Wednesday, July 25, 2007

what the Maharal or Brisker Rav adds to our understanding of 9 Av

Apparently I may have not explained the Brisker Rav in the previous piece as well as I should have. Someone (anonymous) in the comments (I am assuming his/her reference to Maharal was simply an error as no Maharal was cited) pointed to the explicit gemara in Ta’anis 29a that says that although R’ Yochanan wanted to fix the fast on 10 Av when the bulk of destruction took place, the fast was set on the 9th because “aschulei puranusa adifa”, the beginning of the destruction is a better point to commemorate. So who needs my post with its lack of knowledge of gemara and tanach (as the comment stated), and I guess the unstated point may be who needs this Brisker Rav when you have an open gemara?

In the Shiurei Da’as of R’ Bloch there is an essay called “Darcha Shel Torah” in which he says a fundamental yesod in learning (I have heard the same in the name of the Chofetz Chaim as well): in order to understand and appreciate any sevara, chiddush, idea, one must first be aware of what one thought before learning the new idea and understand how that prior knowledge proved inadequate. If you don’t see a kashe, you can’t appreciate a teirutz. On that note:

It seems from a prima facie reading of the gemara that the debate between R’ Yochanan and Chachamim is not about the historical question of when the bulk of destruction took place – the Chachamim seem to agree that the destruction took place on 10 Av, but argue that the "aschalta", the beginning of events, is “adifa” better, meaning more apropos a time to commemorate. But WHY should that be so? WHY is the beginning more apropose to commemorate than the date of destruction? Clearly R’ Yochanan did not think it was! Rather than close the issue, the gemara provides more food for thought –what exactly are these two views arguing about?

I can think offhand of 4 possible ways to explain the debate:

1) While the bulk of destruction took place on the 10th, the psychological blow of the mikdash being violated and the loss of religious autonomy which it symbolized took place on the 9th. The argument in the gemara is how to frame the tragedy: physical destruction (R’ Yochanan), or psychological trauma and loss (Chachamim). Other variations on this theme are possible, with the common denominator that the tragedy is multi-faceted and different focal points are possible.

2) Both opinions focus on physical destruction as the cause for the fast, but differ as to how to define the act of physical destruction. We already have a discussion in the gemara (B.K. 23) whether the responsibility for arson is equivalent to damage like shooting an arrow, or a form or negligence, like failing to watch one’s animal. Here too, the same nezikin issue may be in play: is the arsonist culpable for setting the blaze, or only culpable because of the eventual destruction? The Chasam Sofer (cited by R' Zevin in Moadim l'Halacha) is one source that goes down this road.

3) Rather than focus on theories of torts or on the scope of the tragedy, the issue may boil down to hilchos ta’aniyos. The fast on 9 Av is multi-layered in halacha, with elements of ta’anis and aveilus. While the theme of ta’anis and its emphasis on tshuvah is perhaps appropriate to reflect on at the moment destruction begins, the theme of aveilus seems more appropriate for the day on which the actual bulk of destruction took place. Which do we emphasize?

4) Finally, as I quoted in the name of the Brisker Rav, one can explain the emphasis on aschalta d’puranusa based on the kedushas mikdash itself, which was violated on 9 Av. The gemara may be debating whether the fast commemorates physical destruction of the mikdash or the violation of its kedusha. Alternatively, R’ Yochanan may have held that the kedusha was not violated in fact until the 10th (and understanding such a position would require further research into the sugya in A.Z. 52). Other possibilites can be raised here as well, but the common denominator is that the focus of the debate is on kedushas mikdash.

I don’t mean to limit the possibilities to these 4 – aderaba, the deeper we think about the issue, the more possible explanations and variables we may uncover that may explain the issue. And thinking about the issue is what yesterday, and to a lesser degree today, is all about. I regret that a don’t really have time to always fully unpack my thinking about a gemara in every post and will sometimes just throw out a Brisker Rav or other chiddush, but I do have a day job and do the best I can here in a very limited amount of time. This blog does not even scratch the surface of a full analysis of any sugya, but hopefully in this case I have succeeded in shedding some more light on the issue.


  1. Chaim B: I believe anonymous was addressing my comment and not your post. In any event I did not mean to give the impression that the Maharal was being m'chadeish something mentioned in the gemara. The Maharal obviously knew the gemara since he quotes it. My whole point was to mention the Maharal's explanation of the gemara. If what I wrote makes no sense then it is obviously my fault for not explaining the Maharal correctly.

  2. anon11:26 PM

    I had thought that another way of reading the gemara is that aschalta depuranusa refers not to the churban ha-bayis but to the chet mergalim. Since that chet was the root of the churban (as the gemara says a few lines earlier - that this date became bechiya le-doros), rabanan feel that the 9th, rather than the 10th is the more appropriate date. I recognize there is some shayla of when the mergalim returned (see the mesoras ha-shas and maharasha on the sugya) and in any event, it is a chidush to read the gemara this way. But a thought that I had in years past.

  3. I also meant to "intervene" and point out that Anonymous' response to "Chaim" was directed to Chaim M., and that's why you (Chaim B.) had difficulty understanding what he was trying to get at.

  4. >>>I had thought that another way of reading the gemara is that aschalta depuranusa refers not to the churban ha-bayis but to the chet mergalim.

    Very creative, but doesn't it beg the question of why the destruction should have occurred on 10 Av when the Meraglim returned on the 9th if the two are related?

  5. anon12:57 PM

    I can't deny with my mehalech that the churban began on the 9th and ended with the 10th -- as you write, rabanan and RY are probably not arguing metzius here. My point is that given that churban habayis is connected to both 9 and 10, rabanan chose 9 given that was the date of the mergalim.

    By the way, on the shitah RY, there is a very interesting discussion in the achronim (I believe the chasam sofer) re: nafka minah of RY's shitah. Specifically, when TB is nidceh and actually on 10, do we say that it is be-torah nidcheh or that on years when we cant fast on the 9th, the ikar takanah was for the 10th -- based on R"Yochanan.

    Nafka minahs include -- is there a shavua shechal bo that week (perhpas taluy on when the ikar fast really is), is a bar mitzvah boy on the 10th chayav to fast (perhaps no if it is tashlumin of the 9th when he was not a bar chiyuva), is tashmish hamitah assur on the 9th which is shabbos. THis points are talked about by the SA and the achronim and individual reasons are given for each one. But I believe it is the CS who presents this as the point of the machlokes on these (or at least some of these issues).

  6. Anonymous11:44 PM

    DAf Notes has the same conversation

  7. Anonymous1:13 PM

    My comment was not to you but rather to Chaim Markowitz.

    Sorry for the confusion.

    I am yet to read your whole post.

  8. hello
    you can write some biographies of personnalities of