Monday, April 04, 2011

A Taz I can agree with

Summary: About revisiting the midrashei halacha Rashi is merely citing, and whether we are skilled enough to do it.

Post: I don't want people to think I am picking on the Taz. Sure, I disagree with him a lot in understanding Rashi, because I have a very different methodology. But one way in which I come up with a parshablog post is to look at the Taz, see what is bothering him about Rashi, and then considering how I would resolve the difficulty. Often, this is a good entry point to many other meforshei Rashi; and even where it is not, the questions themselves are either good and demanding a good resolution, or not "good", because of an underlying divergence in methodology and in defining what is a valid question. In any case, it makes for a good post and, hopefully, some insights into Rashi and how to properly understand his commentary.

I decided to highlight a Taz towards the end of Tazria, where I agree with him. I should not have to always argue with him, after all!

The pasuk, Vayikra 13:14, and Rashi, read:

14. But on the day that live flesh appears in it, he shall become unclean.יד. וּבְיוֹם הֵרָאוֹת בּוֹ בָּשָׂר חַי יִטְמָא:
וביום: מה תלמוד לומר, ללמד יש יום שאתה רואה בו ויש יום שאין אתה רואה בו, מכאן אמרו חתן נותנין לו כל שבעת ימי המשתה לו ולכסותו ולביתו, וכן ברגל נותנין לו כל ימי הרגל:
Someone (who shall remain nameless) questions why this specific derasha, and not something precisely matching a different famous derasha on the word וביום. The Taz writes:

"I have seen someone ask why we don't darshen here that this is to teach that seeing {and thus ruling on the status} of afflictions pushes off Shabbat, just as we darshen {in Perek Rabbi Eliezer deMilah. the 9th perek of Shabbat, in Shabbat 132a, darshening an earlier pasuk in parashat Shemini}, אלא היינו טעמא דרבי אליעזר דאמר קרא (ויקרא יב, ג) וביום השמיני ימול בשר ערלתו ואפילו בשבת, "Rather this is R. Eliezer s reason: Because Scripture saith, and in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised, [implying] even on the Sabbath.And he gives a forced answer, whatever he answers. And I don't know what the question is at all. For certainly inspecting skin afflictions is permitted on Shabbat, for it is only ruling on issur ve'heter, which is permitted on the Shabbat, and we need no Scripture for this! And even {monetary} judgment {din} is permitted on the Shabbat, Biblically, but is only Rabbinically forbidden, lest he write; and regarding the blemishes of the firstborn {animals} one does not inspect on Yom Tov, as a matter of Rabbinic law."

Thus, the Taz correctly points out that there is no need for this derasha. While I agree with him, and he appears to be absolutely correct, I will offer two further answers, which may be simultaneously correct.

While this halachic conclusion, and derasha, regarding bris milah on Shabbos is indeed found in Masechet Shabbat, we may find more details about it in the Sifra.

Note how in yud, they are just darshening the word וביום. In yud-aleph, it seems like the derasha begins with bashmini yimol. This seems to be a selective citation of the words וביום השמיני ימול, and the ordinal number there. The idea seems to be that it should be on day number eight since birth, regardless of what day of the week that falls out upon. Now, that is a plausible but not necessary interpretation, for we could well apply another verse of mechaleleha mot yumat which would override it, such that we would understand it instead to be on the eighth day, so long as it does not fall out on the Shabbat. Then, and only then, does וביום come into play, and bolster the first interpretation, that it needs to be done on that particular mentioned day, the eighth.

I am not convinced that you can set up a parallel with pasuk 14. There is no ordinal number there in pasuk 14, insisting that it be seen on that particular day. And הֵרָאוֹת could refer to its appearance, but might it refer to the day the kohen decides to look at it?

Further, one could distinguish between וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי, where there is a patach under the bet, and thus an explicit definite article ("the"), and our pasuk 14, where the word is spelled וּבְיוֹם, with a sheva under the bet and thus no explicit definite article. After all, derashot often do make major distinctions from such minor points, and one could readily imagine that it is in fact the patach functioning here, saying it needs to be done on that particular day.

Maybe one could make a derasha on a different pasuk, such as וְרָאָהוּ הַכֹּהֵן בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, where we have the ordinal as well as a patach under the bet, but that does not seem to be what was proposed.

To expand the scope past this one Rashi and one Taz, it seems to me that this is a frequent activity of meforshei Rashi. Rashi cites the midrash aggada, or the midrash halacha, and that is an invitation to his supercommentators to delve into the mechanics of the derash and explain why it is necessary and why other derashot were not proposed in its place. Why? For at least some of them, it seems that this is because (they maintain that) Rashi is always saying "peshat", and if Rashi is compelled to bring this derasha, there is some peshat reason. What is bothering Rashi, on the level of peshat, such that Rashi must say this? And so, understanding Rashi entails understanding what Rashi (really, Chazal) saw in this pasuk and, in turn, understanding the mechanics of the midrashic derivation.

This makes many of the Rishonim and Acharonim analyzing Rashi into Tannaim. To explain, at different periods in Jewish history, different types of Torah-learning were practiced and popular. Tannaim often directly interpreted pesukim, in a systematic manner. They were skilled in the various rules of derivation, and there were competing schools with competing methodologies. Thus, in midrash halacha, there is Rabbi Akiva vs. Rabbi Yishmael. Rabbi Akiva (and his school) utilized ribuy and miut while Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha utilized klal and perat. And they were so skilled that they could approach a pasuk and tell you how to make halachic deductions from it.

For the most part, Amoraim refrained from engaging in such derivations. Instead, they discuss Mishnayot and braytot where the Tannaic positions are brought down, and they operate on that level. They propose different interpretations of the Tannaitic material, or cite traditions from various Tannaim, and pasken like one or the other, based on various established rules. They don't argue on Tannaim, in general.

For the most part, Rishonim do not analyze the Tannaitic material from scratch. Instead, they analyze the gemara's analysis of the Tannaitic material, interpret sometimes ambiguous gemaras in different ways, and pasken like one of various competing Amoraim.

For the most part, especially nowadays, Acharonim do not analyze the Tannaitic or Amoraic material from scratch. Rather, they analyze the words of the Rishonim, interpret it, apply it to new scenarios, and pasken like one Rishon over another.

Thus, each level interprets the immediately preceding level.

Being a supercommentator of Rashi allows one to skip levels and become a Tanna. Since Rashi on Chumash is a direct interpretation on the pesukim, a supercommentator in explaining "Rashi" is often explaining a derasha which means explaining the pasuk in a specific way. And thus, there is this resurgence in exploring the midos shehaTorah nidreshes bahen.

Already many years ago, I wished that I could do just this. I would learn a gemara and try to understand the derashot as they were proposed and discussed. But there is a difference between a recognizer and a generator. It is one thing to follow the analysis of the gemara, at every stage, and understand it (or think you understand it). It is something else entirely to know the system so well that you yourself could propose a derasha. If so, the suggested derashot of the Tannaim are obvious, and you could perhaps even intuit the various objections that could arise, and anticipate rejoinders to those objections. Ich vil zein a Tanna.

I am not certain that such would really be possible for a modern-day Talmid Chacham to do this. For instance, I recall reading one scholarly critique of midrash halacha that if you really investigate it in depth, it is NOT systematic. That is, derashot that are made in one place are not made consistently elsewhere; and indeed, many pesukim are not darshened, while others are. Maybe that is true, and maybe it is just the paucity of skill on the part of this scholar who said this.

Maybe these derashot are not real derivations, but rather asmachtahs of sorts. Perhaps there was a halacha leMoshe miSinai of the actual practiced halacha, and Tannaim found support, hints, or mnemonics for various practices by tying them into specific pesukim. Or perhaps all of this was Oral law, and there is no absolutely systematic system, but the reason for these textual irregularities or even regularities encoded into the Torah was to convey these particular points, as elucidated by the Tannaim.

However, assuming that it is possible for a Talmid Chacham to do this, because there is an underlying systematic system, it does not mean that everyone is equally capable of engaging in this. First, we are out of practice, since we encounter these examples of derashot haphazardly in various gemaras, rather than learning it as a system. And so, we might reconstruct the system incorrectly. We might also introduce our own incorrect biases and assumptions about what makes a textual irregularity. The "what is bothering Rashi" methodology, for instance, and in my humble opinion, makes plenty of these incorrect assumptions. And so it is not just this one (unnamed) supercommentator of Rashi, whom Taz criticized above, who over-applies the system and wishes to darshen וּבְיוֹם, and then must explain why we don't say it in this instance. Rather, it is a widespread issue, and extends to such truly great talmidei Chachamim as e.g., Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi and the Maharal of Prague. See, for example, this parshablog post from last week, where Mizrachi proposes that a derasha is made from ki as opposed to im, connoting certainty rather than doubt. Taz challenges this, but one can see how a system is being improperly constructed. Then, non-questions become questions, and non-derivations become derivations.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin