Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shut HaRid: Basis of authority - midgets standing on giants

from Daas Torah - translation copyrighted

Shut HaRid (# 62): Whatever does not make sense to me – then even if Yehoshua ben Nun said I would not agree [Chullin 124a]. And I don’t stop myself from expressing what appears correct to me according to my limited intellect. Thus I do what it says in Tehilim (119:46), I speak regarding Your words even against kings and I am not ashamed…. Because even when it appears to me that I have successfully refuted the words of the early authorities – G﷓d forbid for me to be so arrogant to say that it is because of my superior wisdom (Koheles 2:9). Rather the reason that I can argue with the early authorities is because of the rationale provided by philosophers. I heard that a group of philosophers asked the greatest amongst them, “We acknowledge that the early scholars were wiser and more intelligent than us. But at the same time we acknowledge that we argue with their ideas and refute them in many issues and in fact our criticisms of them are correct. How could that be?” He replied to them, “Who can see farther – a midget or a giant? It is obviously a giant because his eyes are much higher than a midget. However if a midget stands on the shoulder of a giant – who can see farther? Obviously it is the midget because his eyes are now higher than the eyes of the giant. So it is with us. We are midgets riding on the shoulders of giants because we know that it is their wisdom that elevates us. Therefore our wisdom is based on their wisdom.” Thus what we say is not because we are greater than them. We can comment regarding the early scholars in a situation where we see that they disagree with each other – one permitting and the other prohibiting. So which authority should we rely on? … We can not simply say that one is greater and therefore the words of the others are refuted. Rather we must analyze all their words because they are the words of the living G﷓d. We need to debate and investigate their words to see which way the law seems to be going. That in fact is what the sages of the Mishna and Talmud did. We see the later Talmudic scholars did not refrain from disagreeing with the early scholars and to decide amongst what the early sages disagreed with each other as well as to contradict their words. We find that the Amoraim would refute a Mishna and say that it was not the halacha. The fact is the wisdom transcends the individual sage and there is no sage who is free from error. Only G﷓d is free of error.


  1. May I ask who the RID was, I don't know those initials.

  2. It is Rabbi Isaiah de Trani, an Italian rishon contemporary of Raavd (Abraham ben David)


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