Monday, August 20, 2007

psak on hashkafa and the issue of suffering

Shabbos 55a quotes Rav Ami that “ain misah b’lo cheit v’ain yisurim b’lo avon”, there is no death and suffering not caused by sin. After some back and forth, the gemara concludes with a “tiyuvta d’Rav Ami tiyuvta”, Rav Ami’s opinion was proven wrong because of a contradictory braysa.

I’m wondering how those who are convinced that there can be no psak in areas of hashkafa/belief read this gemara? If the gemara can label a belief wrong because of contrary evidence from a braysa, why can we not label a belief wrong because of contrary evidence from a majority of Rishonim? What’s the difference between saying Rav Ami held a view which the mesorah rejected and saying some Rishonim held views which the mesorah rejected?

While on the topic, Rashi’s writes (Brachos 5) that yisurim shel ahavah are brought on a tzadik to increase merit, not in response to any sin of the tzadik. Ramban in Toras haAdam rejects this idea that suffering can occur without sin (see previous post here). According to the gemara’s conclusion that Rav Ami is rejected, the Ramban’s argument seems much weaker.


  1. Wouldn't everyone agree that a opinion of an individual from a later generation that is contradicted by the generally held opinion of a previous generation would have no validity at all?

  2. Interesting point. Just curious why you bring this up now -- is it the Arizal that people quote towards the beginning of this week's parsha ki yiheh be-ish chet mishpat maves etc. -- or is it something else? Thanks.

  3. Barzilai - I don't know. To me, no psak means no psak. If others want to distinguish, let them make the case.

    Anon1 - no special reason other than I am in the middle of learning shabbos and it caught my eye. By coincidence, R' Akiva Eiger on the daf sends you to the Mizrachi on the pasuk of 'yarei v'rach leivav' by the parsha of milchama which presents Rashi's quote of R"Y haGlili as fitting only if you assume ain misa b'lo cheit. A major chisaron of my blog is I have no seder to my posts other than what catches my fancy.

  4. Anonymous1:26 PM

    "According to the gemara’s conclusion that Rav Ami is rejected, the Ramban’s argument seems much weaker."

    The ramban hold that this gemara dismisses eyn misa b'lo chet, but that it doesnt dismiss eyn yesurin blo avon. See Ramban toras haadam p 274 in the chavel edition.

    (Otherwise you would seem to be contradicting yourself. First you argued that there must be psak in hashkafa because the gemara here gives a psak. Then you mention that the Ramban does not follow the psak in this gemara and therefore his argument is weaker. Maybe you just didn't make this clear.
    However, the Rambam does seem to think one can ignore this gemara, bringing your thesis that the gemara is giving a psak into question.)

    Incidentally, I wonder if one could answer the Ramban's question on R Akiva's response to R Eliezer by assuming that R Akiva did not want to mention the herem on R Eliezer, which he may have assumed as evidence that RE behaved sinfully.

  5. thanks anonymous. i was writing from memory and did not look back at the toras ha'adam.

  6. OK, I'll try to make my case.

    1. Assuming that if all of chazal, take a particular position on a hashkafa matter that it cannot be argued on.

    2. Assuming that each segment of Torah scholarship, as defined by popular agreement, (e.g., Tannoim, Amoraim, Rishonim, etc.) acquire the status of canon vis a vis lesser generations.

    3. Then for an individual of a later generation, categorized as lesser than the previous one, to argue on what was universally assumed in the previous generation would be to argue on all chazal.

  7. anon11:46 PM

    Re: yarei ve-rach ha-levav -- for what it's worth, IIRC, the Rambam paskens like R'Akiva (R'Yose's bar plugta) who says that is meant literally.

    Just to explain my earlier reference, the Arizal explains the pasuk ki yiheh be-ish chet mishpat maves -- if there is a person who does not deserve to die (chet meaning "missing" or "lacking") -- ve-humas, but the person dies anyway, ve-talisa oso al etz. Blame it on the eitz ha-daas.

    And re: the seder of your blog, it's ma'alah -- not a chisaron! Always keeping it interesting!

  8. barzilai - how to you generalize from one contradicting braysa to a universal? and why does rov not establish what you call "popular agreement" in step #2?

  9. We can certainly agree that there are hashkofos that are definitive of what we, as religious Jews, believe. What are these hashkofos, then? What comprises "Hashkofos that are definitive to Orthodox Judaism"? If there are indeed underlying, fundamental hashkofos that are essential to defining what Judaism is, it is fair to say that if all the tannaim agreed on something, it is no longer subject to argument. Yes, Rav and Rav Yochanan could argue on tannaim. I don't know why some gemoros say that they can and some do not avail themselves of that teretz. But certainly if a Rishon would say that although all tannaim hold one way, I hold another way, we would demote him to "seforim chitzonim." The Rambam's Sheidim and kishuf thing is close to an example. But even he implied that the Tannaim and Amoraim knew it was nonsense but that they didn't feel it was worth disabusing the common man of an innocuous belief that can generate yir'as shomayim and encourage turning to God in tefillah, like the seifer refu'os story of Chizkiahu.

  10. Fascinating discussion. As you know, the implications of this tiyuvta are far reaching - the Rambam certainly seems to ignore it in the Moreh Nevuchim, for example.

    Yet Tosafot bring it down l'halacha in Masechet Berachot, where they cite opinions that the language of the Birkat Hamazon in a Bet Evel should be altered to reflect the opinion that "yesh mita belo het."

    Meiri in Masechet Shabbat, while agreeing with the Rambam on a philosophical plane, concurs with Tosafot that this is not the position of the Gemara according to the simple meaning of the text. Therefore, he states that in matters of iqrei emunah we need not feel bound by aggadic statements.

    The interesting thing is that, logically, the Gemara only refuted half the maamar - what does this imply about the other half? Although Tosafot clearly understands the Gemara as rejecting the entirety of the statement - even the part not impacted by the specific disproof -this is not the opinion of Ramban, as noted above.

    Fascinatingly, there is another case of a similar phenomenon in the beginning of Masechet Menahot, Daf Dalet, where one part of a two-part memra is refuted, and the Rishonim argue as to the implications of this refutation for the "untouched" half of the statement.

    Specifically, Rav holds that the Qorban Haomer, Asham Nazir and Asham Metsora are all invalidated by improper intent. The Gemara on Daf Hei clearly disproves Rav's opinion regarding Asham Metsora, and concludes with a "tiyuvta".

    Nonetheless, the Rambam upholds Rav's statement regarding Qorban Haomer, as does Bartenura in the Mishna. Tosefot Yom Tov on the first Mishnah in Zevahim points out this disparity and, if memory serves, he contrasts it with the approaches taken in other Rishonim.

    Apparently, then, there is some methodological consistency here in terms of the derech of Gemara interpretation in these unusual situations, and it may have nothing to do with the hashqafa/halacha dichotomy.

  11. Anonymous4:00 PM

    "While on the topic, Rashi’s writes (Brachos 5) that yisurim shel ahavah are brought on a tzadik to increase merit, not in response to any sin of the tzadik."

    Rashi says this in brachas 5a, but in brachos 5b d"h d'havu lehu banim vameysu, he says havu lehu yesurin shel ahava *she'ha'avelus mechaperes al avonosov*

    Do you understand this?

  12. Do you understand this?

    I don't think Rashi on 5a is defining Yissurin Shel Ahavah as necessarily w/o sin. This is not only contradicted by Rashi on 5b, but also renders the Gemara's question regarding Negaim ("They aren't Yissurim Shel Ahavah? But it says they are a Mizbach Kaparah!) very difficult, since they are Mamash the opposite.

    I think Rashi on 5a means that one type of Yisurin Shel Ahavah is without sin. When there are no Aveiros and no Bitul Torah, he can be sure that it is Yisurin Shel Ahavah. Otherwise, you don't know - not that it is for sure not.