Monday, January 30, 2012

Hillel, Torah she-Ba'al Peh, & the Rambam in Hilkhot Sheḥita


The Talmud in Shabbat records a few tales demonstrating the humility and patience of Hillel on one end, and the strictness of Shammai on the other. Some of them are more well-known then others, but today I wish to focus on one point which comes up in passing in one of them.

The tale in question is the following one:

מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי, אמר לו: כמה תורות יש לכם? אמר לו: שתים, תורה שבכתב ותורה שבעל פה. אמר לו: שבכתב אני מאמינך ושבעל פה איני מאמינך, גיירני על מנת שתלמדני תורה שבכתב. גער בו והוציאו בנזיפה. בא לפני הלל, גייריה. יומא קמא אמר ליה א"ב ג"ד, למחר אפיך ליה. אמר ליה: והא אתמול לא אמרת לי הכי! אמר ליה לאו עלי דידי קא סמכת? דעל פה נמי סמוך עלי.[1]

Sounds like a nice story with a nice moral. But there is a difficult question here, which Rashi alludes to. In explaining why Shammai threw the person out, Rashi says:

הוציאו בנזיפה: דתניא: הבא לקבל דברי חברות חוץ מדבר אחד, וכן גר הבא להתגייר וקבל עליו דברי תורה חוץ מדבר אחד, אין מקבלין אותו – במסכת בכורות.[2]

In that case, how was Hillel allowed to convert the man? Rashi answers:

גייריה: וסמך על חכמתו שסופו שירגילנו לקבל עליו. דלא דמיא הא לחוץ מדבר אחד, שלא היה כופר בתורה שבעל פה אלא שלא היה מאמין שהיא מפי הגבורה, והלל הובטח שאחר שילמדנו יסמוך עליו.

What does Rashi mean? In my opinion it is incorrect to say (as I have heard once) that Rashi differentiates between simply believing in the Oral Tradition and believing it was received מפי הגבורה, because firstly, what exactly is belief in the Oral Tradition if it does not say that it was received מפי הגבורה; second, there is no indication in the Gemara that the person accepted any aspect of the Oral Tradition; and third, if that were indeed the case, that a lack of belief in the Oral Tradition’s being received מפי הגבורה does not constitute חוץ מדבר אחד; why is Rashi so busy convincing us how sure Hillel was that he could change the man’s belief? How is that relevant to the problem at hand? Clearly Rashi believes that this case of complete denial of the Oral Tradition for some reason does not constitute חוץ מדבד אחד, and we ought to figure out why.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beshalaḥ - What Doesn’t Kill You


This week’s parsha brings me back memories of the torturous but clever satirical vorts we would sometimes hear from our rabbeim. Well, torturous for some. I always laughed out loud. I guess I was born to become a Litvishe rosh yeshiva or something.

Our class once needed to be woken up, so the rebbi stopped the shiur and told the following vort:

The Mishna in Bameh Madlikin says:

אין מדליקין לא בלכש, ולא בחסן, ולא בכלך, ולא בפתילת האידן... ולא בחלב נחום

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Road to Heaven


I was driving to yeshiva this morning when I heard an ad on the radio for a certain law firm. The firm was advertising that anyone who knows of a company or institution committing fraud against the government can actually sue in the government’s name and make money on the deal, with the help of this law firm of course. The ad was flowered up with phrases such as “get justice” and “make the world a better place,” and so on.

My first thought was, “wow, anything to make a buck.” Does anyone suing a company in the government’s name really care about the principle of the matter?! Of course it’s all about the money. Or getting back at the boss you don’t like or whatever. The disingenuousness of those words really irked me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rationale for the Prohibition of בשר בחלב


I came across a citation of the following words of Rashi while skimming through the קובץ שיטות קמאי on Niddah,[1] which by the way is an awesome sefer. Here goes:

ולמה אסר רחמנא בשר בחלב, לפי שחלב נהפך לדם והדם בחלב. ומניין שהחלב נהפך לדם, אלא כיון שהעזים מתעברות החלב נהפך לדם, והדם לחלב מניין, אלא כיון שהאשה מתעברת אינה רואה דם נידות, אלא אותו נעשה חלב לתינוק.[2]

I don’t really get it, but I guess somehow he is saying that the cooking process brings back the blood quality in the milk, which would explain also why דרך בישול אסרה תורה.[3] It still wouldn’t explain why there is an issur hana’ah, when there is no issur hana’ah on blood. Maybe someone can help here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Shemot – Thoughts on טמטום הלב


Often when discussing a kashrut issue someone will bring up the concept of טמטום הלב. The Litvak in me tends to be skeptical of the whole thing, but the question is; is such a concept professed or even remotely supported by Ḥazal?

Like all things I am cynical about at first, the answer is that of course it is. The Gemara in Yoma says:

תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: עבירה מטמטמת לבו של אדם, שנאמר[1] ולא תטמאו בהם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בם, אל תקרי ונטמאתם אלא ונטמטם.[2]

The problem is this Gemara does not differentiate at all between forbidden foods and other aveirot. So who says there is an aspect of טמטום הלב unique to foods?