Monthly Archives: September 2014

If Not Now, When? The Meiri on Rosh Hashana

As Rosh Hashana approaches, I have been thinking about what it means from many different angles.  Rabbi Wieder in a shiur (here) focused on what I have always found to be a fascinating Meiri.  Playing on the dispute in the Gemara  (Rosh Hashana 16a) whether man is judged  hourly, daily or on Rosh Hashana, he claims that really man is judged every day, or at least has the ability to change his situation every day (it is unclear whether he is ruling like R. Yosi who says we are judged every day, or assuming that according to the final position in the Gemara everyone agrees to this fact at some level).  If so, why is Rosh Hashana so important?   Continue reading If Not Now, When? The Meiri on Rosh Hashana


Rav Asher Weiss on Hefsed

In the past (here and here) we have discussed the role of monetary loss in psak.  We noted that there were many poskim who claimed that this category is defined highly formally, such as those who claim that the loss has to be in one item.   We noted there that the underlying principle sometimes motivates the insitution of certain laws and in other cases is a factor in psak, a justification to rely on kulot (or not be machmir on chumrot as the case may be).

In the second volume of Shut Minchat Asher #50, which I am now going through, he notes that even within the context of hefsed as a factor in psak, there are two kinds of usages.  Sometimes, Chazal institituted that in certain circumstances laws are limited to cases where there is no significant monetary loss.  In these cases, it makes sense to apply formal rules.  He assumes that this is how the phrase is used when used by Chazal.  However, when poskim use the phrase, they are using it more colloquially, using to explain the impetus for them searching for and relying on positions they might have not normally relied on.   Continue reading Rav Asher Weiss on Hefsed

The Torah was Not Given to the Ministering Angels

The Gemara in several places justifies a Halacha with the phrase lo nitnah Torah lemalachei hasharet ­­– the Torah was not given to the ministering angels.  I explored the parameters of this principle in a shiur available: here. (For those who followed this year, this is related to last year’s series on Psak – this year’s series with begin after chagim.)  Christine Hayes discusses this topic (here), and I mention several points from that presentation.

Before we get to the actual legal application of this principle, it is important to note that Chazal have a backstory to this.  The famous Midrash (found in many places in Chazal in different forms, I focused on the one in Shabbat 88b-89a) tells about the argument between God and the angels when God decided to give the Torah to man.  They claimed that man did not deserve this jewel that had remained in heaven for so long.   God commands Moshe to respond to them.  He shows them the Torah is made for human beings – people with desires that need to be controlled, parents that must be honored, with a history that must be remembered (Miztrayim), and so on.  The angels give in and shower Moshe with gifts.  Hayes notes that this notion – that human beings were an ideal of sort, that they had advantages over angels, but uniquely rabbinic.  Continue reading The Torah was Not Given to the Ministering Angels

Should we Stand while Learning Torah?

Should we stand while learning Torah?  The Gemara in Megillah 21a says that people used to always stand while learning (as learning is fundamentally similar to Matan Torah itself).  However, after Rabban Gamliel died, people became weak and stopped.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף כא עמוד א

 תנו רבנן: מימות משה ועד רבן גמליאל לא היו למדין תורה אלא מעומד, משמת רבן גמליאל ירד חולי לעולם והיו למדין תורה מיושב. והיינו דתנן: משמת רבן גמליאל בטל כבוד תורה. כתוב אחד אומר ואשב בהר, וכתוב אחד אומר ואנכי עמדתי בהר! – אמר רב: עומד ולומד, יושב ושונה. רבי חנינא אמר: לא עומד ולא יושב אלא שוחה. רבי יוחנן אמר: אין ישיבה אלא לשון עכבה, שנאמר ותשבו בקדש ימים רבים. רבא אמר: רכות מעומד, וקשות מיושב.

Does this have any implication nowadays?  Continue reading Should we Stand while Learning Torah?

Can There Be a Machloket About Reality?

Briskers are very adamant that there cannot be a machloket bemetziut, a dispute about realia in the Gemara (or for that matter Rishonim). After all – they should have just checked and resolved the dispute! However, it has always seemed to me that this is unlikely. Real people, lay people, jurists, poskim, secular judges, all dispute reality and that effects how they live or establish law. Why should Chazal be different?

The main sugya that usually indicate that there can be a dispute about reality is found in several places(ex. Pesachim 22a):yesh begiddin binoten taam or ein begiddin binoten taam – do tendons have taste? The implications of this relate to kashrut issues of the gid hanasheh. The simple understanding of this dispute is that this is a dispute about reality. The Maharam Chalavah, however, argues that everyone agrees that it has a weak taste – the dispute is one of standards – how strong does a taste have to be to be legally “taste”? He clearly accepted the Brisker claim. However, many Rishonim did not. Continue reading Can There Be a Machloket About Reality?

The Capital Punishments Have Not Disappeared

And a new year of Yeshiva begins… Here was my first night seder shiur of the year – a topic I always have fun thinking about.  Shiur and sources: here.

The Gemara in several places (such as Ketubot 30a-b and Sotah 8b) says that “even though the four capital punishments are no longer carried out” at some level they are.  God ensures that one who is liable to receive one of the capital punishments will receive an equivalent.  As several Rishonim note (such as the Ritva on Ketubot), this does not mean God always punishes people in this world – it means that if he does, he will do it in a way that is parallel to the punishment they would have received in court (see Tosafot for other answers).  While it is hard to figure out all the metaphysical implications of this statement, there are several interesting things that emerge from a close read of the sources. Continue reading The Capital Punishments Have Not Disappeared