Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Two opposing views: Must you listen to rabbis to violate the Torah?

From Daas Torah - translation copyrighted

The following shows that the commonly accepted view of rabbinic authority is based on the Sifre which is not the authoritative view since it is rejected by  the Bavli & Yerushalmi and is not mentioned by Rambam and Shulchan Aruch.

Ramban (Devarim 17:11):
Left and Right.  Rashi explains that even if the Sanhedrin tell you that right is left or left is right – [you must obey them]. Meaning that even if you are certain that the Sanhedrin has erred and it is as obvious to you as the difference between your right and left – you still must comply with their understanding of the Torah. In other words you can’t argue, “How can I eat that  which is prohibited by the Torah or how can I execute this person when I know he has not transgressed?” Rather your attitude must be, “The absolute obedience to the rulings of the Sanhedrin is what G d has commanded me and I must observe the mitzvos exactly as the Sanhedrin (which is in G d’s presence in the Temple) says. The Torah was given to me according to their understanding – even if they err.”  This is what happened when R’ Yehoshau had a dispute with the Sanhedrin as to what day was Yom Kippur. R’ Gamliel the head of the Sanhedrin ordered R’ Yehoshua to appear before him on the day that he thought was Yom Kippur (Rosh HaShanna 25a). the necessity for this mitzva is very great. That is because the Torah was given to us in writing and it is known that people don’t think identically in all matters. Therefore it would be natural for disputes over what the Torah means to continually multiply and it would end up that there would be many Torahs instead of one. That is why this verse tells you that one must obey the Sanhedrin which convenes in G d’s presence in the Temple – in everything they say concerning the understanding of the Torah. There is no difference in the requrement to obey whether this Torah understanding is part of the Tradition which goes back what G d told Moshe or what their understanding of the meaning or intent of a Torah verse.  This requirement to accept their Torah understanding is because the Torah was in fact given to us according to their understanding. Therefore they must be obeyed even if their view contrasts with your understanding as left contrasts with right and surely if you agree with their understanding. That is because G d’s spirit is on those who serve in His Temple and He does not desert His pious ones. G d always protects them from error and mistake. The Sifri (Shoftim 154) says that you must obey them even if appears that they have reversed right with left and left with right.

Yad HaMelech (Hilchos Maamrim 1:2): …It is clear that according to the understanding of Rashi and the Mizrachi the intent of the Sifre [that one must listen to the rabbis even when it apparently involves Torah prohibitions] is against the view of the Babylonian Talmud and also against the Yerushalmi. Furthermore since the Rambam omits mention of this Sifre therefore we have only the halachic view that is explicit in the Bavli and Yerushalmi.  Thus all halachic rulings which appear to contradict the words of the Torah e.g., eating prohibited fats or killing an innocent man – irrespective as to the authority of the rabbi giving the ruling they are not to be accepted. It is stated explicitly in the Yerushalmi and also the Bavli that if someone errs in this matter and thinks it is an obligation to listen to these rabbis to eat fat prohibited by the Torah because he thinks it is a mitzva to always obey the rabbis – this individual is obligated to bring a sacrifice as he would be for eating any Torah prohibited food in error.
*** Even Ramban might hold Sifre only applies if  Sanhedrin rejects your view ***

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabiah Omer Y.D. 6:7.2): … The Yerushalmi (Horious 1:1) states, that you might think even if they tell you that “right” is “left” and that “left” is “right” that they must be obeyed. Therefore the Torah says that you should only obey them if they say that “right” is “right” and “left” is “left”. But this is the opposite of the Sifre [that you must obey them even if they tell you that “right” is “left” and “left” is “right”…. However according to the explanation of the Ramban (Sefer HaMitzvos Shoreh I) and those who support him [Ran Sanhedrin 87a] there is a reconcilation. According to the Ramban as long as the dissenting view has not been directly presented to the Sanhedrin [or Rabbinic authority] then he must refuse to eat that which the Sanhedrin insists is kosher. [If he eats food that he regards as unkosher because he is relying on the Sanhedrin he must bring a korbon] However once he has directly discussed the issue with the Sanhedrin and they have rejected his view [despite his best efforts] then the halacha becomes that he must obey them [even if he is still convinced he is right.]

Riva (Devarim 17:11): Don’t deviate from what they tell you left or right – Rashi explains,“You must obey them even if they tell you right is left and left is right and surely if they tell you right is right and left is left.”  This is an astounding statement. Are we really required to listen to a rabbi who tells you that something that is impure is pure or that something which is prohibited really permitted?! The answer is that this command does not concern Torah obligations but rather Rabbinic decrees. Thus “the right that is really left” is referring to decrees such as not doing the Torah mitzva of blowing shofar because of the concern of profaning Shabbos. The meaning of “the left that is really right” is referring to decrees such as prohibiting marriage to someone who is permitted by the Torah.


  1. Yad Hamelech's position is the most rational. He would not be very well accepted in yeshiva circles today - or should I say "artscroll/yated" circles.

  2. I hadn't seen the Yad ha-Melekh before, but I already knew about the contradiction between the Sifrei on the one hand, and the Bavli and Yerushalmi on the other.

    It seemed to me, that taken to its logical conclusion, the Bavli and Yerushalmi spells out a eulogy for the entire institution of Sanhedrin. Once everyone realizes what the Bavli and Yerushalmi say, then no one will ever obey the Sanhedrin, because they will plead that they have a disagreement with it and think the Torah says something different.

    Furthermore, there is always ein shaliah b'davar averah.

    Thus, it seemed to me that, in the Messianic Era, zaqen mamre will become like ben sorer u'moreh.

    Then, a friend showed me that the Ishbitzer Rebbe in Mei ha-Shiloah says Korah was correct but that he came too soon. But essentially, Koreah was correct in his rejection of any religious hierarchy whatsoever.

    See my blog post here.

  3. MIke,

    I find it hard to follow your claim.

    The Yerushalmi is writing a eulogy for the Sanhedrin? Firstly, I see the Talmud as more authoritative than the Sifre.

    Next, the views of the Talmud are trying to bring quality to the Sanhedrin, whereas the sifre is essentially giving them free reign.
    A good example is Shabbeti Zvi. Since the rabbis apply this sifre to even post sanhedrin rabbis. Shabbetai zvi was the perfect example of telling people that left is right etc. So should everyone listen to him?

    Also, the Nefesh Hachayim brings a similar point, at least in principle - that no amount of Kabbalah can change one iota of Halacha.

  4. The Sifre and Bavli/Yerushalmi, do NOT apply to today's rabbis. Today's rabbis are NOT the Sanhedrin. Sources like Sefer ha-Hinukh might recommend treating rabbis like the Sanhedrin, but it is a suggestion, not a requirement.

    I am suggesting the Yerushalmi is writing a eulogy, because the logical conclusion of disobeying the Sanhedrin when it says left is right, is that everyone disobeys it whenever they disagree with it.

  5. Perhaps you can correct me. The impression I get from BT yeshivot like Ohr sameach; from FFB Haredi educators; from the Daas Torah view as published in the Jewish Observer and Yated type publications - all claim it is "binding " today.
    The left/ right isnt about disagreeing with the Sanhedrin. It is a problem where the Sanhedrin or its usurpers (ie those who claim they have the same level of authority) tell you to transgress something in the Torah.

    However, you are correct - because there is a logical issue here. A Sanhedrin might make an interpreation of the Torah, which contradicts it. The people who see this contradiction might be "Sadducees " of the day.
    This opens up a much deeper discussion. So I see your point. But there are even areas where the Sanhedrin cannot cross.

  6. "But there are even areas where the Sanhedrin cannot cross."

    But who says the Sanhedrin will know that it has crossed that line?

    The Sanhedrin will ALWAYS think it is right and that it has NOT crossed the line. If it thought it was wrong and had crossed the line, it itself would retract. Everyone always believes he himself is right.

    And everyone who disagrees with the Sanhedrin, will ALWAYS think that the Sanhedrin HAS crossed the line. So every zaqen mamre will ALWAYS cite the Yerushalmi in his defense, and he will always honestly and truthfully and sincerely believe the Sanhedrin has crossed a line.

    Whether the disagreement is whether the the Israeli Rabbinate is a kosher hekhsher or else one must use Bedatz; or whether the disagreement is whether the Torah was given at Sinai or not, the Sanhedrin will ALWAYS claim it is right, and the zaqen mamre will ALWAYS claim the Sanhedrin is wrong and has crossed the line.

    In short, the Yerushalmi and the Sanhedrin cannot exist in the same world without warfare between the two, if both are properly understood.

  7. Interesting points.

    Perhaps it is becauss we do not really know what a Sanhedrin was. We have virtually no record of a fully authentic Sanhedrin; The Talmuds were not written in times of existing Sanhedrins. The Sanhedrin that the Talmud refers to did not have a Kohen Gadol with Urim + Thumim and Hoshen MIshpat. And Neviim were nor presiding or even existing in most of the 2nd Temple period.
    Zaken mamre - I have to think a bi more about that subject!

  8. I have not seen the Yad ha Melekh, but it seems that the commenters here are making a fundamental mistake. The Rambam says in Hilkhos Mamrim that the Sanhedrin is the repository of the Torah she be al Peh. It is their horaah as Torah she be al peh that is required to be listened to.
    There is a limited category of "zil kri bei rav." If the Sanhedrin makes a horaah permitting what the possuk expressly forbids -- cheleiv, for example -- then one may not listen to them, and the Par Helem Davar shel tsibbur is not mechaper. Outside that limited category, however, you ARE required to listen to them, since they are the source of TSBP. And that is what a zaken mamreh is punished for -- paskening against their horaah. (The Rambam in Mamrim lists three categories that the mitzvah of los sasur applies: (a) things that the Sanhedrin learned from an oral tradition; (b) things that the Sanhedrin learned from the middos she ha Torah nidreshes ba hem and (c) laws which they instituted as a fence around the Torah (takkanos, gezeiros and minhagim). Mamrim 1:1-2.

  9. @ Tal, This is the rambam's formulation that you bring.

    Nevertheless, we have explicit Torah commands regarding errors made by the ruling Judges or Kahal, ie the Sanhedrin.
    Indeed, the Talmud has Horiot to deal with this, and Rambam has Shogegot.
    This leads to another qn: can TSBP contradict Torah ShebiKhtav? It seems to me that it can. In which case, what does one do?
    These questions require one to look at all the assumptions made, to understand exactly what each category really means.

  10. The Kuzari suggests that the Saduccees' belief that the omer is counted from Sunday, not from the day after Yom Tov Pesah, was actually a legitimate one, except that the Sanhedrin had already decided that it was the day after Yom Tov, concluding the matter. In other words, the Saduccean opinion was a legitimate one, and if they had been in control of the Sanhedrin, their opinion would be the kosher one.

    Such things being the case, any zaqen mamre could easily make the argument that the Sanhedrin is wrong and he is right and that Horayot legitimates him.


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