Thursday, November 18, 2010

Learning from a heretic is prohibited - even though R' Meir did it

Shach (Yoreh Deah 246:8): … Chagiga (15b) states that the reason why R’ Meir learned Torah from a heretic — despite the requirement that a teacher be like an angel — is because that prohibition applies only to those who will be influenced by the teacher. R’ Meir and others who are capable of withstanding the influence are in fact permitted to learn from a heretic… The question is why didn’t the Rambam note this distinction that the gemora makes between adult and child—between those mature enough not to be influenced and those who might be influenced? It is possible that the Rambam agrees with Tosfos (Chagiga 15b) who notes that in Moed Koton (17a) R’ Yehuda excommunicated a certain scholar because he had a bad reputation. Tosfos explains that the reason that no differentiation was made by R’ Yehuda is that he felt all the students would be influenced. Thus, we see that even in Talmudic times the older students were considered as susceptible to bad influence and had to be protected. So surely, in our days, everyone is considered as susceptible to bad influence and thus the distinction of the gemora is not relevant for actual Halacha. An alternative explanation is that most poskim do not accept this distinction because it was only held by R’ Meir and not the majority of our Sages.


  1. How much of this is true?

  2. If this is supposed to bear on the Shabbethai Tzvi discussion elsewhere on this same blog, I don't see how it does. The question there is whether Rabbi Yonason Eybeschutz' (hypothetically) being a Sabbatean would necessarily exclude his teshuvos being integrated & accepted into the halakhic literature. Now this Shach sets forth the possibility that the Rabbonim would lekhatechila prohibit what R' Meir was allowing himself--namely, learning Torah from/with a heretic. But the critical question is, given machloqes between them & R' Meir, do they then prohibit those chiddushei Torah & teshuvos he takes from his apostate teacher or declare R' Meir himself a heretic as well for doing so? As they clearly do not, bidieved those teshuvos are kosher, and thus so are R' Yonason Eybeschutz' even had he been a Sabbatean. Nothing here would lead us to conclude otherwise.

    And since nothing in those public teshuvos would dare draw anyone into heresy, the first explanation offered here by the Shach bears even less on our case.

  3. This most certainly has a bearing on the Shabsai Tzvi discussion. It renders the proposition that R. Yonason Eybeschutz was anything other than a non-Sabbatean untenable.

  4. Whether this is or isn't relevant to the Shabbesai Tzvi discussion, is irrelevant. The cross-generational kal vachomer is a little iffy. If the Chafetz Chaim was a kohen, then surely Rashi was a kohen! Maybe the question of influence is actually related to, you know, whether the talmid will be influenced.

    Furthermore, who's to decide what kefirah is? Kefirah-blogging 101: The Raavad takes issue with the Rambam, because according to the Rambam, many rishonim were apikorsim. The Rambam, in turn, is much too rationalist for later Jewish theosophists.

    And reality plays a role here as well.Sure, if R' Yehonasan trumpeted Sabbatean opinions from the rooftops, it might be hard to accept his psak. But what if you were a contemporaneous Rabbinic authority, and you heard such rumors about such a gaon. Would you be obligated to dig up everything you could, so that you could ignore his psak?

    And one course in banning studying under a kofer is undoubtedly ridiculous in its circularity - declaring something kefirah because it was taught by a kofer, who is a kofer because he taught it.

  5. Whether it is "trumpeted from the rooftops" or only in the kitchen, it would equally make one a heretic. Thus it is obvious it had not been the case.

  6. Sam, my point is that pragmatic reality plays a role as well.

    But what if you were a contemporaneous Rabbinic authority, and you heard such rumors about such a gaon. Would you be obligated to dig up everything you could, so that you could ignore his psak?


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