Monthly Archives: February 2015

My Jokes are Funnier than Yours… When I Choose to be Funny

Yesterday (here), I noted that R. Zeira seems to have had a biting sense of humor that he used to enable himself to do introspection, as well as to direct mussar at others. I later remembered, however, that there is more than meets the eye in R. Zeira’s exchange with R. Yirmiyah. The Gemara in Berachot 31a cites from R. Yochanan in the name of R. Shimon bar Yochai that it “is forbidden to fill one’s mouth with laughter in this world” – that is until the time of Moshiach. The Gemara even notes that Reish Lakish never filled his mouth with laughter after hearing this!

However, it seems that not every member of Chazal was equally convinced by this prohibition. Specifically, R. Yirmiyah and R. Zeira disagreed – R. Zeira took this particularly seriously and R. Yirmiyah – not as much. R. Yirmiyah made it his life’s mission to make R. Zeira laugh – or at least that is how Rashi understands the following Gemara: Continue reading My Jokes are Funnier than Yours… When I Choose to be Funny

Magical Donkeys, Mussar, Introspection, and Humor

One phrase that is often pointed to as a proof of “yeridat hadorot”, the inevitable decline in spiritual stature as time marches on, is a line that appears in Shabbat 112b. In the context of praising R. Yochanan, the Gemara remarks that either “he was not human” or “he is the [ultimate?] human”. R. Zeira then adds “if the earlier generations were like angels, then we are people; if the earlier generations were people, we are donkeys.” This is classically taken as a mixture of praise our forefathers and mussar for us. However, as R. Aryeh Klapper has convincingly noted, this Gemara has a fare bit of humor mixed in as well. The Gemara continues that if we are donkeys “we are not like the donkeys of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa and Pinchas ben Yair, but rather like other donkeys.” This alludes to two stories in Shas, one in which one donkey refuses to eat food which has not had terumah and maasrot properly taken, and the other where the donkey refuses to eat when stolen and ends up being freed and returns home (perhaps related again to tevel, though different version are quoted). Rabbi Klapper notes that if one imagines someone getting up to give this as a mussar shmooze, while the point will get across, it will also elicit a laugh. “We are donkeys – and not special donkeys…” To start with mussar and then tell long stories about bright frum donkeys is a way to ensure they everyone knows you are speaking partially tongue in cheek. Take the mussar, but not too hard. Continue reading Magical Donkeys, Mussar, Introspection, and Humor

Does Majority Rule Apply Outside of Halachic Issues?

In the past (here and here) we have discussed the machloket between the Shach and Bach (both in the Kelalei Psak of the Shach- Yoreh Deah 242) whether the rule acharei rabim lehatot applies only to cases of Beit Din or to all cases of pesak. The Shach argues that anything that has been ruled on by a majority of poskim throughout the generations becomes binding pesak and cannot even be invoked in a shaat hadechak. The Bach disagrees, arguing that only in Sanhedrin, where there was a formal vote, can we invoke rules of rov.

Both R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonatan Eibshitz notes that practically the Shach is impossible to implement, as we have no way of knowing how many sefarim have been lost, how poskim have rules orally, etc, making it impossible to reach a rov. Continue reading Does Majority Rule Apply Outside of Halachic Issues?