Thursday, April 14, 2011

If Talmudic authority is result of acceptance - where is evidence?

from Daas Torah - translaton copyrighted

Mahretz Chayes (Toras Neviim #3 Maamar Lo Sasur): The Kesef Mishna (Mamrim 2:1) raises a very strong question against the Rambam. The Rambam says that where there is a dispute based on sevora or drasha concerning a Torah law, a later generation can reject the view of an earlier generation - even though it is not greater in wisdom and number. If so then why don’t Amoraim disagree with Tannaim and in fact we find many instances that an Amora’s view is rejected because his view differs from that stated in a Mishna or braissa. The Kesef Mishna answers, “It is possible to say that from the day that Mishna was completed it was accepted and established that later generations would not be permitted to disagree with the earlier generatons. Similarly when the Talmud was completed, no one had the right to disagree with it.” But there is no evidence in either the Talmud Bavli or Yerushalmi that there was such binding agreement. One can not find the slightest hint in the Mishna or Talmud and the Kesef Mishna’s questions are very solid… However I saw something similar in the Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishna Torah, “However all those matters that are found in the Babylonian Talmud are obligatory for all Jews and they can be forced to observe them… And all these matters were agreed to by all Jews.” We see that the Rambam also writes the reason for the obligation is that all Jews agreed to it. However I don’t know where there is evidence that such an agreement occurred.


  1. Rav Shlomo Fisher talks about this in Derashos Beis Yishai siman 15.

  2. I don't follow the Maharitz Chajes's argument.

    We know there was general acceptance because we see that in practice, no amoraim do argue with the mishnah, and no rishonim with the gemara. (And in fact, the gemara takes it so for granted no one would argue with a mishnah, it will at times question why anyone would quote amoraim saying things since we already saw the same statement in a mishnah.)

    I don't know why the MC is looking for someone who wrote it out -- someone closer in history to shas than the Rambam was -- when we can simply see it for ourselves by looking at the corpus.

    What I took the Rambam as saying is that you can't be the one person who bucks that trend, because the general acceptance by everyone else for centuries has made the gemara binding.


  3. Again, there is a logical contradiction in the actual claim which is discussed here.

    1) It is claimed the entire Oral Law was given to Moses on Sinai, and taught to Am Yisrael (including the mishna, gemara, midrashim etc).

    2) It is claimed that once these were put to writing, ie the Mishna, Talmuds, that they were then accepted by Israel, and therefore binding on Klal Yisrael.

    The contradiction is, that statement 2 refutes the claim of statement 1. If the validity of the Oral Law is dependent on its acceptance sometime between 150 CE and 450 CE, then it was not given some 1500 years earlier.

    If it was given at Sinai, then it is not a matter of democratic choice some 1500 years later whether to accept or not.

  4. Eddie,

    This is the same issue as the gemara which has Moshe Rabbeinu prophetically visiting Rabbi Aqiva's class.

    Moshe was given the entire system of thought. It's up to people since Moshe to use it to reach specific rulings and approaches to life. Everything Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai ruled was inherent in what Hashem gave Moshe. But Hashem didn't spell out every possible conclusion, nor which conclusion should become law.


  5. Rabbi David Bar Hayim discussed this topic in a shiur I heard, and he asserted that the Rambam is not really saying that we are obligated to the Talmud because "all Jews agreed to it." Aside from the ahistorical nature of such a claim (there is no proof or indication of such a Jewish-acceptance-of-Talmud event or similar thing), That ignores the Rambam's overall worldview and the manner in which he viewed the masses. Clearly, Rambam was an elitist and had a low opinion of everyday commonfolk, Jewish or non Jewish. The masses' acceptance of anything has little value.

    There are two aspects to that statement of Rambam - 1 is that Talmud represents all the learning of the greatest chachamim in a chain from moshe to rav ashi, and the other part of the statement is that the Jewish people accepted that - But we accepted it just like we (people) accept the authority of the greats in any field - because there is no choice to do otherwise. We behave in a logical manner. The experts at Torah were viewed as authoritative and "accepted" by the masses because of their expertise. Similarly - lehavdil - in a field of medicine, the expert doctors are accepted as the authorities by the masses, and it is they whom we consult for medical questions. The Rambam is stressing the expertise of the greatest chachamim of the batei dinim in generations from Moshe to Rav Ashi and citing why we look to these experts for determining psak halacha - Because they were devoted to the Torah and understood it best.

  6. Many people ignore the first half of the statement and focus solely on the aspect of Jewish "acceptance," and in doing so they completely miss the Rambam's point. Look how he stresses the chain of transmission.


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