Properties that open onto a shared area (a courtyard - chatzer) are ripe grounds for disputes. One case is where the activities of one occupant disturbs another. The Mishnah (2:3) discusses activities about which other occupants can rightly object:
... [If] a stall is opened in a chatzer, [the other occupants] can object and say, “We cannot sleep from the noise of the people coming and going.” If someone however makes utensils in their property he must go out and sell them in the market. However [the other occupants] cannot object that they cannot sleep from the sound of the hammer, the sound of the mill, or the sound of the children.
The Gemara (21a) asks what is meant by the “sound of the children”. Its initial assumption that it refers to children coming into the chatzer to enter a shop located there is problematic as the Mishnah itself prevents opening a shop in the chatzer. Rava explains that the sound of the children refers to the sound of the children coming to learn Torah in a school or cheder “after the decree of Yehoshua ben Gamla”. The Gemara continues stating that were it not for his decree, the Torah may have been forgotten from Yisrael.
What is the decree of Yehoshua ben Gamla? The Gemara explains that initially, parents educated their children. However, an orphan would be left uneducated. Recognising this problem, they first instituted schools in Yerushalaim – “ki mitzion tei’tze Torah”. Yet once again, those who could not travel to Yerushalaim missed out. So they instituted that their would be schools in each province. Since these schools were not in every city, students would only join at the ages of sixteen or seventeen. This had the problem that if the Rebbe tried to discipline, the students would just leave. Yehoshua ben Gamla therefore enacted that every city must have a school and children would begin learning there at the ages of six and seven.
The question one may ask is why did Rava state explicitly that the Mishnah’s reference to the sound of children refers to cheders “after the decree of R’ Yehoshua ben Gamla”. What did the decree change?
A simple understanding is that since the decree enforced the availability of schooling everywhere, any complaint about noise was overruled.
Another understanding is the decree reframed our understanding of educating another’s children. After the decree it became a mitzvah. Once categorised as a mitzvah the other occupants could not object. This is perhaps the understanding of the Tiferet Yisrael who explains that just as one cannot complain about this cheder “it is also the law regarding any matters pertaining to a mitzvah.”
The Bartenura however, when explaining why one cannot object, explains that “it is because [of the concept] ‘magnify Torah and make it glorious’ (yagdil torah veyadir)”. No mention is made however of the takanah. Why? Perhaps one can suggest another fundamental understanding of what R’ Yehoshua ben Gamla introduced. The common denominator of the first two understandings is that the other occupants may complain, but their complaints are overruled. Perhaps one can suggest that what R’ Yehoshua ben Gamla revealed is the absolute essential importance of giving every child a Torah education – of yagdil Torah ve’yadir. The sound generated by the students or by one that is endeavouring to fulfil this is not defined even as noise. There is no complaint. Yagdil Torah ve’yadir!
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