Tuesday, December 12, 2006

klalei hora'ah and rabbinic authority

In a discussion elsewhere, the notion was advanced that the klalei hora’ah were a recognition of the blanket authority of certain chachamim. While this formulation probably is extreme – after all, there are exceptions to the klalei psak, and it is hard to imagine that we would cling to these rules if a sugya is overwhelmingly weighted to the contrary position – there is something to be said for such an approach. R’ Elchanan (Koveitz Shiurim, Baba Basra #499) poses the chakira: are the klalei hora’ah a statement on the gavra, i.e. the capability or thinking of one chacham outweighed his peers and therefore the halacha is determined in his favor, or are the klalei horaha’h descriptive of a pattern which happened to emerge when the cases addressed were reviewed on a one by one basis.

Tosfos (Shabbos 70b d”h Noda) writes that the rule (Yevamos 36) that the halacha follows R’ Yochanan in any dispute with Reish Lakish (with 3 exceptions) applies only to cases that came to a decisive vote in their time; however, we cannot draw conclusions to a case that will be relevant only after Moshiach arrives. Were klalei hora’ah reflective of a consensus regarding R’ Yochanan’s ability in hora’ah as superior to Reish Lakish, Tosfos distinction would be difficult to understand. It seems that Tosfos takes the rules of psak as descriptive of the results of case by case review, and cases that have not yet been subject to debate remain undecided. R’ Elchanan quotes achronim who attribute the counter-position to the Rambam.

Tosfos (Yevamos 14) is troubled by the apparent contradiction between the gemara’s acceptance of the declaration of a bas kol that the halacha follows Bais Hillel against Bais Shamai and the gemara’s rejection of the various miraculous proofs of Rabbi Eliezer that the halacha is in accordance with his opinion. Tosfos answers that the support of Rabbi Eliezer came only to protect his honor, but not because his position was correct. Secondly, Bais Hillel was the majority opinion, and the bas kol was consistent with the normative halachic rule of following majority; in R’ Eliezer’s case he was the minority opinion, and the bas kol subverted the normative rule. The Ohr Sameiach (end of Hil Yesodei haTorah) points out that this question is difficult only within Tosfos understanding that the rules of psak are the results of a case by case review. If one adopts the Rambam’s approach, one can distinguish between the bas kol in Rabbi Eliezer’s case, which was in support of a specific case ruling and therefore has no standing, with the bas kol supporting Bais Hillel, which was not a ruling on case law, but a ruling on the gavra of Hillel, that his skill in hora’ah was superior to that of Shamai.


  1. Anonymous12:49 AM

    rabbinic authority:
    הושע פרק יא
    הפטרוה פרשת ויצא
    ז) ועמי תלואים, למשובתי; ואל-על, יקראהו--יחד, לא ירומם

  2. Doesn't it seem from the Gemara in Eiruvin re the reasoning that we Paskin as Beis Hillel vs. Beis Shammai was not on a case by case basis, but due to their great humility (which, the Satmar Rebbe explained, meant that they were more likely to be Mechaven to the truth)?