Thursday, July 24, 2008

rov - birur or hanhaga; probable truth vs. certainty

Last post I mentioned the position of the Terumas haDeshen that rov is just a hanhaga and not a birur; that is, rov just points us to a probable solution to a dilemma, but does not resolve with certainty the underlying question. It would seem, therefore, that if we could achieve certainty, we could no longer rely on the probabilistic resolution of rov. For example, if I had a mix of 9 frogs and 1 tamei sheretz and accidentally touched one animal from the mix, given no other information, since there is a 90% probability that I touched a frog and not the one tamei sheretz, rov dicatates that I am tahor. But let’s say I could know with certainty which animal I touched. Let’s say a Navi came and revealed prophetically that it was the sheretz and not a frog that I came in contact with – would I have a right to still rely on rov? It would seem not, as an assumption about what probably happened cannot trump the revelation of what factually occurred, the certainty of truth.

The problem is that this thesis seems to contradict a well known gemara. The gemara (Bava Metziya 59) tells us about a dispute between R’ Eliezer and the Chachamim regarding whether a certain type of oven was tahor or tamei. R’ Eliezer marshaled all types of miraculous signs to prove that truth was on his side, culminating in a prophetic bas kol declaring from Heaven that his position was correct. Yet, the Chachamim stood their ground, rejected the bas kol, and declared the halacha always follows the majority opinion - “Acharei rabim l’hatos”, rov always wins. Based on the analysis above, this gemara is puzzling. Rov is probabilistic truth, but not factual certainty. Given no other information, we would assume the majority opinion is correct, just like in the absence of other information we assume a person touched one of the 9 frogs and not the 1 sheretz in a pile. But if we have a window on certainty, then that should trump rov. Just like a revelation of a Navi that factually the sheretz was touched and not a frog renders any discussion of what probably happened moot, the prophetic revelation of by the bas kol that R’ Eliezer is right should render any discussion of majority vs. minority moot.

Why is this case of tanir shel achna’i, the debate between R’ Eliezer and Chachamim, different than the case of 9 frogs and one sheretz?

(A similar question appears in Koveitz Divrei Sofrim of R’ Elchanan, and I think there is more than one way to skin this cat. I like the kashe so I figured I would share it to give you some oneg Shabbos.)

12 comments:

  1. I thought you might find the latest post on my "Ask The Rabbi" blog interesting, and I was hoping to get your feedback. It thought you might have further insight into it.

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  2. Wait a minute -- the chiluk is clear -- you basically make it in your post. The navi telling you that you touched a frog and not a sheretz is a birur in metzius. THe tanur shel achnai is not a question of using rov as a birur in metzius but rather a principle in klalei ha-psak. Perhaps you could even suggest that even if le-gabei the role of rov with regard to a metzius it is simply a "probably truth" -- with respect to the role of rov in klalei ha-psak -- i.e., a machlokes in halacha, not metzius, then we say that the rov creates a "certainty."

    See the Torah Temimah at the end of Vayikra on the drasha of Eileh ha-mitzvos, ein navi rashai lechadesh etc, that a navi cannot use nevuah for halachic clarification but he can for a metzius.

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  3. >>>a machlokes in halacha, not metzius, then we say that the rov creates a "certainty."

    I'm not sure what you mean. How are can we be certain that a halachic opinion in correct just because it is embraced by a majority?

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  4. Rabbi Maroof - just read the question. Unbelievable!

    Anon1 - the Maharaytz Chiyus also talks about a Navi being mevarer metziyus. I touched on this in a shiur on Shavuos this year and saw the T"T who covers some similar ground.

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  5. Anonymous12:11 PM

    I'm not sure what you mean. How are can we be certain that a halachic opinion in correct just because it is embraced by a majority?

    Becuase the principle of 'Achrei Rabbim L'Hatos in itself creates the Halacha, given the right circumstances.

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  6. Anonymous9:28 AM

    How did Chaim Ozer Gruzinsky Know english?
    http://www.shturem.net/index.php?section=news&id=28103&lang=hebrew

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  7. Sod Hashem l'Yereyav : )

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  8. Barzilai2:13 PM

    I have been certified by your many readers to file this as a Class Action Comment:

    Where are you????

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  9. I am alive and well bur got buried under work and some other issues this week. Will be back soon bl"n, and thank you for the comment.

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  10. Tal Benschar6:17 PM

    It's been a while since I go on your blog, today I decide to go on, and I read this excellent question!

    R. Chaim Soloveichik gave a famous biur of acharei rabbim lehattos which answers your question. Basically, there are two halakhos of Rov we learn out from that passuk.

    The first is that rov creates a biur about the truth of the matter -- in this case that the majority of the Beis Din has the correct psak. From there we extrapolate to cases like yours that we assume that the person touched one of the Rov.

    The second is the halakha of bittul be rov. If the majority of a beis din decides that the psak is a certain way (the nitan is chayyav or pattur), then they are mevatel the opinion of the entire beis din, and the entire beis din paskens that way. Meaning that if the beis din votes 2:1 chayyav, al pi din the two are mevatel the one, and the entire beis din of three are mechayyev.

    (I once heard from R. Aharon Soloveichik that this is the reason why if one dayyan says "Eini yodeah" the halakha requires that we add dayannim. At first glance, it seems odd that if 2 say chayyav and one says pattur that the person is chayyav, but if 2 say chayyav and one says pattur we have to add dayyanim. The answer is that the one Eini Yodeah dayyan has no opinion -- and hence there is nothing to be battel be rov.)

    The Tanur Achnai is the same thing. Rov of the Beis Din paskened one way. Al pi din, the minority were battel to the majority.

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  11. Tal Benschar6:19 PM

    Whoops, I mistyped. The parenthetical in the last post should read:

    (I once heard from R. Aharon Soloveichik that this is the reason why if one dayyan says "Eini yodeah" the halakha requires that we add dayannim. At first glance, it seems odd that if 2 say chayyav and one says pattur that the person is chayyav, but if 2 say chayyav and one says eini yodeah we have to add dayyanim. The answer is that the one Eini Yodeah dayyan has no opinion -- and hence there is nothing to be battel be rov.)

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