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.

Rashash says the following to explain Rashi:

נראה לי כוונתו דכופר לא מקרי אלא אחר החקירה בכל חלקי הסותר, אבל זה לא חקר ולא נוכח, אלא שלא היה מאמין כו', לכן הובטח שלאחר שיברר אליו אמיתת הדברים ישוב מאמין.[3]

This Rashash appears to be a source for the oft heard opinion that says, “There’s no such thing as a real apikores.” In other words, according to this, one cannot be truly considered a kofer unless he has learned everything and subsequently rejected it; a person cannot be properly rendered a kofer simply by not believing.

Whether or not that is an accurate representation of Rashi’s view, it seems clear at least that denial of the Oral Tradition per se, is according to Rashi, kefira.

I found an astounding peshat in the Gur Aryeh, which provides another solution to Rashi’s problem:

ומכאן יש ללמוד שהקראים אינם בכלל מינים (!), כי אם היו בכלל מינים אין סברא שהלל מקבל מין להתגייר.[4]

Yeah, that’s definitely the easy way out.

I have heard that there are those who wish to say that Rambam’s opinion is such as well, that the Karaites are not considered minim. Their proof is as follows:

Rambam writes first in Hilkhot Sheḥita:

אם היה מומר לעבודה זרה או מחלל שבת בפרהסיא או אפיקורוס והוא הכופר בתורה ובמשה רבנו כמו שביארנו בהלכות תשובה, הרי הוא כגוי ושחיטתו נבלה.[5]

Then he writes:

אלו הצדוקין והבייתוסין ותלמידיהן וכל הטועין אחריהן שאינן מאמינים בתורה שבעל פה, שחיטתן אסורה, ואם שחטו בפננו הרי זו מותרת, שאין איסור שחיטתן אלא שמא יקלקלו, והם אינן מאמינין בתורת השחיטה, לפיכך אינן נאמנין לומר לא קלקלנו.[6]

It is clear that he is not putting Sadducees into the category of apikorsim, for otherwise he would prohibit their sheḥita no matter what. The question is; why?

Ḥazon Ish has an extremely revolutionary peshat; ayin sham. In my humble opinion there is a simple answer, and I shall explain.

First of all, let us establish that according to Rambam, denying the Oral Tradition most certainly renders one an apikores. In Hilkhot Mamrim he writes:

מי שאינו מאמין בתורה שבעל פה, אינו זקן ממרא האמור בתורה, אלא הרי הוא בכלל האפיקורסין.[7]

In Hilkhot Teshuva:

שלשה הן הנקראין אפיקורסין... וכן הכופר בפרושה והוא תורה שבעל פה, והמכחיש מגידיה כגון צדוק ובייתוס.[8]

In Peirush HaMishnayot to Sanhedrin:

היסוד התשיעי: ההעתק, והוא כי התורה הזאת מועתקת מאת הבורא הש"י לא מזולתו, ועליה אין להוסיף וממנה אין לגרוע, לא בתורה שבכתב ולא בתורה שבעל פה.

I think that to have a hava amina that the Rambam in Sheḥita means to somehow say that such a person does not qualify as an apikores is a major doḥeik, and a mistake. It is clear that such is not his opinion. Therefore I believe that this problem in Hilkhot Sheḥita must be dealt as a local issue. So what’s peshat?

Here’s what I think. If you look a few halakhot before the ones I cited, Rambam writes:

גוי ששחט, אע"פ ששחט בפני ישראל בסכין יפה, ואפילו היה קטן, שחיטתו נבלה, ולוקה על אכילתו מן התורה, שנאמר וקרא לך ואכלת מזבחו,[9] מאחר שהזהיר שמא יאכל מזבחו, אתה למד שזבחו אסור... וגדר גדול גדרו בדבר, שאפילו גוי שאינו עובד עבודה זרה שחיטתו נבלה.[10]

Rambam here is differing with the understanding of Tosafot, who write:

קסבר כותים גרי אריות הן: ושחיטתן פסולה כמו של עובדי כוכבים מוזבחת,[11] מה שאתה זובח אתה אוכל, כלומר אותו שהוא בר זביחה, לאפוקי עובד כוכבים ואוכל נבלה להכעיס.[12]

Tosafot hold that the entire derivation is from וזבחת; you shall slaughter; excluding a non-Jew and others. This derasha does not differentiate between idol-worshippers and non-idol-worshippers. Kesef Mishneh[13] points out that Rambam is deriving it from a completely different source, and is implying that only an idol-worshipper’s sheḥita is prohibited biblically, for by eating from it one might be drawn to idol worship. The sheḥita of a non-Jew who is not an idol-worshipper, however, would only be prohibited rabbinically; hence Rambam’s terminology – וגדר גדול גדרו בדבר.

If this is the case, I think we have a fairly simple way to say peshat here.

Why is the sheḥita of a מחלל שבת בפרהסיא no good? Who cares that he has the halakha of a non-Jew, if a non-Jew is not inherently unqualified for sheḥita? The answer is, I think, because a מחלל שבת בפרהסיא is like a כופר בעיקר,[14] and as such he is a risk of drawing people toward idol worship, so he is no worse than a non-Jew. The same is true for the standard minim and apikorsim. But suppose we could find an apikores, a true apikores, but one who truly was not such a risk. There would be no reason to prohibit his sheḥita, would there? That is exactly the case with those who deny the Oral Tradition but accept the תורה שבכתב! The Torah says not to worship idols, so of course, they do not worship idols. Rambam places them in the category of those who are inherently capable of performing a proper sheḥita, because there is no reason to exclude them! Say what you will, call them “goyim”; but “goyim” is not a good enough reason according to Rambam to inherently exclude one from sheḥita. Only one thing is: the risk of being drawn toward idol worship. And that does not exist here.[15]

This, I think, is the correct peshat in the Rambam, which at the end of the day leaves us with his opinion, identical to Rashi; that one who denies the Oral Tradition is indeed rendered a heretic.


[1] Shabbat 31a
[2] 30b
[3] Shabbat ad loc.
[4] Gur Aryeh ad loc.
[5] Sheḥita 4:14
[6] Ibid 16
[7] Mamrim 3:1
[8] Teshuva 3:8
[9] Exodus 34:15
[10] Sheḥita 4:11,12
[11] Deuteronomy 12:21
[12] Ḥullin 3b
[13] Ad loc.
[14] See Ḥullin 5a Rashi s.v. Alma
[15] This also explains why the sheḥita of Kutheans is accepted by the Talmud, even though they did not accept much of the Oral Tradition.

4 comments:

  1. Very well done!! nice work!
    If i understand correctly you're saying that there are two kinds of heretics- one that denies everything and one that only denies תורה שבעל פה. Now do you mean to say that Rashi in the story of Hillel was referring to the latter one and that's why Hillel accepted him?

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. It isn't that there are two kinds of heretics - Rashi seems to hold that one who denies תורה שבעל פה would indeed be considered a "standard" heretic, to the extent that we would not except him as a ger. As to why Hillel did accept him; Rashash explains Rashi's opinion that someone who simply denies something but doesn't really know it well enough to deny it is not considered a heretic, and Hillel was confident that he would convince the guy, so he allowed him to convert. I'm sure there are other peshatim in Rashi out there though, as the Rashash's is a pretty big chiddush.

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  2. Thanks for the clarification.

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