Ah... Chumrah

Eduyot (3:10) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

n a basic level, Eduyot is a collection of debates and testimonies from around shas sharing the fact that were taught “on that day” (see “On That Day…”). Learning at the pace of Mishnah Yomit, one identifies groups of Mishnayot sharing similar styles and/or participants in the debates. On another level, one must recall that these Mishnayot were taught when the Beit Midrash was bursting with new talmidim. Previously we discussed that it brought with it a new educational philosophy. But despite the technical complexity of the Mishnayot, one senses that they also provide hadracha (guidance) to the large assembly.

Sometimes the hadracha is explicit. For example earlier the Mishnah (1:4) asked why we include the opinions of Shammai and Hillel when we rule like the Chachamim. It explains that this teaches us not to stubbornly stick to our opinion, since when the sages identified the truth they annulled the opinions of these great rabbis (Rambam) and Hillel and Shammai similarly followed suit (Meiri). The Rambam explains that this point is more clear in the Mishnayot (-14) where once Beit Hillel hears the arguments presented by Beit Shammai, explicitly defers. It is possible that more Hadracha comes from the following Mishnah (3:10).

The Mishnah lists three cases where Rabban Gamliel rules in accordance with Beit Shammai. The final instance is where Beit Shammai rules that one may not bake large thick loaves on Yom Tov as this is unnecessary exertion. One can only bake small cakes as only they are required for Yom Tov itself. Beit Hillel on the other hand maintains that a full oven enhances baking and it is therefore permissible.

Rabban Gamliel brought support from his father’s house, R’ Shimon ben Gamliel HaZaken, who never baked anything larger than these small cakes on Yom Tov. The Chachamim responded, “What shall we do with your father’s house? For they were stringent on themselves and lenient on to bake small cakes, large loaves and “chori” (very large and difficult, coal baked loaves). The straightforward understanding is that the proof was dismissed because despite having acted stringently, in truth he ruled leniently for others.

A few questions arise from this Mishnah. We know that Mishnayot are necessarily concise. Why does the Mishnah include this extra detail in such dramatic language? Furthermore, it seems odd that the Chachamim knew that R’ Shimon ben Gamliel HaZaken really ruled leniently for Am Yisrael and not his own son. A precise analysis of the language used in the Mishnah may reveal its authors intent.

The Yerushalmi (Beitzah 2:6) investigates the meaning of the term “chori”. We already explained that it refers to very large and complex, coal-baked bread. The Yerushalmi provides scriptural sources for this understanding. R’ Acha points to: “me chori ha’af ha’gadol ha’ze” (Devarim 29:23) – “why this wrathfulness of great anger?” (Artscroll). The commentators on the Yerushalmi explains that the implication is that chori is something that requires abundant fire. Rabban Shimon provides a different source (Bereshit 40:16): “ve’hinei shlosha salei chori* al roshi” – “behold there were three baskets of bread on my head” (referring to the dream of Pharo’s imprisoned baker) . The Torah Temimah explains that the Chachamim tried to understand what chori were, and concluded that it was large loaves. The provision of the p’sukim were not sources or proofs, but rather reminders (simanim*) for their conclusion.

One could however suggest a different direction. Why did R’ Acha not select the more direct choice as presented by Rabban Shimon? Perhaps, the choice of p’sukim was deliberate and not only reveals the meaning of “chori”, but the Chachamim’s implication when they chose such a specific term. Unlike above where we understood chori to be a description (“wrathfullness”), Unkalus’s translation of R’ Acha pasuk presents it as a noun (te’kof). Consequently the translation would be, “Why the attack, this great anger?” (Mosad HaRav Kook punctuates Unkalus in such a manner.) The term chori therefore also implies an “attack”.

Returning to our Mishnah, the Chachamim may have been arguing against R’ Shimon ben Gamliel ha’Zaken’s philosophy. While the intentions were most certainly noble, by ruling stringently for oneself (and perhaps without explicitly stating to ones family that it is a stringency), and ruling leniently for the masses, the result can and will be “attacks” or future debates regarding halacha.

This provides a new understanding of end our Mishnah. The Chachamim express concern “What can we do with your father’s house?”, their approach leads to ambiguity and therefore cannot set a precedent. In truth, he may not have ruled to the masses in this particular case and Rabban Gamliel had no reason to be conscious of it. However the result of such a perspective is that we matir the small cakes, large loaves and chori – even larger bread and the introduction of machloket.


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