

וַיִּבְחַר מֹשֶׁה אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל מִכָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם רָאשִׁים עַל-הָעָם--שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת.
"And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens."

The Mechilta, and Tg Yonatan following the Mechilta, explain that וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת means one out of every 10, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים means one over every 50, etcetera, so from a population of 600,000 men, we are talking about more than 60 thousand people.

Further, the next pasuk states:
וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת-הָעָם, בְּכָל-עֵת: אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה יְבִיאוּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפּוּטוּ הֵם.
"And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves."

The Mechilta explains בְּכָל-עֵת as "at all times." The michilta cites Rabbi Yehoshua that this means that theyset themselves away from their professions and devoted themselves full time to learning Torah and judging. Now this may have caused a drash because judging can only be done during the day, or else similar to the drash arising a few psukim earlier by Moshe who judged from morning to night, which was problematic because one does not judge at mealtimes.

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