Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rambam / Ra'avad on bal tosif

Rambam (Mamrim 2:9) explains that there is no issur of bal tosif when Chazal add takanos and seyagim to the mitzvos of the Torah so long as they make clear that their legislation is not a din d'oraysa. For example, the Rabbinic prohibition of eating fowl with milk is not in violation of bal tosif because Chazal never claimed that the Torah prohibited anything except animal meat and milk; they simply added an additional distinct safeguard to the existing law. Were Chazal to pretend that their enactment is actually a Torah law, they would be in violation of bal tosif.

The Ra'avad disagrees and holds that bal tosif does not apply to any Rabbinic enactments, whether they are permanent or temporary, whether they are formulated as if they were Torah law or not. What is an asmachta, asks the Ra'avad, if not an attempt to present Rabbinic law as if it was Torah mandated? (The Ra'avad clearly sees asmachta as more than a mnemonic device, in contrast to the Ritva in Eiruvin). Bal tosif applies only to individuals in their performance of mitzvos, e.g. adding extra fringes to tzitzis, an extra compartment to tefillin, extra species to one's lulav.

One thing gained by the Rambam's approach is it makes bal tigra much easier to understand -- Chazal cannot legislate away a mitzvah. If we focus on the individual's performance of mitzvos, like the Ra'avad, how is bal tigra different than a simple failure to perform a mitzvah?

Putting that point aside for now, we can explain the two views with the following chakira (Avi Ezri, Hil Mamrim): does bal tosif / bal tigra limit modification to the chiyuv or the kiyum of mitzvos? The Rambam emphasizes the immutability of Torah chiyuv or issur obligations even through Rabbinic legislation -- the nature of law itself is not subject to change. Ra'avad, however, shifts the discussion from the nature of law in theory (chiyuv) to its to fulfillment in practice (kiyum) -- has the individual performed what the Torah demanded without adding or subtracting from what is required?

As we shall see, this issue comes up in other areas as well, notably with respect to shofar.


  1. I believe Rav Elchanan in Kuntres Divrei Sofrim discusses the idea of bal tigra in relation to Chazal being okeir a d'oreisa

  2. The Bais haLevi beat him to it.

  3. I think you need to correct
    "The Ra'avad clearly sees asmachta as more than a mnemonic device,"

    "The Ra'avad clearly sees asmachta as NO more than a mnemonic device,"

    Feel free to erase this.

  4. According the the Ra'avad it is not a mnemonic device, otherwise his proof against the Rambam makes no sense.
    The Ra'avad proves from asmachta that there is no problem with a din derabbanan impersonating a d'oraysa -- if asmachta is just a mnemonic, then it's not really impersonating anything.
    I did not double-check, but IIRC the Pri Megadim in his Pesicha haKolelles questions whether an asmachta has more power than a regular derabbanan because it is attached to a pasuk. Based on the Ra'avad I think the answer is yes.

  5. I thought the Ritva in Eiruvin said that asmachtas were intentionally engineered so that Chazal would legislate a takana that would have only the chomer of a derabanan. If so, one couldn't say that asmachtas are a bal tosif problem, because it's not a hosafa if it's intended. If, on the other hand, the Raavad holds that asmachtas are pure inventions, then he would have a raya against the Rambam.

    But at least I now see what you mean. The Raavad holds that Chazal intended for us to think that the asmachtas were deoraysa, as we see all over the Sifri. And you want to say that the Rambam holds that they never intended for us to think of them as anything more than mnemonic devices.

  6. This is what I get for reading the shofar post first when I got the e-mail :). A quick repeat of what I said there, and maybe a little more detail.

    The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the reason for the mitzva of Bal Tosif is that by adding to the mitzvos we imply that the Torah was defective as given; e.g. the Torah tells us to use 4 tzitzis, but really it would be better with 5, etc.

    If that is the case, there is no reason why it would be any different when Chazal says that a law is Torah mandated when it is not; the implication is the same. In other words, the Sefer Hachinuch seems to hold like the Rambam.

    The Raavad, then, must have a different conception of the issues underlying Bal Tosif. I think you can say he understands Bal Tosif to be an issue of authority - we are not authorized to add to the Torah. But Chazal is authorized, so Bal Tosif simply has no application to Rabbinic pronouncements.

    I think this explanation of the Raavad's view of Bal Tosif helps answer a question raised by the Minchas Chinuch (and though I hesitate to say it, I think I like the answer better than the one the MC proffers). The Minchas Chinuch points out that the famous gemara in Sanhedrin about Chava erring as a result of violating Bal Tosif (because she added "don't touch the tree") seems to work much better for the Rambam then for the Raavad; according to the Rambam, setting up a geder is only not Bal Tosif if it is delineated as a geder, and doesn't masquerade as a d'oraisa. But according to the Raavad's view that setting up a geder is not Bal Tosif, how can the Gemara say that Chava erred because of Bal Tosif (the MC points out that the Bal Tosif must have been Adam HaRishon's - if Chava had made it up herself, she would have known it wasn't the original commandment and wouldn't have erred).

    The MC's answer for the Raavad is that we don't learn halacha from Aggadata. But if you understand the Raavad as seeing Bal Tosif as an issue of authority, you don't need to say that. Because while Chazal were given specific authority to create geders, Adam was not. Therefore, he exceeded his authority and was in fact over Bal Tosif when he told Chava that Hashem said not only "don't eat", but "don't touch"

  7. check out this post for a possible concrete example, in the thought of Ibn Ezra, of such a "bal tosif".

    kol tuv,