Murder on Yom Kippur

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In a few days it will be Yom Kippur and Shabbos on the same day, a special combination of holiness. This unique blending of the holiest days of Judaism provides an opportunity for… murder. What?

The Gemara in Pesachim (49b) quotes R. Eliezer as saying that one may stab an ignoramus (am ha-aretz) on Yom Kippur that falls out on Shabbos. So, ignorami, watch out this weekend!

When R. Chaim Volozhiner was collecting funds to start his groundbreaking yeshiva in Volozhin, people asked him why there was any need for a yeshiva when students can study the Talmud on their own in local synagogues. R. Chaim cited the above passage as to why students need an experienced teacher. If one just read the text, one would actually think that it is permissible to kill ignorami. However, a teacher will be able to tell you that this is a mistaken understanding of the Gemara.

Rav Sherira Gaon and the Rif explain this statement to be referring to someone attempting to rape a woman (or man). He may be killed in order to stop his attack. Why an ignoramus and why specifically on Yom Kippur that falls out on Shabbos? Shouldn’t any attempted rapist on any day of the year be stopped at all costs?

Based on the Meiri and the Sefas Emes, I suggest that we are speaking of someone who has not yet attacked but is talking and acting like he is going to attack. Normally, one may not kill someone who is only threatening because frequently threats are merely empty words. However, an ignoramus who is willing to make such threats on Yom Kippur that falls out on Shabbos is clearly someone who has crossed all lines and poses a very serious threat.

(Adapted from an old post)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor 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 currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four 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.

68 comments

  1. Rav Sherira Gaon and the Rif explanation may suffer from the question you raise as to how it distinguishes this day from others. However, I do not understand how the answer you attribute to the Meiri and the Sfas Emes satisfies you.

  2. the plural form of “ignoramus” is “ignoramuses,” not “ignorami.”

  3. FYI the following from

    http://grammar.about.com/b/2007/08/10/more-than-one-ignoramus.htm

    I’ve been asked to confirm that the correct plural form of “ignoramus” is “ignorami.”

    Sorry, but no. As with most singular nouns ending in -s, the plural of “ignoramus” is formed by adding -es. So when one ignoramus hooks up with another, you have a couple of ignoramuses.

    True, “ignoramus” is a Latin loan word, but it’s derived from a verb (“ignorare”)–unlike, say, “stimulus,” which comes from a noun and is one of the few Latin borrowings to retain the plural ending of -i.

    In Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2003), Bryan Garner traces the history of “ignoramus”:

    Until 1934 in England, if a grand jury considered the evidence of an alleged crime insufficient to prosecute, it would endorse the bill ignoramus, meaning literally “we do not know” or “we know nothing of this.” Long before, though, the word ignoramus had come to mean, by extension, “an ignorant person.” In 1615 George Ruggle wrote a play called Ignoramus, about a lawyer who knew nothing about the law; this fictional lawyer soon gave his name to all manner of know-nothings, whether lawyers or nonlawyers.
    For the record, in the original Latin version of the comedy Ignoramus, George Ruggle did use “ignorami” as a plural noun. But in his 1660 translation, Fernando Parkhurst provided the conventional English plural:

    Hush, hush, peace, peace, keep the peace with your hands. You laugh and clappe, but what shall become of your poore Ignoramus? For unless I take out a writ of non molestando, my brother Ignoramuses will trubble mee with noe mercy.
    (Epilogue of Ignoramus, by George Ruggle, 1615; translated by Fernando Parkhurst, 1660)

  4. Carlos beat me to it: “ignoramus” was originally a Latin verb (1st person present indicative = “we do not know”), and not a noun. The plural, therefore, should be built in accordance with English and not Latin rules.

    Secondly, what makes you think that “עם הארץ” in Pesachim is a reference to ignorant people specifically? Throughout the Mishna,עם הארץ are merely those Jews who are lax with tithing and purity law. Rather than see that as a result of stupidity, it makes much more sense to suppose that they were simply non-rabbinic Jews altogether.

    Thirdly, Rabbi Eliezer is saying that one can stab an עם הארץ even on a Shabbat that falls on Yom Kippur. I’m sure that you’re aware of this, but your choice of words makes it look as though he’s specifically recommending it for that particular day!

    One way or another, the animosity present in this one sugya is most surprising, and it’s to be expected that subsequent generations should have gone to such extremes in attempting to mitigate it. Your interpretation of the passage, based on other sources, is clever but simply untrue. The only way that Rabbi Eliezer’s suggestion makes any sense is when it is in context, and it falls in the context of a number of unremittingly harsh observations about these people.

  5. I’m also surprised you didn’t refer to the Maharal’s explanation in Beer ha-Golah.

  6. Daniel Sayani

    The way I see this sugya is as follows. Tosfos says that one is allowed to kill by nechirah an am haaretz who is a known rotzeach; because it is a matter of Pikuach Nefesh, one is permitted to kill the murderer even though he is presently not involved in an act of retzicha. The Ran and Rabbeinu Dovid quote the Rif and Sherira Gaon, both of whom say that if the am haaretz is rodef achar ha’ervah, you can kill him with a misah menuveles, ie. nechirah. The question is why not anyone who is a rodef- why is only the am haaretz cited as a rapist? Only an am haaretz is considered ignorant enough to do such a thing, ie. to pursue a woman forbidden to him and to do such a thing in public. As an Am ha’Aretz, he is so ignorant that he does not even know how to sin in an effective manner. The Rishonim seem to say that if one has any sechel, he’ll at least do it the right way, in a manner so he doesn’t get caught!

  7. I prefer to be ignorant of the plural of ignoramus.

    Chanokh: What does the Maharal say? He isn’t really part of the canon I learned at YU. I seem to recall Rav Schachter once saying that Rav Soloveitchik never, or almost never, quoted Maharal.

  8. It clearly doesn’t mean this (nice drasha though!). But it also clearly isn’t meant literally. It’s just Bavli hyperbole against the am ha’aretz. Jeff Rubenstein has a great chapter about this in Culture of the Babylonian Talmud.

  9. “He isn’t really part of the canon”

    Why? Because Rav Soloveitchik said so? It’s not as if HE’S part of the “canon” (as much as we might wish otherwise).

  10. Jerry: It clearly doesn’t mean this… Jeff Rubenstein has a great chapter about this in Culture of the Babylonian Talmud.

    I think that makes a good case for why I am so hesitant about (some) academic study of the Talmud. It neglects our commentarial mesorah, which is precisely what R. Chaim Volozhiner warned against.

    Why? Because Rav Soloveitchik said so?

    Because my teachers never (rarely?) used him and I follow my personal tradition. You can’t use everybody. Personally, I don’t find the Maharal compelling because he is so symbolic. While anyone that brilliant says many interesting things and interpretations, I generally get little out of his sefarim so I tend to stay away.

  11. He says that Chazal are speaking about an am ha-aretz gamur whom we know with certainty that he will never ever be a ben Torah. Since truly human life is defined by clinging to Hashem through Torah, the life of an absolute am ha-aretz has no more value than that of a fish – even less than a behema, which is at least to’en shechita, whereas here it is muttar lekor’o ke-dag, any time, even if he is not a rodef. But of course such an absolute am ha-aretz does not exist, because everyone has the potential to eventually live up to his full human potential, so of course you cannot kill anyone. But the am ha-aretz aspect of anyone is still to be considered at the bottom of the scale of values, and is indeed to’en nechira.
    So the Maharal doesn’t read this as an allegory or hyperbole as much as he makes a chakira regarding am ha-aretz/ben Torah be-koach and be-poal.
    It’s really a shame that the Maharal is not studied more. While some aspects of his thought might seem outdated (like alchemical symbolism), he provides an alternative model of rational (if not rationalist) thought that could brigde many gaps in hashkafa. The Beer ha-Golah was written against the rationalistic attacks on aggadot by R. Menahem Azaria de Rossi’s Meor Einayim and consist of intelligent readings of the most “shocking” of Chazal’s statements about akumim, am ha-aretz, Hashem praying, etc. Truly a must-read.

  12. r’ gil – “I think that makes a good case for why I am so hesitant about (some) academic study of the Talmud. It neglects our commentarial mesorah, …

    why? a drash is a drash. understanding who and what amei haaretz were and comparing all different references in the talmuds to different times(when they were written) enhances our understanding of term and its evolution. what is wrong with that? rubinstein does a nice job.

    “which is precisely what R. Chaim Volozhiner warned against.” really – was he anti knowledge? what is our mesorah on the term am haaretz besides today’s vernacular for unschooled or not learned.

  13. ruvie: I’m not sure what is being called a derash. R. Sherira Gaon’s and the Rif’s explanation of the Gemara? I don’t think it’s a derash. It’s an ukimta.

    No one’s anti-knowledge. We just include traditional explanations as part of that knowledge.

  14. Ironically, Rav Soloveitchik peers over the glowing bio of the Maharal at: http://www.ou.org/pardes/bios/maharal.htm

  15. Rafael Araujo

    “The Rishonim seem to say that if one has any sechel, he’ll at least do it the right way, in a manner so he doesn’t get caught!”

    Daniel, good points. Based on what you wrote, maybe peshat (yes peshat, not academic talmud) is that this took place bedavka on Shabbos Yom Kippur (or is it Yom Kippur-Shabbos) when men are davening the entire day, engaged in total avodas Hashem, and so the rapist am haoretz has the chance to take advantage and find an unsuspecting victim. Efsher?

  16. “Because my teachers never (rarely?) used him and I follow my personal tradition. You can’t use everybody. Personally, I don’t find the Maharal compelling because he is so symbolic. While anyone that brilliant says many interesting things and interpretations, I generally get little out of his sefarim so I tend to stay away.”

    Sounds like your second reason is the actual reason.

  17. The exchange this morning seems to touch on another meta-issue that is often debated here in indirect ways.

    Why are the (radical, modern) innovations of Brisker learning any more traditional than the (radical, modern) innovations of Academic Talmud.

    The denial of value in the latter; with the insistence of the one and true mesora in the former is, to me, a dubious proposition that itself borders on am ha’artzut.

  18. Because Brisker learning is not an innovation, despite the claims of many here. It is the mahalach, in essences, of the Baalei Tosafos and many other Rishonim. Briskers, and traditinal commentators, did not come up with the approches advocated by Simon and Jerry above.

  19. r’ gil – ” I’m not sure what is being called a derash” – r’ chaim. btw, do we pasken anything from this gemera?

    ” We just include traditional explanations as part of that knowledge.” – nobody is saying not to. it seems you want to ignore scholarship in understanding the original meaning of the gemera – its a tool to understanding gemera in its context. and not for determining halacha – different methodology and system.

  20. rafael – please read orthodox forum: the conceptual approach to jewish learning. see articles: what hath brisk wrought: the brisker derech revisited by m. lichtenstein and from reb hayyim and the rav to shi’urei ha-rav aharon lichtenstein -the evolution of a tradition of learning by e. krumbein.

    one can say their approach is rooted in chazal by it was a novel application and change the way we learn gemera for the last couple of hundred of years. tosafists’ approach was also revolutionary for its time.

  21. IH – yes, because its on wikipedia, it must be correct and definitive!

    ruvie – you are incorrect. The Rishonim do not only learn the gemara aliba dehilchasah. They try to understand its meaning. I would point out that “original meaning” is the problem, since that cannot be determined in one way. In other words, there is no definitive, original meaning – hence, you get a machlokes rishonim.

    With respect to Tosafos being revolutionary: I disagree. While they followed the norm of running commentaries, like Rashi, in Rashi you can find places where he engages in “Tosafist” style analysis. I believe Shas Cohen, in his book on Talmudic learning and becoming a baki b’Shas, discusses this.

  22. Rafael — I was serious in suggesting you edit it so that it is correct. If your view becomes the consensus, so be it.

    FWIW, in my experience the Wikipedia articles on Jewish topics are of very high quality, so i would not be so quick to deride it.

  23. I appreciate the Brisker Derech, but with contemporary Brisk, I see the mystique and elitism as outweighing the actual learning in terms of popular associations. The fact that R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveichik and R’ Tzvi Kaplan shiurim are not generally recorded and made available is one reason, for starters. Maybe Rafael could suggest places where lomdishe shiurim can be obtained.

  24. Rafael – I apologize for my imprecision. Of course the rishonim try to understand the meaning of the text. Today we have the advantages (or disadvantages) of methodologies and historical context that they did not. Why not use them to enhance our knowledge of the text especially aggadot ( see r’ ellman’s, shai seccunda as well as others on persian context for example).

  25. Btw, that applies to a married woman, and when there’s no other way of stopping him. Otherwise, I don’t think you can just kill the rapist.

  26. Rafael Araujo

    Daniel – A good application of the Brisker derech today are the seforim of R’ Yitzchok Sorotzkin, a talmid of R’ Dovid Soloveitchik. In his seforim, you can see how this method can be used to explain a number of different issues and problems. Further, I would recommend Rabbi Mellor’s Shai LaTorah set of seforim, which provide Torah from R’ Dovid Soloveitchik and from R’ Meir Soloveitchik, sons of the Brisker Rov.

    As for the recording of the seforim, the derech has always been in Brisk that others record and transcribe the chiddushim. I am sure there are a number of talmidim out there how write down the shiurim for chazarah purposes.

  27. LongTimeReader

    Is nida an erva? Seems to be a machlokes between Rambam and Rashi. According to Rambam, it is, so almost all rapes BZH”Z would be matzilin oso b’nafsho.

  28. Rafel Arujo

    >Because Brisker learning is not an innovation, despite the claims of many here. It is the mahalach, in essences, of the Baalei Tosafos and many other Rishonim. Briskers, and traditinal commentators, did not come up with the approches advocated by Simon and Jerry above.

    Maybe not systematically, but you can find many historical-critical comments, suggestions based on or regarding realia, language and so forth in most of the classic commentators, rishonim and many acharonim as well.

    It is true that Brisker approach is not as innovative as some say it is, but it is also true that it was seen as innovative and, evidently, not as the approach of the Baalei haTosafos by its many detractors, geonim among them, over 100 years ago.

  29. FWIW, in my experience the Wikipedia articles on Jewish topics are of very high quality, so i would not be so quick to deride it.

    Thank you. (I wrote almost all the “Theory” section of that article.)
    🙂

    with contemporary Brisk, I see the mystique and elitism as outweighing the actual learning in terms of popular associations. The fact that R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveichik and R’ Tzvi Kaplan shiurim are not generally recorded and made available is one reason, for starters. Maybe Rafael could suggest places where lomdishe shiurim can be obtained.

    Perhaps try the YUTorah and Gush web sites?

  30. Rafael Araujo

    “Maybe not systematically, but you can find many historical-critical comments, suggestions based on or regarding realia, language and so forth in most of the classic commentators, rishonim and many acharonim as well.”

    Correct. However, the issue IS that it has become systematic. Also, the historical-academic approach really closes off other approaches, since it casts more traditional attempts at arriving at “peshat” on a piece of Talmud as “cute”, “innovative”, but does not reflect the original and true intent of the author(s). Whereas, the traditional approach allows multiple viewpoints and readings of a text, which may categorized as ahistorical, but accept that there is not one way to read the text and that each approach, at least in peshat, may reflect a proper reading of the text and the intention of the author. Of course, this debate is nothing new.

    As for Brisker derech re: controversy when it “developed” many years ago, I would agree that it is not the same as the approach of the Baalei Tosafos. However, it functions in the same way, in that it identifies a tension in statements/halochoh/concepts and comes with a sevoroh, many times using the RAMBAM, but at times based on the text itself, to conceptually develop an answer that will show that there is no tension or discrepancy.

  31. A Little Sanity

    Cf. Brachos 47b for various opinions of “eyzehu am haaretz”, and Tosfos ” Amar R. Huna halacha c’acheirim” ad. loc.

    It seems to me that this issue exemplifies and corresponds to a persistent dichotomy in shas, and in Judaism itself:

    1. Extreme statements or views enunciated in the beis medresh vs. positions or views that could be realistically applied in the “real world”.

    2. A disdainful view of the unlearned vs. a more sympathetic appraisal(“A gem in the mouths of the Rabbis of Yavneh: I am God’s creature and my fellow is God’s creature. My work is in the city and their work is in the field. I rise early for my work and they rise early for their work. Just as they do not presume to do my work, so I do not presume to do their work. Will you say, I do (learn) much and they do (learn) little? We have a tradition: One may do much or one may do little; it is all the same, provided one directs one’s heart to heaven.”Brachos 17a)

    3. Misnagdim vs. Chasidim (at least up to the 20th century).

    4. Piskei din by Roshei Yeshivot cloistered in the Beis Medresh vs. Piskei din by pulpit Rabbis who are sensitive to the realities of life.

    One can use all sorts of casuistry and pilpul, Brisker or not, to try and reconcile the dichotomy, but an objective observer will not fail to notice.

  32. Also, the historical-academic approach really closes off other approaches, since it casts more traditional attempts at arriving at “peshat” on a piece of Talmud as “cute”, “innovative”, but does not reflect the original and true intent of the author(s).

    In many cases it does not close off other approaches, if you recognize that halacha lemaaseh is derived from the rishonim and achronim, not from “peshat” in the piece of Talmud.

  33. Lawrence Kaplan

    I think the statement was intended to be taken with several grains of salt. I believe Steve Wald discusses this in his commntary on eilu ovrin, my copy of which, alas, is back in Montreal, while I am in NY. (Perhaps the NYU library has a copy.) Gemar tov to everyone.

  34. I side with R Gil re his views of why Maharal isn’t part of the YU canon. For those interested in Maharal, see R C Eisen’s excellent article in Hakirah-if you want to see how Maharal’s seemingly radical views on Aggados and Midrashim influenced subsequent generations, but really are contrary to how Rishonim and other Mfarshim like Meshech Chachmah and Netziv use and reject Aggados and Midrashim, R Eisen’s article is must reading.

  35. Lawrence Kaplan

    Re Shlomos’ comment: Rabbi Bimnyamin Walfish once told me that when he was studying for Semichah at RIETS, he was also taking a course with Prof. Avraham Weiss in Revel. They were studying some sugya in Berakhot dealing with a particular blessing. Prof. Weiss argued that the meaning of the memra was different than that atrributed to it by the stam and therefore consequently by the rishonim, or something to that effect. The troubled students asked: “So what should we do halakhah le-maaseh?” Prof. Weiss replied: “Follow the Shulhan Arukh.”

  36. Hirhurim: “I think that makes a good case for why I am so hesitant about (some) academic study of the Talmud. It neglects our commentarial mesorah, which is precisely what R. Chaim Volozhiner warned against.”

    No idea what this means. No one’s forcing you to read anything you don’t want to.

    Regardless, R. Chaim’s drasha is not what this gemara means. That doesn’t mean it’s not a lovely drasha.

    Hirhurim: “Because my teachers never (rarely?) used him and I follow my personal tradition.”

    And this is how you define “THE canon”?

  37. Oh, is that your objection? You underemphasized the rest of the phrase: “the canon I learned at YU” I did not intend to say that he is outside of THE canon of talmudic commentaries.

  38. Steve: “I side with R Gil re his views of why Maharal isn’t part of the YU canon.”

    The YU canon? Fascinating. What else is in the “YU canon”? And which people have been appointed as “canonizers”?

  39. Yes. It sounded to me as, ‘THE canon…such as you were taught about it at YU.” Poor phrasing. Even the way you meant it, “canon” is a poor choice of words, especially since there’s no such thing as a “YU canon.”

    But with regard to your actual point, i.e. that your rebbeim [almost] never taught Maharal: Very interesting to hear that perspective.

  40. Jerry-WADR, I was echoing R Gil’s thoughts, and I really did not anticipate such a response to my comment other than that Maharal was not considered as part of the derech among our RY , especially RYBS and his talmidim.

  41. Rafael Araujo

    “But with regard to your actual point, i.e. that your rebbeim [almost] never taught Maharal: Very interesting to hear that perspective”

    Yes, it is. Compare that with R’ Moshe Shapiro’s approach and that of his talmidim, which builds upon the Maharal’s derech.

  42. Rafael Araujo

    “Regardless, R. Chaim’s drasha is not what this gemara means.”

    See what I mean?

  43. Steve, as a matter of fact I do NOT think that that was all the respect I was due… (sorry, couldn’t help myself!).

    I know that’s what you meant. Normally I wouldn’t point it out, but “Canon” is an extremely powerful idea and it’s become more and more common around here for you (and Gil) to use this sort of strong and definitive terminology in inappropriate ways. I figured I’d nip this one in the bud.

  44. “See what I mean?”

    No.

  45. Gil: It is referring to the rape of an eishes ish, not of an unmarried, correct?

  46. Jerry-Thanks, in all seriousness. I realize that in Israel, both in the Charedi and RZ worlds, Maharal is considered a major commentator on Aggados, Midrashim and Machshavah. Yet, aside from R Gil’s observations, R C Eisen’s article is much reading on how Maharal affected how Midrashim and Aggados were approached both by the classic Mfarshim and after the time of Maharal. IMO, although I can’t document it, R A Kotler ZL’s famous essay on how to study Tanach echoes much of Maharal’s approach to Aggados and Midrashim.

  47. Fotheringay-Phipps

    S: “It is true that Brisker approach is not as innovative as some say it is, but it is also true that it was seen as innovative and, evidently, not as the approach of the Baalei haTosafos by its many detractors, geonim among them, over 100 years ago.”

    You find a lot of Brisk-type sevoras in rishonim and early achronim, but they didn’t focus on this so heavily, and not so explicitly.

    There are a lot of approaches that are similar in this regard. The “lishitaso” approach is one of the most fundamental and widely used methods of historic Talmudic scholarship, and there’s no doubt whatsoever as to its legitimacy, but people who focus on this too heavily come in for some criticism as well.

  48. lawrence kaplan

    I also find it hard to get a handle on the Maharal. I almost always find Rav Hutner’s explications of the Maharal meaningful, but doubt that that is what the Maharal meant.

  49. FP (and others),

    I’m not sure why heavy focus on one particular methodology should deserve criticism. These are all just tools (many of which are found in Rishonim; some of which are not; all of which are employed by Rishonim (or not) to varying degrees) for accomplishing Talmud Torah. Briskers focus on their tools of choice, those who prefer mechkar focus on their tools of choice, and those who prefer something else focus on THEIR tools of choice. Nahara Nahara U’Fashtay.

  50. For those interested on what Maharal wrought, see the annexed link.
    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%204%20Eisen.pdf

  51. Rafael Arujo

    >Correct. However, the issue IS that it has become systematic. Also, the historical-academic approach really closes off other approaches, since it casts more traditional attempts at arriving at “peshat” on a piece of Talmud as “cute”, “innovative”, but does not reflect the original and true intent of the author(s). Whereas, the traditional approach allows multiple viewpoints and readings of a text, which may categorized as ahistorical, but accept that there is not one way to read the text and that each approach, at least in peshat, may reflect a proper reading of the text and the intention of the author. Of course, this debate is nothing new.

    Honestly, so what? I could see this being a concern if the academic approach was overwhelming and supplanting the traditional methods, but it is not. The academic methods are necessary for the practitioners of these methods, and good things come about from it. You could not have had, for example, an Aruch Hashalem if Kohut didn’t intensively focus on philology in a systematic and “scientific” way, and it’s a gem, and we’re lucky that he did. So why isn’t there room for academic practitioners to do their thing and we can all gain from it?

    As for the second point, in reality the chokrim who are not clowns absolutely take the rishonim and so on seriously. Come on. Read them.

  52. Rafael Arujo

    ““Regardless, R. Chaim’s drasha is not what this gemara means.”

    “See what I mean?

    I do. But in this case I believe that’s more of a pushback against denigration of academic methods in frum circle (that is, if they’re even aware of its existence). If people were more chilled out and lived and let live and didn’t bandy about accusations of apikorsus, then probably some people would feel less of a need to say things like that. Also, what’s wrong with being able to distinguish between a pshat and drush approach? I fully recognize that “pshat” usually means “a candidate for the actual meaning” rather than “the actual meaning,” but still we should be able to distinguish between the two kinds of approaches. Of course the Brisker approach is also capable of arriving at the pshat sometimes.

  53. Rafael,

    So your tolerance for other darchei ha’limmud is what is preventing you from liking the “academic” method?

  54. S. and Rafael,

    I’m not sure why you’re connecting my statement about R. Chaim’s drasha to academic Talmud. The fact is that it’s just a drasha rather than pshat in the gemara – academic talmud, or not. That doesn’t mean it’s not a beautiful drasha (as I’ve already said twice). I’m not sure what this has to do with academic Talmud.

  55. I didn’t connect it. I was responding to his statement that “the historical-academic approach really closes off other approaches, since it casts more traditional attempts at arriving at “peshat” on a piece of Talmud as “cute”, “innovative”, but does not reflect the original and true intent of the author(s).” Soon after, you said “Regardless, R. Chaim’s drasha is not what this gemara means.” To this Rafael said, “See what I mean?”

    To this you reply that it is a fact that R. Chaim’s explanation is drush. People more entrenched in the “traditional” Beis Midrash don’t tend to see the possibility of us judging the explanations of geonim as more or less plausible as the original intent. It is generally assumed that Reb Chaim would have a better grasp at penetrating the intent of Amoraim than you or I, so we just shouldn’t be saying stuff like that. Not to say that this is what Rafael in particular feels, but to broadly and sweepingly stereotype. I was just saying that the studious avoidance and opposition to a more historical method sometimes leads to push back, especially in these kinds of forums, and that could lead to a formulation considered offensive or false by people of the kind I described.

  56. rafael – “With respect to Tosafos being revolutionary: I disagree. While they followed the norm of running commentaries, like Rashi, in Rashi you can find places where he engages in “Tosafist” style analysis”

    the tosafot school created a radically new conception that saw the entire talmud, in fact, the whole of rabbinic literature, as a uniform corpus, each part of which necessarily agreeing with all other parts; there can be no contradiction in its concepts or among principles, arguments, and conclusions. this universality applies to the entire talmud, with few exceptions of a technical and editorial nature.”
    … to uphold it for the entire length of the talmud, however, is well nigh impossible, and Rashi CONSISTENTLY REFRAINED FROM DOING SO.”

    hardly a following of rashi and the gaonim.
    Rashi was concerned with molding an authoritative interpretation and unified conception of the talmudic sugyot from the abundance of possibilities and readings at his disposal. the tosafot wish to go beyond the limits., and surveyed as many reasonable alternatives as could be derived from the text of the sugya on logical or lingustic grounds, whether these have been weighed previously and rejected by rashi (or his predecessors) or whether they were their own creative innovations. to this end, the tosafists resorted to the same techniques as has been used by the amoraim themselves: ukimta, le-shitatayahu, etcand in particular the power of severa; thus they were, so to speak continuing – after a gap of several centuries – the ancient tradition of the amoraic study.”

    i would call the above analysis REVOLUTIONARY – but thats me. the above quotes are from israel ta-shma’ s essay: halakhah and reality – the tosafist experience.

  57. lawrence kaplan

    Ruvie and Rafael: The analysis of Ta-Shma seems to me to be an explication and expansion of the Intro to the Yam shel Shlomo regarding the contribution of the Tosafists the study of the Talmud. Prof. Haym Soloveitchik has made similar points as well.

    Re conceptual and critical methods, see the very fine article of David Flatto in Tradition, Winter 2010, on “Tradition and Modernity in the Beit Midrash.” There he presents a very nice example from his own research as to how lomdishe approaches and critical ones can fruitfully interact to illuminate key sugyot in Sanhedrin regarding the judicial system. At the same time, he raises possible tensions between the approaches.

  58. S.,

    I agree with what you’re saying. I suppose it’s Rafael, therefore, who should explain why his “see what I mean” retort applies to my initial comment. He seems to feel that my comment about the drasha represents a test case for his point about historical-critical methods. But my comment had nothing to do with historical-critical methods.

    One note: I honestly am quite surprised that my comment was taken as a criticism of R. Chaim. It was really a criticism of Gil. I think R. Chaim’s explanation is a really wonderful and meaningful drasha of the Gemara’s point. Maybe it’s that drush is just out of favor at the moment in yeshivas but that would be a shame.

  59. rafael – “Because Brisker learning is not an innovation, despite the claims of many here.” “However, it functions in the same way, in that it identifies a tension in statements/halochoh/concepts and comes with a sevoroh, many times using the RAMBAM, but at times based on the text itself, to conceptually develop an answer that will show that there is no tension or discrepancy.”

    your analysis is basically all jokes are similar because they all have punch lines. therefore, all gedolim from the gaonim on try to resolve hakirahs or any contradictions therefore all their approaches are similar and there was no innovations? maybe all literature (epic poems, sonnets, plays and novels) is similar because ….et al. Its not what they tried to do – it is HOW and to WHATextent they did it.

    you may argue how innovative the brisker approach was but not that it was not novel or innovative. many talmudic authorities spoke of an abstract world and try to to create definitions and distinctions to apply to all situations. the rav tosef rozin used the philosophical language of the rambam, rav reines borrowed from the science of physics, and reb chaim used halachik literature and concepts rooted in chazal – tzei dinim, cheftza gevra. the novel approach is that he used it to look at all halacha and gemara through that prism and elevated it to an abstract philosophical discussion without using alien (read goyish) terminology.

  60. Fotheringay-Phipps

    Jerry: “I’m not sure why heavy focus on one particular methodology should deserve criticism.”

    That’s not what I meant. It doesn’t automatically deserve criticism. But it might (or might not) in a given instance.

    Perhaps that wasn’t clear. What I’m saying is that there’s no inconsistency between an approach being a legitimate approach that has precendents in accepted earlier sources, and criticism of that approach.

    You could argue that proponents of that approach take it too far and/or force this type of approach in cases when another approach would be called for.

    That would be the position of critics of this approach. Proponents of the approach would maintain that they don’t do these things. But neither side would be claiming that the approach itself is a completely new and radical innovation. So this does not follow from the fact that there were some early critics of this approach.

    Such is the case in the example I gave of the “leshitaso” approach. Everyone agrees that there’s no getting away from the logic of this approach. But if you try to solve every Talmudic question by concocting far-fetched leshitasos, you will come in for some deserved criticism. (Whether that’s the case in a given instance will be subject to dispute, of course.)

    G’mar chasima tova to all – have a great year!

  61. Agreed. Gmar chasima tova!

  62. F-P

    >Perhaps that wasn’t clear. What I’m saying is that there’s no inconsistency between an approach being a legitimate approach that has precendents in accepted earlier sources, and criticism of that approach.

    Of course not, but probably you’ll admit that at least some people act is if academic Talmud is an entirely alien outgrowth.

    Gut yahr and gemar chasima tova to everyone!

  63. Rafael Araujo

    Just to clarify a couple of points:

    1) On this matter I believe that academic Talmud approach is not the correct approach, given its systematic approach to the study of Talmud. However, if its used as a tool in some circumstances, its fine.

    2) my comment “See what I mean” proves my point. Because Jerry has a historical approach to how to learn this piece of Talmud, every other attempt to interpret is classified as derash, even if the intention of the interpreter (R’ Chaim in this case) is to learn peshat and didn’t intend to present a “derash”. It really delegitimzes the peshat offered, if not academic-historical and treats such attempts as derash, nice but not connected to the text. Herein lies the problem.

    Anyway, on one thing I will agree: we all want to reach the emes, the truth behind the meaning of this shtikel! A gemar chasimah tovah and a gut gebenshed yohr!

  64. Daniel Sayani

    I do use YUTorah, VBM Torah, and have seen the seforim of R’Meller on parshas hashavua (Shai L’Torah). I just am interested in shiurim on areas such as Kodshim, Nozir, etc. that aren’t really learned at YU.

  65. “Because Jerry has a historical approach to how to learn this piece of Talmud”

    This is simply not true. I’m not sure why you think this.

    There are historians and academics who have formulated their own approaches to this memra (and others like it), and I am aware of those approaches. I am also aware of other approaches. I appreciate them all, as all are interesting and meaningful (at least that I’ve seen), even though one or another may be more convincing to me as a matter of pshat. It happens to be that this particular explanation is not convincing to me as an explanation of pshat. Again, I’m not sure what this has to do with academic Talmud.

  66. There are various statements in the talmud that go counter to our understanding of the world, or our adopted values. In such cases, there is a tendency to either take the statements non-literally or to limit them to a condition, however remote, where they might have validity. That is the conventional approach by people steeped in or enamored of tradition. An alternative approach is to suggest that the statements were rhetorical flourishes and not intended to be put into practice. It is a put-down in traditional circles to call the latter approach ‘academic scholarship’. It is, in fact, an approach which has a long history not confined to academic circles. For example Tosafot is not averse to calling an ostensibly biblical derasha in the gemara, an ‘asmachta be’alma’ (a mere mnemonic device).

    Here, too, a reading of the context of T.B. Pesachim 49b shows various examples of rather extreme statements, besides the one cited in the post, regarding ‘amei haaretz’. For example, calling them ‘sheketz’, their wives, ‘sheretz’, and their daughters ‘beheima’. Another statement is that an ‘am ha’aretz’ is forbidden to eat meat or fowl. A third example is the statement that it is permitted to tear apart an ‘am ha’aretz’ like a fish. Those who wish to rationalize the statement about stabbing an ‘am ha’aretz’ on Yom Kippur that falls on Shabbat will have to invent similar scenarios for the other statements in the gemara. My own predilection is to concur with Jerry, that these are rhetorical flourishes that attest only to the deep division between the sages and many of the common folk. If this approach carries the danger that one may be lead to treating the words of the sages non-seriously, then the alternate approach runs the danger of creating new ostensible halachot that are based on mere conjecture. Does anyone really believe that it is permissible to kill an ostensible ‘am ha’aretz’ for making threats on someone’s life on a Yom Kippur that falls on Shabbat?

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