Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Miracles in Halacha

Do miracles interface with halacha? I believe the answer is Yes. A recent post on Hirhurim by the same title gives an answer of No. Rather than respond directly to the points in the article, I will develop some points here. (A directed response may or may not be forthcoming - I am placing it on a priority queue.)

Part of the problem of deciding whether miracles interface with halacha is deciding what is considered a miracle or something outside of the natural order. What of demons? Amulets? Witchcraft? Astrology? Dream interpretation? Incantations? To my mind, some of these (at least demons and dream interpretation) were considered science by Chazal rather than superstition, magic or religious beliefs.

As I see it, there are two ways miracles and events out of the natural order can interface with halacha. They can interface derivationally or operationally.

A derivational interface is one in which halacha is decided based on the premise of a miraculous event.

An operational interface is one in which halacha must govern miraculous events.

Since miraculous events are not mundane and commonly occuring, we would not expect frequent mention of them, and in certain cases accounting for the possibility of a miraculous event should not be done because it is not shechiach, common, and thus should not be anticipated. Yet, we have several instances of both operational and derivational interface with halacha.

Here are a few operational interfaces with halacha:

1) In general, kishuf, magic, is forbidden (Biblically). The gemara allows for (or exempts) sleight-of-hand but forbids "real" magic. The gemara discusses the specific death penalty meted out. See Sanhedrin daf 67. This is halacha governing the supernatural.

Though if demonology is not "supernatural" but scientific, see that the gemara there discusses someone who does witchcraft by means of demons (by using the same vessel each time).

The gemara also states that doing like Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Oshaya, who created a calf using sefer yetzira every erev Shabbat and ate it -- is permissible and does not fall under kishuf.

Thus, the gemara considers various eventualities and considers them from an halachic point of view.

2) May one wear an amulet on Shabbat, or is there a prohibition of hotza`ah? Only if it is not an amulet from an expert, which/who has been tested. This is Shabbat 61a, and is cited by the Rif lehalacha on Rif Shabbat 27b to 28a:
Rav Papa said: Do not think that both the man [issuing it] and the amulet must be approved; but as long as the man is approved, even if the amulet is not approved.
This too may be proved from the wording of the Mishna, for it states, NOR WITH AN AMULET WHEN IT IS NOT FROM {min} AN EXPERT, and does not say "WHEN IT IS NOT EXPERT {=approved. In fact, the girsa in the printed text of our Mishna in the Rif lacks the word min, while the girsa in the printed text of the Mishna in our gemara has the word min.}
We indeed do deduce this.

The Sages learnt {in a brayta}: What is an approved amulet? One that has healed [once], a second time and a third time.

whether it is an amulet in writing or an amulet of roots, whether it is for a sick person whose life is endangered or for a sick person whose life is not endangered. [It is permitted] not [only] for a person who has [already] had an epileptic fit, but even [merely] to ward it off. And one may tie and untie it even in the street, providing that he does not secure it

{Shabbat 61b}
with a ring or a bracelet and go out therewith into the street, for appearances sake. {marit ayin}
But we learnt {in a brayta}: What is an approved amulet? One that has healed three men simultaneously?
There is no difficulty: the one is to approve the man; the other is to approve the amulet.

Rav Papa said: It is obvious to me that if three amulets {all written/prepared by the same man} [are successful for] three people, each [being efficacious] three times, both the practitioner and the amulets are [henceforth] approved.
If three amulets [are successful for] three people, each [being efficacious] once, the practitioner is [henceforth] approved, but not the amulets.
If one amulet [is efficacious] for three men, the amulet is approved but not the practitioner.
Rav Papa asked: What if three amulets [are efficacious] for one person?
The amulets are certainly not rendered approved: but does the practitioner become approved or not? Do we say: Surely, he has healed him! Or perhaps, it is this man's fate to be susceptible to writings {but it would not necessarily work for another individual}?
The question stands. {teiku}
We thus consider the efficacy of amulets, and fate of individuals in terms of working of amulets.

The gemara proceeds to discuss whether amulets may be saved from a fire on Shabbat due to the pesukim therein, but this has nothing to do with whether they work or not.

Earlier on Shabbat 57b, we see Abaye asking on the assumption that a confirmed amulet may be brought out on Shabbat (cited here in the Rif):
Rav Yosef said: {chomarta dekatifta} A charm containing balsam.
{Rashi: to ward off the evil eye}

By way of explanation, chomarta dekatifta is a known charm that they hang around the neck because of the evil eye.

Abaye said to him: Let it be [regarded] as an approved {=confirmed} amulet, and hence permitted?

Rather, Rav Yehuda cited Abaye: It is an {apzayni} ornament of beads {Jastrow: obsidian beads}.
3) Another example of operation interface of the supernatural with halacha is in Sanhedrin 101a (cited here lehalacha by the Rif Shabbat 62b):
We learn in Sanhedrin, in perek Chelek {perek 11, Sanhedrin 101a}:
The Sages learnt {in a brayta}: One may oil and massage the bowels [of a sick person] on Shabbat, and snakes and scorpions may be charmed [to render them tame and harmless] on Shabbat, and an article may be placed over the eye on Shabbat [to protect it]. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: This applies only to articles which may be handled; but those which may not be handled are forbidden.

The Sages learnt {in a brayta}: Demons may not be consulted on Shabbat. Rabbi Yossi said: This is forbidden even on week-days.

Rav Huna said: The halacha is [not] {Vilna Gaon deletes not} like Rabbi Yossi. And even Rabbi Yossi only said this at time of {=because of} danger.
Thus, there is discussion of whether one may consult demons on Shabbat or during the week, and considerations of pikuach nefesh. Snake-charming on Shabbat is also under discussion.

4) In general it is forbidden to fast on Shabbat, but for a bad dream, one is permitted to fast. See Berachot 31a. The Rif brings this down lehalacha on Rif Shabbat 5a.
And the Sages have explained this as referring to only the fast for a dream, but for another fast, is it forbidden to fast on Shabbat.
and earlier:
And Rabba bar Mechasia cited Rav Chama bar Guria who cited Rav: Fasting is as potent against a dream as fire against flax.
And Rav Chisda said: and {assuming one fasted} on that very day.
And Rav Yosef said: and even on Shabbat.
This even as some Sages see dreams as without portent.

5) There is a discussion (here) of one whom an evil spirit took him outside the techum, but this is understood as a fit of insanity.

The Mishna in Shabbat (here) discusses:
6) In terms of some hand-washing, we see reference to spirits. Thus, in Yoma 77a:
Why that (to wash the hands to feed a child)?

Abaye said: Because of Shibta (an evil spirit who affects people who eat with dirty hands: germs...)
but of course they do not say germs as in the parenthetical comment, as this was before the germ theory of disease.

Another example, from Chullin 105:
Abaye: At first I though the reason you cannot pour mayim achronim on the ground was because of the zuhamah, but Mar told me it was because of the evil spirit.
Though this an example of derivational/operational interface.

7) The entire institution of not drinking pairs of drinks is because of demons. Thus for example, in Pesachim 109:
"And they should not give him less than 4 cups of wine, even from the charity plate":
How could the Sages establish a decree which brings to danger? But they learnt {in a brayta}: One should not eat in pairs nor drink in pairs.
Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak {our gemara: just R Nachman} said: Scriptures stated {Shemot 12:42}:
מב לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים הוּא לַה', לְהוֹצִיאָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: הוּא-הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה לַה', שִׁמֻּרִים לְכָל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְדֹרֹתָם. {פ} 42 It was a night of watching unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt; this same night is a night of watching unto the LORD for all the children of Israel throughout their generations. {P} It is a night that is guarded for all time from harmful spirits.

Rava said: The cup of blessing {of birkat haMazon} combines for good but not for bad.

So much for operational interface to halacha. There are other examples, I am sure, but this should suffice.

What of derivational interface to halacha? I can come up with a few examples off the top of my head.

1) The first was the one I cited in my first post about "the dangers of midrashim." I cited an example of a midrash being brought as an halachic support in Chullin 5a - that Eliyahu ate from the meat brought by the ravens, which was brought from the butchers working for Achav.

Thus, a miraculous event is brought for halachic support - though of course it is the non-miraculous aspect of it - the source of the meat - which is being used, and perhaps the gemara's response that perhaps al pi hadibbur is different might be taken to rule out exceptional miraculous events as a basis for halacha. (though I think the point is that Hashem said He would send meat by ravens, so God explicitly told him that eating this meat was allowed).

2) Does techum Shabbat extend past 10 handbreadths off the ground? We have a gemara
in Eruvin, daf 43a, which discusses it:
"These seven rulings were said on the morning of Shabbat before Rav Chisda in the city of Sura and were repeated in the afternoon of Shabbat before Rava in Pumpedisa. Who said them? Was it not Eliyahu {who could travel this distance in so short a time, which was more than the techum, and was flying and thus travelling over 10 tefachim from the ground}? Therefore derive that there are no techumin over 10 tefachim! No! Perhaps it was Yosef the demon who said it."

Thus, a miraculous event happening via a religious Jew (Eliyahu) is the basis for saying that techum does not extend that far. For how could Eliyahu have violated Shabbat? (Since techum also applies to Yom Tov, this is sufficient proof that Eliyahu does not visit all sedarim on Pesach night, in that the gemara did not offer this as a rebuttal.) The existence of Yosef the shed, demon, at the disposal of some of Chazal, is an effective rejection.

3) Again whether one may or may not drink pairs, statements by Yosef the demon is the source for both Rav Yosef and Rav Pappa. This is in a halachic context.

4) One final example of derivational interface is in a statement by Resh Lakish in a Yerushalmi (R' Gil also cited a different statement by Resh Lakish in a Yerushalmi)
Yerushalmi Eruvin 8:8:
"R Leizar asked R Yochanan, those cities surrounded by mountains, may one throw from it to reshus harabbim (public domain), or from reshus harabbim into it? He said to him, by your reasoning, there would never be any reshus harabim in the world!"

"Resh Lakish said, 'Indeed there is no reshus harabim until it is mefulash (open on both ends - this means, for example, open-ended on North and South, or alternatively, on East and West) from one end of the world until its (other) end."

"This seems the reverse of the opinion of Resh Lakish, who said 'There is no reshus harabim in this world, but there will be in the future to come, as it it said, (Yeshayahu 40:4), "kol gey yinasei," "every valley will be lifted up."
Thus, Resh Lakish relies on the fact of a miraculous event happening in the future" as a basis for derivation of a halacha.


ADDeRabbi said...

see my parsha related post on this topic?

joshwaxman said...

i'll add it to my parsha roundup.


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