One of the endearing aspects of the Harry Potter series is the learning process in which the budding wizards engaged to learn their craft. In that fictional world, wizardry did not empower someone to wave his wand and accomplish anything he desires. Rather, he must follow the rules of spells and incantations, attempting only that which is possible within his magical skills. This realistic element is easily translatable to our experiences. What appears like complete power in a field is really skill within a tightly defined discipline. Computer whizzes seem like they can do anything with their hi-tech tools but, in reality, must follow the rules and processes of specific technologies. Artists and dancers can create art from nothing but only by remaining within the rules of their disciplines.

The Limits of Halakhah

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I. Wizardry and Jewish Law

One of the endearing aspects of the Harry Potter series is the learning process in which the budding wizards engaged to learn their craft. In that fictional world, wizardry did not empower someone to wave his wand and accomplish anything he desires. Rather, he must follow the rules of spells and incantations, attempting only that which is possible within his magical skills.

This realistic element is easily translatable to our experiences. What appears like complete power in a field is really skill within a tightly defined discipline. Computer whizzes seem like they can do anything with their hi-tech tools but, in reality, must follow the rules and processes of specific technologies. Artists and dancers can create art from nothing but only by remaining within the rules of their disciplines.

The same applies to Jewish law. While rabbis may seem to have complete power to decide as they wish, they actually must follow processes that are highly regulated by rules and traditions.

II. The Hanging Sheet

The Talmud (Sukkah 27b) tells of a time when R. Eliezer sat in the sukkah of R. Yochanan bar Ilai. The sun was fairly strong and R. Yochanan wanted to hang a sheet from the sukkah‘s covering to protect them. When he asked R. Eliezer whether this is permissible, R. Eliezer changed the subject and noted that every tribe of Israel had raised a judge (shofet) from its midst. Unbeknownst to R. Yochanan, R. Eliezer refused to issue a teaching that he had not learned from his mentors.

As the sun grew stronger, R. Yochanan asked again whether he could hang a sheet. R. Eliezer again changed the subject, pointing out that every tribe had issued forth a prophet. R. Yochanan frustratedly hanged the sheet and R. Eliezer left the sukkah to avoid ruling (or appearing to rule) on the issue.

III. Two Types of Authorities

I suggest that R. Eliezer’s two tangents were intentional. He was trying to send an apparently overly subtle message. There are two ways to decide a halakhic question — either rely on a tradition or issue a new ruling. Judges (shofetim) serve as decisors, authorities who analyze new questions and deduce from earlier principles the appropriate application. They address the new situations that arise.

Prophets, on the other hand, bear ancient traditions. They may not issue new decisions (Megillah 2b) but can access divine knowledge of prior teachings. A prophet represents the other type of decision-making process, the reliance on tradition.

IV. Limitations

When R. Eliezer stated that every tribe raised a judge and a prophet, he was hinting that he lacked both those abilities to decide the question of the hanging sheet. He knew no tradition on the subject and felt unqualified to issue a new ruling. Within his self-imposed limitation of only repeating teachings he had learned from his mentors, he was unqualified to rule on this question.

R. Eliezer’s limitations are extreme. Other authorities, who lack his self-imposed stricture, have more leeway to issue rulings. Yet they, too, have boundaries. They must also work within the halakhic system, abiding by precedents and faithfully following authoritative texts and commentaries. A decisor carries the weight of thousands of years of tradition on his shoulders that he can shift from side to side but dare not drop.

V. The Pharisees’ Boundaries

The Sages (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:2; Sifrei to Num. 25:5) incidentally mention an ancient taunt that “the Pharisees have permitted the matter.” This convenient phrase was widely adopted among later commentaries but appears in Rabbinic in only one context. R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes (Darkei Ha-Hora’ah ch. 1, in Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chajes, vol. 1 p. 219) suggests that this was a common complaint among Second Temple sectarians. They mocked the Sages’ occasional lenient rulings as rabbinic distortions, the corrupt manipulation of Judaism for political and financial motives. The Sages, these sectarians claimed, never encountered an inconvenient law they could not override.

These sectarians failed to recognize that the Sages were operating within a closed system. They were bound by rules of engagement and not free to bend Jewish law into any shape they desired. The Sages were not halakhic wizards who waved away prohibitions with their talmudic wands but scholars who operated within a tradition that allowed for limited flexibility. By failing to recognize the rules of the halakhic process, the sectarians mistakenly believed that wherever there is a rabbinic will, there is a halakhic way.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

46 comments

  1. Prophets, on the other hand, bear ancient traditions. They may not issue new decisions (Megillah 2b) but can access divine knowledge of prior teachings. A prophet represents the other type of decision-making process, the reliance on tradition.
    ==================================

    Source? You had me until the “of prior teachings”
    KT

  2. “By failing to recognize the rules of the halakhic process, the sectarians mistakenly believed that wherever there is a rabbinic will, there is a halakhic way.”

    No one seriously believes that in any religion-the question is what is ones religion Yahdus, or feminism. I know you didn’t quote who made that line famous in NA-but cmon.

  3. One can parse any sound bite to death, but if you’ve ever heard Blu Greenberg discuss hers, you’d know that she doesn’t believe that it’s true in all cases. She has used it mainly with respect to agunah and in that case, quite frankly, I think she’s right. Let’s take a partial solution; the RCA pre-nup. While it certainly is no panacea, people in the know say it has helped alleviate agunot situations. And yet, many rabbonim in the chareidi community and, to our shame, in the MO community as well, oppose it or do not support it. Why? Well one reason given, to paraphrase RAS, is that it’s a bad idea to speak about divorce on the day of a wedding. So here there are a bunch of rabbis who know there is a rabbinical way but refuse to exercise their rabbinical will. And the same goes for more broad-based solutions. It may be true that even where there is a rabbinical will there may not be a rabbinical way, but there;s certainly no rabbinical way if there is no rabbinical will. And it’s that lack of will that really lies at the heart of her comment.

    So make all the snide comments about her that you want, she’s been called worse and yet she goes on inspiring many. Our grandchildren will have a better idea of how successful she will have been.

  4. Nice post.
    “they actually must follow processes that are highly regulated by rules and traditions”

    Doesn’t the passive construction here avoid the question of agency? “Rules and traditions” do not automatically regulate, people regulate. Are you claiming that all rabbis agree on which “rules and traditions” determine processes that they must follow? If so, which rules? For instance, what do you mean when you say they must abide by precedents?

  5. “The Sages were not halakhic wizards who waved away prohibitions with their talmudic wands but scholars who operated within a tradition that allowed for limited flexibility. By failing to recognize the rules of the halakhic process, the sectarians mistakenly believed that wherever there is a rabbinic will, there is a halakhic way.”

    weren’t they? they were brilliant wizards. what tradition? didn’t they create it? sounds like a mussar shmooze for elementary or high school kids but seriously? notice all the footnotes for some historical or any sources. if anything chazal showed the outmost flexibility in working and adapting to the reality of the real world vs theoretical.historically, pharisees does not equal chazal. chazal did not believe in sects and very rarely say they are the descendants of pharisee (which if i remember correctly would not marry(pharisee) with other sects).

    chazal had the best wands since they created them themselves with their rules and exceptions.

  6. Nice post, and of course nice analogy to Harry Potter.

    I’m surprised, though, that you didn’t reverse your analogy to judges and prophets. Judges apply halacha as it comes before. Prophets give G-d’s additional words.

    Joseph Kaplan, I have a big problem with presumption of “lack of Rabbinic will.” I’ve heard a lot of people say that, but never has one of them gone through the extensive literature on the balance between motivating a get and forcing a get. Before you claim there’s no Rabbinic will, have you gone through the issues of ones be’get, tnai bi’nesuin, hafka’at kiddushin, etc? The Paris proposal from the 30’s has hundreds of pages written about it, as does the Berkowitz proposal, as do other proposals, and each has a lot of concern that it would produce mamzerim.

    Many Rabbonim now support the pre-nup that works through kviyat mezonot. I suspect it will spread. But the concern about it is a concern about mamzerim and eshet ish, not a lack of will.

  7. “By failing to recognize the rules of the halakhic process, the sectarians mistakenly believed that wherever there is a rabbinic will, there is a halakhic way.”

    But Gil, we now know that this understanding of the Second Temple situation is no longer viable whatsoever. In fact, the groups critiquing the Pharisees has no notion at all of your monolithic, closed “halakhic process.” In fact, there were multiple conceptions of legal processes floating around the Second Temple period (and afterward), and pretty much every critique of Pharisaic (maybe early rabbinic; separate issue) teaching – the extent that it was about their law and not their peculiar philosophies! (see Josephus) – simply denies that they understand the “halakhic process” at all, or that, while they can quote the Torah, they don’t understand what it means.

    Now that that’s out of the way, I certainly approve of this post as a piece of derush!

  8. I wonder whether there is a correlation between people who agree with the post (i.e. reject the Blu Greenberg “halakhic will / way” attitude) and people who have spent a significant amount of time learning shu”tim or high-level lomdus. Put another way: can we rid ourselves of this kind of antinomianism if we educate our children better, so they actually have a better sense of what is going on in the halakhic process? Does a superficial exposure leave people with the impression that you can just find “every opinion” out there, even the ones you make up yourself?

  9. We must be loyal to the words of Hazal. If we fail to make the distinction between Hazal’s words and post-Talmudic commentaries then we will be unable to search for truth while makeing halachic decisions.

    The correct balance is struck by Rabbi David Bar-hayim.

  10. eskimo: you do not have to believe in halakhik wiil/way approach to believing the following statement:

    “there is nothing so flexible as the flexibility of halakhah”
    written by rabbi hayyim david halevi – chief rabbi of tel aviv in 1989. one can believe in progress and innovation as part of the traditional halakhik process.

  11. Joseph Kaplan: I make no claim to knowledge of Blu Greenberg’s ideas. But the idea underlying that sound-bite is accepted by many, such as our very own Ruvie.

    Hillel: In the latest issue of Jewish Action, which I saw is back from the printers and in the process of being mailed out (I don’t have a copy yet), R. Hershel Schachter has an article in which he points out that rabbis have to follow what they were taught. Each rabbi may have his own interests and approaches, but he is bound to the teachings he learned from his mentors — their attitudes, approaches, etc. R. Schachter feels obligated to do what he believes R. Soloveitchik would want him to do. And others certainly feel bound to work within the teachings they were intellectually raised. There doesn’t need to be agreement on rules and traditions. Each rabbi has to follow the rules and traditions he was taught.

    Dov: See the Gemara in Megillah — a navi is not allowed to add anything new.

    Jerry: I believe you are saying that the various sectarians didn’t believe in hefker but had their own views of how to darshen, pasken, etc. I think the Maharatz Chajes actually says that explicitly in one of his books. I don’t think it changes anything regarding this post. They thought the Pharisees were very quick to manipulate halakhah.

    Don: Rav Bar-Hayim strikes me as an earnest and caring man but his approach strikes me as arrogant and misguided.

  12. How does Rabbi Feinstein’s blanket nullification of weddings performed by Reform rabbis fit into your analysis? Does that not exhibit “rabbinic will and rabbinic way”?

  13. Prophets, on the other hand, bear ancient traditions. They may not issue new decisions (Megillah 2b) but can access divine knowledge of prior teachings. A prophet represents the other type of decision-making process, the reliance on tradition.
    ==================================

    Source? You had me until the “of prior teachings”
    KT

    Hirhurim on November 16, 2010 at 10:46 pm
    http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/12/prophetic-laws.html
    =================
    I see- I think we have to differentiate between ldorot (when the gemara quotes nach as a source) and when people came to the navi asking what to do (a la R’ Tzadok) no nafka mina for the purpose of this post.

    KT

  14. The same applies to Jewish law. While rabbis may seem to have complete power to decide as they wish, they actually must follow processes that are highly regulated by rules and traditions.
    ======================
    but part of that regulation is that the chachmei hamesora have great flexibility to be used sparingly to do what chazal would have wanted in the situation(as per R’YBS) – so most of our internal debates hang on who gets to vote (as R’HS likes to say), who intuits the will of chazal (as R’MR likes to say) and when does the situation warrant it (as Blu Greenberg might have said)

    btaam vareiach ein lhitvakeach(or at least you won’t convince anyone by logic)?

    KT

  15. R’MR??

  16. hirhurim – i do not believe in if there is a will there is a way approach ( i actually believe in RAL’s approach) see my 8:54 post. however, halacha allows for flexibility and innovation – its inherent in its process – as recorded by chazal and rishonim etc. it just seems to have died or lessen in the modern era for various sociological and other reasons.

    what’s also troubling (more than hadash assur min hatorah approach by many in orthodoxy including modern orthodoxy) is notion of your comment to hillel quoting RHS. the understanding that one is obligated or bounded just to follow your rebbe or mentors and deviate from them is a new (to me as an am haaretz) novel haredi like approach to learning and the halahkik process. I wonder how the RAV could ever believe in zionism, secular education, mixed classes and other ideals which were against the teachings of his father and his grandfather. how is there any innovation or changes from the past – one would believe that nothing has changed in 2000 years? looking at the history of halacha contradicts that notion.

  17. correction: should read – “not deviate”

  18. R’ M Rosensweig

    I wonder how the RAV could ever believe in zionism, secular education, mixed classes and other ideals which were against the teachings of his father and his grandfather. how is there any innovation or changes from the past – According to R’ Rakeffet in “non-halachik”(could write a book on what that means) HKB”H paskins through history (re:zionism) and the chachmei hamesorah must decide in each generation what works best for limud/harbatzat torah.
    KT

  19. joel rich – those issues existed before the rav as well as during the rav’s lifetime. and his mentors/rebbes rejected his approach.

  20. The Rav saw it as responding to changed circumstance (Holocaust, State of Israel). R. Hershel Schachter says often that sometimes sticking with the same approach is really a deviation because the old attitude requires a new approach to the changed circumstances.

    The Rav himself wrote that Judaism believes in chidush but not shinuy. You have to work within the process.

  21. See Uvikashtem Misham, beginning of chapter 15.

  22. Binyomin Eckstein

    As much as I disagree with many of RYBS’ innovations, I think he earnestly thought Reb Chaim would have agreed with him on the practical issues of his day.

  23. is chidush not innovation within the halachic process? does it not require flexibility? did all the views the rav held in these matters (as well as others) have to with an et laosot attitude or did he not believe in its inherent moral/ethical or other value inherent in it – for example, the inherent value of a secular education or learning philosophy etc.
    the idea that a posek is bounded by ones’s rebbe/mentor does not (to my knowledge) stand up to the scrutiny of history – even factoring changes in history. imagine r’ tam telling rashi – his grandfather – i will make my own pair of tefilin for his bar mitzvah.

  24. >I wonder whether there is a correlation between people who agree with the post (i.e. reject the Blu Greenberg “halakhic will / way” attitude) and people who have spent a significant amount of time learning shu”tim or high-level lomdus

    You know, some people learn a lot shu”T and conclude that the rabbis make up halacha – very earnestly, and generally unaware that they’re doing it. The only conclusion to draw from shu”T is not that it is very much like chemistry. The other conclusion is that it is very much like alchemy.

    True, those people are generally Conservative – at least in their heads – but is far, far from a given that from intensive involvement with the halachic sources that one will conclude with an Orthodox view of halacha.

  25. “They must also work within the halakhic system, abiding by precedents and faithfully following authoritative texts and commentaries. A decisor carries the weight of thousands of years of tradition on his shoulders that he can shift from side to side but dare not drop.”

    I have no idea what this means.

    First, basically every criterion is open to debate. You can’t, or can’t always, measure, objectively, whether someone is “faithfully following” tradition or not – it depends on individual and subjective assessments. What texts and commentaries are “authoritative”? (Let’s agree that the Shulchan Aruch is and the Quran isn’t. OK, but the real issues come up in between, and there are legitimate debates as to just how much weight different authorities carry!) What does this “shift from side to side but dare not drop” metaphor even mean?

    Is your point just that there are limits, somewhere, to the outcome that any halachic decisor can reach on a given question? Once we understand that these limits depend in large part on the decisor’s own subjective understanding of his own authority where does that leave your claim that there is some external control?

  26. Eskimo – “>I wonder whether there is a correlation between people who agree with the post (i.e. reject the Blu Greenberg “halakhic will / way” attitude) and people who have spent a significant amount of time learning shu”tim or high-level lomdus

    S. – You know, some people learn a lot shu”T and conclude that the rabbis make up halacha – very earnestly, and generally unaware that they’re doing it. The only conclusion to draw from shu”T is not that it is very much like chemistry. The other conclusion is that it is very much like alchemy.'”

    It’s not necessarily that the rabbis “make up halacha” – certainly not in any pejorative sense. It is quite easy to read a lot of shu”t and conclude that halachah is not mechanical, and that the outcome that a posek reaches is ultimately determined by that posek, not by any external constrainin factors. sure, part of the posek’s own determination may be that he is constrained in certain ways, but that is still his determination. Which means that if the posek were different, or cared about different things, he might reach a different conclusion. (Certainly, collectively, the direction in which halacha moves over time seems influenced by what poskim, collectively, care about and don’t.) Is that “antinomian?”

  27. “Jerry: I believe you are saying that the various sectarians didn’t believe in hefker but had their own views of how to darshen, pasken, etc. I think the Maharatz Chajes actually says that explicitly in one of his books. I don’t think it changes anything regarding this post. They thought the Pharisees were very quick to manipulate halakhah.”

    I believe he does make a point along those lines.

    I think it changes the post in a subtle yet important way. First, it wasn’t like there was a [single] “halakhic process” and the sectarian groups simply weren’t clued in. Moreover, and more importantly, what bothered sectarians doesn’t seem to be Pharisaic leniencies per se; rather, they flat out denied that the Pharisees understood ANYTHING AT ALL about interpreting Jewish Law – either in a strict manner or lenient manner.

    Thus, the sectarians weren’t criticizing the “halakhic will/halakhic way” method that they were supposed to have perceived among the Pharisees. That was not a sectarian concern. It’s a Gil Student concern (and I’m a bit suspicious of any reading of such a complex period in Jewish history that oh-so-conveniently happens to match perfectly one’s own ideas about just exactly how Judaism should function today). Rather, the various sectarians/philosophies (and early Christians, by the by!) were concerned more basically with the fact that – from the sectarian perspective – the Pharisees believed they knew how to interpret the law, when, in fact, they had no idea what they were doing.

  28. Raphael Kaufman

    With regard to the Tsedukim, I think that their beef with the Perushim (Rabbinic Judaism) wasn’t about whether or not there was a Mesorah, but who were the bearers of that Mesorah. The Tsedukim were based in the Beis Hamqdash and were lead by Cohanim. Their position was that the Cohanim were the bearers of the Mesorah and the G-d ordained interpreters thereof, and they had several pesukim in Devorim to back them up.

  29. Raphael:

    Actually, in all our direct evidence for the Sadducees, there is nothing to link them to priests. In fact, Josephus indicates a link between control over Temple ritual and the Pharisees.

    You are correct that the Sadducees do not seem to have rejected the Pharisaic (or early rabbinic; that is a question for another time) exegetical methods. They simply had their own. Take a look at Jeffrey Rubenstein’s study dealing squarely with this issue in the Jewish Quarterly Review 84.4 (1994).

    I should also add the following: a great deal of recent scholarship has proven conclusively (at least in my opinion) that the “min” in rabbinic literature does not refer to any particular group possessing a recognizable self-definition. It’s more a buzzword for various people whose views Chazal found unacceptable. I’ve long suspected that the same is true of “Sadducee” (although I haven’t seen anyone write about this – I would appreciate if anyone who has would let me know). In Jewish (and sometimes Christian literature), the character of the “Sadducee” is not at all consistent, which leads me to believe that while a group called “Sadducees” certainly existed as a well-defined group, the term came to be used simply as a broad term for generally objectionable folks.

  30. lawrence kaplan

    jerry: Take a look at Aharon Shemsh’s recent book on the Origins of Halakhah. (I don’t remember the exact title.)

  31. >In Jewish (and sometimes Christian literature), the character of the “Sadducee” is not at all consistent, which leads me to believe that while a group called “Sadducees” certainly existed as a well-defined group, the term came to be used simply as a broad term for generally objectionable folks.

    Forgive me if you’ve already taken this into account, but all this is meaningless if you’re using censored texts. I heard a rav give the same derasha twice, about a “Tzeduki” who spoke to a rabbi using language referring to “you people” (ie, Jews). Concluded the rabbi, apikorsim are so terrible that they actually exclude themselves from Klal Yisroel. Of course, the text didn’t really say Tzeduki. A Sadducee wouldn’t see himself as not Jewish.

  32. Dr. Kaplan: Is that Halakhah in the Making (I think that came out something like two or three years ago)? If I’m not mistaken, the argument he makes there, vis-a-vis Sadducees, is that the practice of associating the genres of midrash and halacha originated in Sadducean priestly circles. The purpose of this initially Sadducean notion was to justify traditional practices on Biblical grounds.

    Aharon Shemesh is an excellent scholar, so I’ll leave an evaluation of his arguments to gedolim v’tovim mimeni.

  33. “Forgive me if you’ve already taken this into account, but all this is meaningless if you’re using censored texts.”

    Good point. With regard to the Christian references, I don’t know who would be censoring them (or why).

    With regard to Jewish texts, (assuming the text was composed at a time when there were censors, or at least can be demonstrated to have subsequently been subject to censors), why would the censors care what non-Sadducean Jews thought about Sadducees?

    If you mean to say that a given “Sadducee” reference might have really been to Christians, all I can say is that I’m not familiar with many references to Sadducees that can plausibly (let alone are more likely to) apply to Christians (although scholars have shown the tremendous variety present in late antique Christian and Jewish culture, so who knows?).

  34. “Hillel: In the latest issue of Jewish Action, which I saw is back from the printers and in the process of being mailed out (I don’t have a copy yet),”

    Gil_ I don’t work for the OU and I received my copy in the mail a copy of days ago. I read the piece by RHS first.

    “R. Hershel Schachter has an article in which he points out that rabbis have to follow what they were taught. Each rabbi may have his own interests and approaches, but he is bound to the teachings he learned from his mentors — their attitudes, approaches, etc. R. Schachter feels obligated to do what he believes R. Soloveitchik would want him to do.”
    Certainly RHS approach to Religious Zionism is not the same as the Ravs. The Rav is much closer to that of Rav Y. Kametsky for example than he is to that of RHS-not just RHS-but I would place RHS and RHReichman as roughly similar much more aggressive in Zionistic approach than the Rav was. Both RHS and RHR were loyal to the Rav=but every individual is different. BTW RCS is certainly different in approach to his father the Rav.

    And others certainly feel bound to work within the teachings they were intellectually raised. There doesn’t need to be agreement on rules and traditions. Each rabbi has to follow the rules and traditions he was taught.

  35. Re myself and Agudah I gave them money for many years-but I never joined them. They once sent a letter out -you give us more than enough money for membership why not join. I declined-not because I didn’t believe that they did good activities I would give them some money-butI despisedthe attitude thatthey were THE representatives of Orthodoxy. IMHO that attitude was not as great after R Sherer passed away under its new leadership.

  36. “As much as I disagree with many of RYBS’ innovations, I think he earnestly thought Reb Chaim would have agreed with him on the practical issues of his day.”
    I disagree-other than of course both were committed to yahadus and spreading of Torah.

  37. . “R. Schachter feels obligated to do what he believes R. Soloveitchik would want him to do.”

    Obviously, attitude to Jerusalem is different-the Rav stated he would return the kotel to save one Jewish life. We all know RHS comments about that possibility see eg RHS’ss speech to students at Yeshivat Hakotel.

  38. jerry – weren’t the pharisses the priests (usually) and the the saducees the aristocracy? is chazal – early rabbinic juadism – an inheritor of the pharisses – or is that an assumption that many have but lacking real evidence? it seems that the chain of chazal’s mesorah included known pharisses but did chazal view themselves as pharisses? or did pharisses as a political and social sect just disappear?

    thanks in advance for the info

  39. Ruvie,
    Listen here:
    http://www.rayimahuvim.org/lectures/Fall_10/Sadducees.mp3

    Following the Hasmonean victory in 164 BCE, the members of the Hasmonean family assumed the kingship and high priesthood in Jerusalem. They allied themselves with the Pharisees and the reigning priests, the Sadducees, were forced to battle for their position of leadership. This lecture will explore three halakhic disputes between the Sadducees and the Pharisees and analyze these disputes from a socio-religious context and in terms of their importance in the development of Jewish law. What role did the Sadducees and their halakhic interpretations have on the later rabbinic interpretation of the law?

    KT

  40. joel – tanks for rabbi mintz’s lecture.
    still wondering the similarities and difference (if any) between the pharisses and rabbinic judaism (chazal – post temple/mishnaic and later)… and why the mishnah doesn’t reference themselves as pharisses.

  41. after some research:
    we have only one document written by a pharisee – paul’s letters
    we know rabban gamliel was a pharisee – otherwise they are annonymous.
    we really do not know much about the pharisees (except of certain disagreements that are recorded much later on). josephu/new testaments has some info.
    chazal did not call themselves pharissees…. and did not view themselves as sectarians
    there are some mishnaic material that may be pharissiac – misnah yadiam for example attribute things to the pharisees but there is no way to differentiate general material from pharisaic material.

  42. Ruvie,

    All of the above is accurate. The only thing I would note is that we do know of one more Pharisee who is also called a rabbi in rabbinic literature: R. Shimon b. Gamliel (in Josephus: Simeon the son of Gamaliel).

    I think the most prudent reading of situation is that “Pharisee” and “Rabbi” are exclusive categories that overlapped in the case of certain individuals or families. The House of R. Gamliel seems to have been Pharisaic (at least at one point).

    It is clear that by the time of the redaction of Maseches Avos (recent scholarship seems to be tending towards the traditional view that it is indeed a Tannaitic work of the early to mid 3rd century; a recent dissertation has forcefully argued that a[n incomplete] version of Avos must have been edited either by Rebbe or his son and successor) the House of Gamliel viewed itself as part of a long tradition of Jewish political-scholarly leaders descended from Hillel. There are some relatively early rabbinic sources that connect Hillel and R. Gamliel genetically, and whether or not this was true (and if so, in what manner), it is possible that this was conventional wisdom (at least within rabbinic circles, and possibly outside) by the 3rd century.

    What this tells us about Pharisees and Chazal is unclear, but certainly it must tell us something!…

    [Parenthetically, there are some Christian documents, albeit from a slightly later period that refer to Pharisees; there is one series of Christian texts from the 4th century that actually refer to then in a relatively positive light!].

  43. jerry – its nice to see someone with knowledge in this area – you also reference j. rubenstein (its nice to know that others read some of the same literature). when i referred to rabban gamliel – i meant r. shimon b. gemliel – thanks for the correction.

    then i reread the last paragraph of gil’s piece and realized that it makes no sense at all – the internal logic is wrong based on the facts we know. your assessment is right on: people project what they want to believe – even into history regardless of the facts or lack thereof.

    also, one last tidbit i find perplexing. the pharisees was a decent size sect living in and around jerusalem (is it approx 10,000?) yet the sages and followers post destruction- or more accurately in mishnaic times numbered very few. what do we know on size of early rabbinic jews? it was only later in late talmudic times that there institutions and offices that they controlled.

  44. Ruvie,

    If it was a mistake, it was certainly fortuitous! R. Gamliel is also mentioned in contemporary sources (i.e. the New Testament). In fact, a whole slew of traditions eventually sprang up among some Christians in antiquity venerating R. Gamliel in various ways.

    I don’t think we really know anything about the population numbers of various groups at this time (which is an important point in and of itself!).

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