Monday, January 31, 2005

Klal and Prat

One thing that has always interested me is the middot sheHaTorah nidreshet bahen, the hermeneutic rules by which halachah is derived from the text. It is somewhat impractical nowadays since our job is no longer to arrive at halachah directly from the text, but rather to make use of halachic facts already derived by such means in the mishna, tosefta, brayta, and gemara. Knowledge of these rules are handy when learning these sources, if one wants to fully understand them, but but they are more often forgotten until needed, and then one recalls the principles being used as they are used by the gemara. They are treated as purely mechanical devices, and I doubt many read a chumash, spot the place to apply these rules, and then apply them.

Shema Yisrael has a useful chart detailing the application of the rules of prat and klal, and ribbui and miut, which I want to make use of.

Looking at the rules of klal and prat, it strikes me that they are not merely mechanical, arbitrary rules used to produce halacha. They also make sense from the perspective of literary analysis. I offer here a possible justification and explanation of klal and prat, though my examples do not necessarily match every instance of klal and prat's appearance.

Klal means a general statement. Prat means a specific statement. Based on the presence and order of these features in a pasuk or group of psukim, certain things are included or excluded in a law.

1. Klal ufrat - general term followed by specific term or terms - the only elements in the law are those mentioned in the prat.

This makes a lot of sense. Consider the following sentence:

I went to the store and bought a bunch of produce: oranges, apples, grapes, and melons.

Note the colon. The list of specific items following the general description of all of them implies that what follows defines, and gives a comprehensive list, of the "bunch of produce" purchased.

2. Prat uchlal - specific term/s followed by general term - just look to the general term, and the list of specific terms do not limit at all.

This also makes sense. Consider the following sentence:

I went to the store and bought oranges, apples, grapes, melons, and a whole bunch of produce.


I went to the store and bought oranges, apples, grapes, melons - a whole bunch of produce.

Here we do not get the impression anymore that the list is meant to be comprehensive. Instead, we get a bunch of concrete examples of the general term, but the general term is what rules the day. Other types of produce - such as cucumbers, might have also been purchased.

(Why then write the prat - and in the first instance, why then write the klal? Tosafot offers an answer - see the chart mentioned above - but this is not an issue from our standpoint, which is purely that of literary analysis.)

3. Klal ufrat uchlal - general term, then specific, then general again - things such as that mentioned in the prat are included. One could say that the prat is being used twice, Once to form a klal ufrat, and then to form a prat uchlal, and so we find a compromise.

I would say that the prat serves to define the first klal, but that prat is being opened to include similar things by the final klal. Consider an example:

I went to the store and bought a whole bunch of produce: oranges, apples, grapes, melons - different crops.

Again, just as in the first example, we have the colon. What follows "produce" is meant to be a definitive list, defining what is meant by produce. However, "different crops" serves as a type of etectera, to say that this list is not comprehensive. Thus, the list, the prat, is definitive but not comprehensive. Since the list funtions to define the the klal, the etc. must be including things of the same type as those explicitly mentioned. Thus, the prat-klal formation at the end of the sentence serves to define and limit "produce" to fruit, as opposed to vegetables such as cucumbers (which I would have otherwise thought were included since they are also produce.)

4. Prat uchlal ufrat. Specific term, followed by general, followed by specific - same, or very similar to above. That is, things similar to the prat (or in this case, pratim) are included.

An example:

I went to the store and bought bananas, nectarines, and a whole bunch of [other] produce: [such as] oranges, apples, grapes, and melons.

Here, the progression to klal (produce) again implies an etcetera. Thus, not only what is mentioned, but everything in the conclusion is meant. But the conclusion is both a klal and a prat, so we are including not just the unrestricted produce, but a generic as defined by the particulars listed after the colon. Thus, the listed examples are examples and not a complete list, to give an idea of what is meant to be included in the general. Thus, once again we are including things similar to the prat.

{This last example and analysis leaves something to be desired, and perhaps I can update in the future with something better, than also captures the difference between 3 and 4, in that 4 must be similar in two respects rather than only one, according to the comments on the chart.

Any suggestions?

Also, many klal/prat situations do not involve the same sentence, but I am just laying out a possible motivation for the rules.

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