BET MIDRASH VIRTUALI
of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel



RABIN MISHNAH STUDY GROUP


Bet Midrash Virtuali

TRACTATE AVOT, CHAPTER ONE, MISHNAH TWELVE (recap):

Hillel and Shammai received [the tradition] from them. Hillel says: Be of the disciples of Aaron - loving peace, pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to Torah.

EXPLANATIONS (continued):

13:
Having become renowned for espousing the cause of midrash ha-Torah, Hillel now established rules to govern this exercise, otherwise there would have been a danger that people would 'interpret' the biblical text out of all recognition. The idea was not to 'make the text say what I want it to say' (as is the case with so much modern exposition) but to ascertain and make explicit everything that might legitimately be considered to already be implicit in the text. He established seven rules (middot). These rules were later expanded to thirteen and even thirty-two, but Hillel was responsible only for the initial formulation of seven rules. Here we get a little technical, and I must ask you to be patient while I explain some of these rules, because they are part of the legacy that Hillel has left us, and part of his indelible imprint on the development of traditional Judaism.

14:
The first of the seven is Kal va-ĥomer - logical inference from minor to major. We gave al description and illustration of this method in Avot 052, explanation #9.

We also illustrated the second method of the seven in the same shiur, although we omitted to give it its name. This method is called Gezerah Shavvah and a description and illustration is given in Avot 052, explanations 7 & 8. Further discussion concerning this rather problematic method can be found in Sanhedrin 009, Sanhedrin 054, and many other places.

15:
The third and fourth methods are very similar. The third is called Binyan Av mi-Katuv Eĥad. Essentially, this means that when several biblical passages are thematically related but only one of them contains a very specific stipulation, we may assume that the stipulation applies to all the texts which are thematically related. We may illustrate this method by quoting Deuteronomy 19:15 -

A single witness may not validate against a person any guilt or blame for any offense that may be committed; a case can be valid only on the testimony of two witnesses or more.

There are many passages in the Torah where the validity of testimony is discussed, but this is the only place where the requirement of two witnesses to establish reliable testimony is stated. What is stated here may be understood as to be applied to all cases of testimony:

Where it says 'a witness may not validate' do I not know that it is just one witness? When the Torah specifies here 'one witness' it creates here a binyan: wherever the Torah says 'a witness' it refers to two witnesses unless it specifically says otherwise [Sanhedrin 30a].

16:
The fourth method is very similar to the third: Binyan Av Mi-shné Ketuvim; the only difference is that the specific stipulations appear in two or more verses and not just one. Take for example, Exodus 21:26-27 -

When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

A halakhic midrash [Mekhilta, Mishpatim, 9] elaborates:

Here tooth and eye are specified. Can I assume that the same applies to any body parts? You can make a logical inference from both instances: teeth and eyes are different [in the gravity of their mayhem and had the Torah mentioned only the eye of verse 26 or the tooth of verse 27 we would not have been able to extrapolate further]. What they have in common is that they are irreparable injuries, visible and intentionally caused. Thus all injuries which are irreparable, visible and intentionally caused require the Canaanite servant to be manumitted.

To be continued.

DISCUSSION:

Michael Lewyn writes:

You write [ in Avot 054 - SR] that Hillel became famous for ascertaining whether the Paschal lamb could be sacrificed on a Shabbat that overlapped with Pesach. But Jews had been celebrating Pesach for 1200 or so years before Hillel was born - so why hadn't this problem been solved in the intervening centuries?

I respond:

First of all let me suggest a slight correction. I do this not because I am being pedantic (which sometimes I can be!) but because I am concerned that people reading this shiur might misunderstand. Michael describes a situation in which "Shabbat overlapped with Pesaĥ". But, of course, this happens every year: since there are seven days in Pesaĥ one of them, every year, must be Shabbat! The problem that Hillel and his contemporaries were facing was not Shabbat and Pesaĥ "overlapping"; the problem was that the day before Pesaĥ fell on a Shabbat - in other words, the first day of Pesaĥ was on a Sunday.

Having made that corrective suggestion, let me try to relate to Michael's main point. First of all, as I pointed out in the original shiur, this calendrical problem does not occur all that often. This seems to have been the case ever since the Jewish people adopted the permanent calendar in the 4th century CE. We cannot know for sure what the situation was before then when the calendar was essentially regulated by actual observation of the phases of the moon. However, we may be permitted to suspect that the body that regulated the calendar - the Sanhedrin - permitted itself to manipulate the data for ulterior purposes, both to the general benefit of all Israel and to someone's personal benefit. For example, we have knowledge that when the question arose whether to declare a certain year to be a leap year or not (with an extra month intercalated) it was decided [Sanhedrin 18b] not to let the High Priest take part in the discussion. This was because previous experience had taught that High Priests, who probably were rather advanced in years, would always vote against intercalation because they would prefer to strip and bathe in cold water five times during Yom Kippur during the month of September rather than October. There was possibly a similar manipulation concerning Rosh Ĥodesh Nisan in order to prevent the 14th of the month from falling on Shabbat, with all its attendant difficulties.

However, of course, this could not be done ad infinitum. And let us note very carefully that Hillel did not invent the solution: he freely admits in the end that he now recalled that this was what he had learned from his teachers, so the problem had been dealt with previously.