Week Two Summary of Midreshet Avigayil

by Tzipporah Machlah Klapper, Midreshet Avigayil Participant

*The Center for Modern Torah Leadership is excited to be running our first-ever intensive Talmud program for teenage girls. Below you will find a summary of their second and final week of shiur.

This week we’ll discuss some of the issues raised by rishonim about our sugya. (Please stay tuned for our video teaching the sugya itself, coming soon to YouTube!)

A rubric for understanding this summary of the sugya:
Bold represents the relevant part of the gemara.
Italics represent the question asked by the rishonim.
Underlining represents our comments on the section.

Our sugya presents an Amoraic dispute as to whether a Rabbinic legal decision can compel someone to violate Torah law. The Rabbinic phrase for this is “The Sages do/don’t have the power to uproot a Torah matter.”

1. One of the cases brought to prove that the Rabbis can uproot something from the Torah is a dispute between Symmachus, who is citing Rabbi Meir, and the Sages regarding the case of a non-kohen who eats tahor terumah, which should have been available for a kohen to eat. The gemara concludes that he must replace the eaten terumah by taking terumah again from tahor produce; if he takes the replacement terumah from tamei produce, which cannot be eaten by anyone if made terumah, his repayment does not count and he must do it yet again.

2. The gemara assumes that according to Rabbi Meir, this means that the non-kohen gets his failed repayment back, and it is not considered terumah.

The gemara asks: How can this be so, if the Rabbis cannot uproot something from the Torah?! The repayment works under Biblical law (deoraita), and so it becomes the property of the kohen. Therefore, if the kohen takes the tamei terumah and betroths a woman with it, she is married under Biblical law. Yet the Rabbis declare that it is not the property of the kohen, and therefore that she is not married and may marry whom she pleases. They permit this woman – who is Biblically married – to the world!

Question: Why is the case this complicated? Can’t the gemara just ask about the ramifications of a non-kohen eating terumah?

Answer: Tos. Yeshanim (cited as R”I in Tos.): Perhaps the gemara’s initial assumption was not, as we thought, that the non-kohen gets his failed repayment back as chullin. Perhaps it is terumah, but the kohen has no part in it.

This is a not a strong answer. We discussed the idea that Tosfot is more interested in demonstrating that contradictions are soluble than in solving them.

Question: Tos. (answer cited as R”I): But isn’t the marriage case easily soluble? The Talmud previously stated that when the Rabbis transfer property from its owner under Biblical law, this is not considered uprooting a Torah matter!

Answer: No, because hefker beis din hefker (the principle that a Beit Din has the power to reassign money and property ownership) works only when the person from whom beit din is taking the money has sinned. Here, what sin has the Kohen committed?

We wondered why Tos. doesn’t just bring up afk’inhu (the principle that Beit Din can nullify marriages, which the Talmud also says is not considered uprooting the Torah), since the mechanism of hefker beit din hefker is both indirect and unconvincing as an explanation of why the marriage in this case is invalid.

We thought that perhaps here hefker beit din hefker really means afk’inhu, since retroactively transferring ownership of the marriage ring is the standard mechanism for afk’inhu. This would be an unusually clear-cut case, since the money here can be transferred immediately rather than retroactively. R”I’s definition of hefker beit din hefker would then be a comment about afk’inhu as well – it cannot be used without fault on the part of the man whose attempt to marry is denied.

3. A beraita the gemara cites as a potential proof discusses a navi (prophet) who tells “you” to violate one of the mitzvot in the Torah, like Eliyahu on Har HaCarmel ordering animal sacrifices outside the Temple. You must listen to everything he says, according to the hour.

Question: But perhaps the case of Eliyahu is different, since his action on Mount Carmel were directly commanded by G-d?

Note that this is not, as one might assume at first glance, a question on the proof-text; it does not challenge the beraita’s derivation from Eliyahu that one must obey prophets when they command you to violate Torah law. Rather, it is a question on the Talmud’s use of this text as evidence that rabbis can uproot something from the Torah. Rabbis and prophets can be compared so long as prophets are using their own reasoning; if their power to uproot Torah applies only when G-d directly commands that uprooting, the Talmud cannot derive Rabbinic power from them. (This point is made explicitly in a parallel Tos.)

Answer: Tos. Yeshanim: The text says that you should listen to the prophet according to the hour – this means that we are discussing even cases in which he is not acting under specific Divine instructions. If he were acting under specific Divine instructions, why would the hour matter? You should always listen.

Answer: Tos.: If a navi can violate the Torah at G-d’s direct command, then that navi must also be able to violate the Torah without it, because prophets are not allowed to make new legal claims on the basis of their prophecy.

Question: Perhaps Eliyahu was different because his status was empirically verified (muchzak), on the basis of previous predictions coming true? If so, there is no parallel way to verify rabbinic status, and so we cannot derive rabbinic power from prophetic power!?

Answer: Tos. Yeshanim: The text says, “navi” (this is a text we do not have) – therefore, any navi (even unverified), and therefore also Rabbis.

Answer: R”I in Tos.: Even an unverified prophet (and therefore also rabbis) can order a violation of Torah law to meet the needs of the hour. However, Eliyahu ordered the violation on the basis of his prediction that this would be followed by miracles (which would meet the needs of the hour). Only a verified prophet can demand obedience on the basis of a prediction.

Question: Perhaps “according to the hour” means that orders issued by neviim don’t last! If so, how can this be brought as a proof that the Rabbis can issue lasting legislation, as in our terumah case?

Answer: Ramban: “According to the hour” really means “in accordance with the issues of the hour”, even if the hour lasts millennia. All legislation passed by the Rabbis is such. “According to the hour” is intended only to exclude the case of a navi who says that God has changed His mind about a mitzvah and no longer wishes you to observe it – you are not allowed to listen.


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