Sunday, January 09, 2011

where was the mizbeyach located -- halacha vs. reality

At a daf shiur where I am a sometimes once a week substitute I was asked the following question: how can the gemara (Zevachim 58-59) have a machlokes Tanaim whether the mizbeyach stood in the north/south/center of the Mikdash? These Tanaim did not live so long after the churban and they might have personally seen or known people who had personally seen the Mikdash while it was standing. Didn't anyone remember?

Granting the premise that the memory of where the mizbeyach stood would remain fresh in at least some people's minds (which I'm not 100% certain about, but it seems reasonable), I proposed two responses:

1) Where the mizbeyach stood last time around is irrelevant. If in theory the Tanaim agreed to darshen pesukim differently and locate the mizbeyach in a different spot, that is what we would do going forward.

2) As we once discussed, the metziyus is not necessarily proof in the world of halacha. R' Dessler points out (Michtav m'Eliyahu vol 4 p. 56-57) that we have disputes in many areas where it is inconceivable that there was not some historical precedent or even some common practice that would support one side over the other. Yet, that proof does not make for torah sheb'al peh. Halacha can only be derived from derashos, from a mesorah, from sevara. Without those theoretical underpinnings, what was done in practice might be called a minhag, but it lacks the formal stamp of law. (I think R' Dessler's chiddush sheds light on a Ran at the end of R"H. The Ran asks how the gemara could have a dispute as to what the sound of a teru'ah should be -- didn't people blow shofar every Rosh HaShana? The Ran answers that all the various opinions -- shevarim, teru'ah, shevarim-teru'ah -- were done in practice, i.e. they were minhagim, but the gemara wanted to codify a standard, i.e. codify one view as a matter of law.)

On a similar note (not exactly the same): Chazal teach (Ta'anis 5) that Ya'akov Avinu did not die. The gemara asks: but we know that Ya'akov was embalmed? To which the answer is given that our teaching is based on a derasha. Everybody wonders what kind of answer that is -- so what if it's a derasha, it still contradicts reality!? R' Chaim explained that if "Ya'akov Avinu lo meis" is a metziyus, if it is based on an observation of reality, then it can be challenged and disproven by a contrary observation. However, if it is a dersha, the facts on the ground can't stand in the way. OK, so we have a question from what we see as reality, but that proof is not strong enough to force us to dismiss the equally strong reality of the truth of the derasha. (Something to keep in mind when dealing with other areas like this...)

So much for my 2 cents. Anyone have any other ideas on how to answer this question?


  1. I was thinking about this very same thing today.

    Maybe you can also say that the fact that they had disputes over things like the location of the mizbeyach (which we assume that they would remember themselves, or that could collect testimony on) is indicative of the level of churban that was affected onto the Jewish people - after the destruction, even the mesorah for the goings-on from just a few years before became corrupted.

  2. I mentioned the question to my wife and she had a similar idea to yours. Chazal say that thousands of halachos were forgotten when Moshe died. Perhaps here too part of the tragedy is the disruption of the mesorah.

  3. I don't understand, the derasha of Yaakov Avinu lo mes doesn't contradict a metzius - it's a possuk! It's not 'what we see as reality.' Where is this R' Chaim?

  4. Quoted in "Nesivos Raboseinu l'Beis Brisk"

  5. The Steipler in Peninei Rabbeinu Koheles Yaakov says that you can't bring a proof from the beis hamikdosh becuase the tanna will say fine, that's what they did because they held that way but I argue.

  6. Nobody holds the position is me'akeiv the kashrus of the mizbeach. After all, all you need is a structure, because the floor has the same kedusha. So the issue is what's lechatchila and what's bedieved. I don't know if the people who built it cared so much about lechatchila and bedieved. True, the Chashmona'im rebuilt it, but after that point it's possible that it was rebuilt several times, too, by Hordus for example.

  7. PC -- you are willing to tolerate a machlokes is metziyus? And the answer doesn't fit the proof from the tzitz that R' Dessler brings because in that case one tanna saw the tzitz is Rome, the other didn't. (BTW, I though the Steipler dealt with this in Chayei Olam, but I have the old edition at home and couldn't find it.)

    B -- IIRC whether they were mekadesh the floor or not is itself a machlokes, bot of 59a. Secondly, some Tanaim darshen that there is an issur of having kelim in the north, other tanaim old that that is the spot the mizbeyach stood and that derasha is wrong. That's more than a matter of best practice.

  8. Anonymous3:44 PM

    this is an old question discussed in the griz there in zvachim and in mikdash dovid siman aleph

  9. I can't find either mareh makom you are referring to. There is no griz on these dapin (at least not in the new edition)

  10. Anonymous10:11 PM

    there is a very interesting Sicha of the Rebbe, i think it achron shel pesach. 5738

    about tziztos beis shammi and beis hillel 3 or 4 strings,

    also with bnei bessia and korbaon pesach. Beis shammi and beis hillel

    that although the was a metzios, if you can darshon a passuk, to be differently then that was valid even though the metzios was different.

    this stopped at the chassos hashas, when they could no longer darshon passokim- very long ago so i dont recall all details

  11. Anonymous10:55 PM

    page 702 -710
    the rebbe has a very intresting approach, it covers many machlokos of metzios

    love reading your blog - amazing divreai torah


  12. great unknown11:35 PM

    The issue of Ya'akov Avinu Lo Mais can be understood as that the derasha teaches us that our definition of Mais is faulty. Certainly he was embalmed - that is a possuk, not a derasha. It could be that this is what R' Chaim meant.

    The Yerushalmi in Pesachim on the ma'aseh with Hillel and the Bnai Besairah gives a "blunt force" answer which matches somewhat a previous comment. Simply, the shikchah was min Hashmayim to allow Hillel to attain greatness.

    The Meiri on the other hand takes an approach similar to the Michtav m'Eliyahu in saying that they knew the halacha but simply forgot the derasha for it. However, he does not invoke the concept that it would therefore only be a minhag and not torah sheba'al peh; rather, he says, there were those who were "me'ra'anim acharov" [probably saying that bringing the Korban Pesach on Shabbat is a terrible kulah and we have to be machmir - we all know that tradition cannot stand up to the harsh light of chumros], and therefore they needed the derasha. At least in those days, even the machmirim were submissive in the face of a makor.

    I apply the Yerushalmi to many issues where gedolim disagree with my obviously correct opinions: it's min Hashamyim, for whatever reasons that only The Ribbono Shel Olam knows. Palgei Mayim Lev Melochim Beyad Hashem...Man Malki, Rabbanan.

    What this means in the context of Lo Bashamayim He requires a deeper analysis. But we find a similar approach in Tosafos in Chullin [according to the Maharam] regarding Makom Hainichu Lanu Avosainu where he says that min Hashamyim the previous generations erred in their psak to allow a gadol in a future generation to correct the mistake. And while Rashi seems to say differently, the Maharsha apparently is docheck that understanding into Rashi also.

    [This also gets into Ailu v'Ailu, which is not a simple topic either.]

    An analogy would be the question of whether bechira is absolute, or does The Ribbono Shel Olam occasionally override it [even in a non-punishment situation a la Par'oh] where historical necessity presses. See, e.g., Yehuda and Tamar.

  13. Anonymous12:44 AM

    the rebbe approach differs then haRav Desseler, in that Rav dessler learns it as a minhag- that doesnt establish the halahacha

    while the rebbe learns it that if the limid via yud gimmel drashas, it can be learnt out and the previous metzios dosent have matter

    even though the second beis dn is smaller - yiftach bdoro kishmel bidoro

    the rambam writes about that a beis din cant change a passuk is only a takkanah, not a drasha

    interestingly he goes though tefllin of rashi and r"t, which is after the chasmias hatalmud - there was a tradition like both

    fascinating topic

  14. Anonymous8:59 PM

    the griz is somewher else. i wanna say bechoros 17

  15. BEchoros 17 is a different one... I plan bli neder to post that one this week if I have time.