Sunday, March 20, 2005

Daf Yomi Brachot 19a - Speaking after the biers of Talmidei Chachamim

On Brachot 19a, we see the following gemara:
המספר אחר מטתן של תלמידי חכמים
מאי היא
דתנן הוא היה אומר אין משקין לא את הגיורת ולא את המשוחררת
וחכמים אומרים משקין
ואמרו לו מעשה בכרכמית שפחה משוחררת בירושלים והשקוה שמעיה ואבטליון
ואמר להם דוגמא השקוה
ונדוהו ומת בנדויו
וסקלו בית דין את ארונו
One who talks after the biers of Torah scholars {who denigrates them after their death}
What is this?
As we learn: He {Akavia ben Mehalalel} would say: we do not give the convert nor freed maidservant to drink {the bitter waters}
And the Sages say: we do give to drink.
And they said to him {Akavia}: there was a story with Karkemit, a freed maidservant in Yerushalayim, and Shemaya and Avtalyon gave her to drink.
And he {Akavia} said to them {the Sages}: as a dugma the caused her to drink
And {as a result} they {the Sages} excommunicated him {Akavia}, and he died in a state of excommunication
And the court stoned his coffin {after his death}.
Rashi gives as explanation of דוגמא השקוה - he was alleging that the reason Shemaya and Avtalyon give this woman to drink was that they were descended from converts, and they had a desire to legitimize and mainstream converts, and so they held as the Sages held1.

We see that to say this insults the character of the sage involved. That is, there is an assumption of impartiality, in which the chachamim look at the sources, and might have different schools of thought or lines of reasoning, but they approach the sources objectively. To suggest that they had in mind a result that they wanted to arrive at, and stated their opinions (and gave proofs) accordingly, insults the memory of the sages such that one who does so is worthy of excommunication.

This is interesting in that this is exactly the approach you see today in some parts of academic Talmudic scholarship. That is, they will study the biography and personality of the particular Amora or Tanna, and will look at the cultural setting, and will then say that the halachot stated by the particular person was driven by his personality or surrounding culture. The drasha or argumentation backing up the particular halacha is regarded as a pious fiction, created to justify the halacha they wished to arrive at. And from the other direction, we can surmise facts about the culture and attitude by the type of halacha they decide to create. (Without analyzing this approach in much depth, I will note that often there is an intellectual environment and history to drashot such that one does not always have such leeway, and one should therefore not jump to the conclusion that halachic conclusions are decided upon beforehand and then simply justified.) At any rate, such an approach would be have considered an insult deserving of excommunication.

It is also the sentiment that often seems to lie behind the statement "Where there is a rabbinic will, there is an halachic way." That is, halacha and sources can be read in many different ways, and the rabbis can basically arrive at any conclusion they want, or find a way to accomplish what they feel should be accomplished. (And, if they don't, it is because there is a lack of rabbinic will to, for example, help agunot in their plight.) This comes close to saying that halacha and its derivation are basically pious fiction, and halacha is up to the whims and biases of those who formulate it. Chazal would, I think, take offense at such a characterization.

I'll end with a story from yerushalmi I mentioned earlier in this blog, about teaching girls Greek.
The context is the prohibition/permissibility of teaching one's children Greek.
R Abahu said in the name of R Yochanan: A man is permitted to teach his daughter Greek for it is an adornment (tachshit) for her.
Shimon bar Bo heard and said: Because R Abahu wishes to teach his daughter Greek he attributed (this statement) to R Yochanan.
R Abahu heard and said, (Such and Such) should come upon me if I did not hear it from R Yochanan.

1 (Tosafot agrees with this suggestion, though offers up another one by the Aruch - that they gave her fake Sota water.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the issue was not whether Shmaya/Avtalyon were influenced by factors other than a "pure" understanding of the sources but rather the accusation that despite their understnding of the sources to accord w R' HBA they 'chose' to ignore the "correct" interpretation and rule like the "chachamim". Such an accusation is deserving of nidui


Blog Widget by LinkWithin