Monthly Archives: August 2016

Parshat עקב Deuteronomy 11:14 How Much Involvement with the World?

Deuteronomy 11:14 – I will give the rain of your land at its time, the early rain and the latter rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil.

Babylonian Talmud-Berachos 35b –  Rabbi Ishmael asked – what is this verse coming to teach us? He answered – because it says in Hosea (Chapter 1) “the words of this book will never depart from your mouth” might be understood plainly as written. This verse states “and you will gather in your grain” to teach [the importance of] conducting oneself according to the way of the world.

Jerusalem Talmud – Berachos Chapter 1, Halacha 5: Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said – is it possible for a person to thresh in the time of threshing, to sow in the time of sowing and reap in the time of reaping? What would become of the Torah? Rather when Israel does the will of God, their work is done by others as it says in Isaiah (Chapter 61:5) “And strangers shall stand and pasture your sheep”. But when Israel is not doing the will of God, they will do their own work as it says in our verse “and you will gather in your grain.”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #25:

Note the commentary of the Maharsha and many of the commentators of homiletics and aggadot who all ask how it is possible to explain our verse as discussing a time when the Jews are not doing the will of God. Behold it state explicitly at the beginning of this section “and it will be that if you follow the will of God…”

Rather it is the case that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochoi, who is expressing this point of view, is following his consistently expressed point of view. It is his opinion that the verse in Hosea (Chapter 1) of “the words of this book will never depart from your mouth and you will [study] them day and night” are to be taken [exactly] literally. (Thus Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochoi disagrees explicitly with Rabbi Ishmael in the previous note.) This difference of opinion is explained in this section of the Gemora and in Menachos (99b). Thus according to Rabbi Shimon, as long as Israel is not clinging to this attribute of [only] studying Torah day and night, by definition they are not following the will of God, even though, in general, they are following the commandments of the Torah.

Translator Note: This note of the Torah Temimah does not, per se, shed new light on this well known disagreement. I do appreciate, however, the Torah Temimah’s emphasizing and pointing out that many commentators have noted that Rabbi Shimon’s opinion seems to go against a plain reading of the verse.

Parshat עקב Deuteronomy 8:10 Women’s Equal Obligation

Deuteronomy 8:10 – And you will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Lord, your God for the land that he has given you.

Jerusalem Talmud-Berachos Chapter 1, Halacha 1: Women, servants and children are obligated to pray the blessing after meals. This is taught by the verse that says: “and you will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the Lord, your God…”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #18:

It appears that the proof from the verse is that since the prayer after eating is only for blessing and thanking God for being satisfied and for the bodily enjoyment [of the food], then apparently there is no distinction between men and women and servants and children. This is similar to what we state at the beginning of Gemora Megila (4a) that women are also obligated in the commandment of reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim because they were also saved during the miracle of Purim. Here also women are included in the requirement to pray the blessing after eating because they are included in the category of having eaten and been satiated.

Note that in the Babylonian Talmud Berachos (20b) there is recorded the discussion between Ravina and Rabba. They were discussing whether the requirement for women to recite the prayer after eating is a biblical obligation or a rabbinic obligation.  Rashi comments there that the doubt arises because on the one hand the commandment appears to be a non-time bound positive commandment which is equally required for men as for women. On the other hand, in the text of the prayer itself reference is made “to the good land that God has given you”. Since women were not included in the allotment of the land, it would stand to reason that their requirement to say this prayer is not equal to a man’s requirement. Tosafot adds to Rashi’s question by adding that the text of the prayer also mentions the covenant that has been stamped on our flesh [circumcision] and on the Torah that you taught us and notes that these phrases also does not apply to women. Tosafot leaves the question as an open question.

On the basis of this discussion in the Babylonian Talmud, the halachic authorities have ruled that the obligation of women to recite the prayer after eating is possibly not biblical in nature. The ramifications of this ruling has many effects. For example, if one is not sure whether one has recited the prayer or not – what to do is affected by this issue. Further, whether a woman could fulfill the obligation for a man and recite the prayer on his behalf is also impacted by this decision.

However, in my opinion, it is astounding that the universal, straightforward opinion stated in the Jerusalem Talmud is pushed aside by the single opinion of one person in the Babylonian Talmud. Isn’t it clear from the section of the Jerusalem Talmud that we have quoted that there is no doubt that women are obligated in the prayer after meals? Further, as we explained and as many early halachic authorities have already ruled, a doubt in the Babylonian Talmud is pushed aside by a universal, certain statement in the Jerusalem Talmud. [See Tosafot in Niddah 68a and also the Rosh in the second chapter 2 of Succah.]

Another point that is astounding to me is that according to the comments of Rashi and Tosafot, the nature of the doubt relates to the phrases in the prayer concerning the division of the land, concerning circumcision and concerning teaching Torah. If so, then these doubts would only apply to the second paragraph of the prayer in which these items are mentioned. However, the first paragraph which doesn’t mention these items rather just thankfulness and praise for the food, certainly women’s obligation would be equal to a man’s. It is amazing that commentators have not focused on this.

Translator Note: I liked this note of the Torah Temimah for several reasons. First of all, he is pointing out the ramifications of deciding to make a woman’s obligation lesser than a man’s. Secondly, he uses his knowledge of traditional halachic methodology to question whether this decision was accurate.

Parshat מטות Bamidbar 31:7 – Lay Seige According to How God Instructed Moshe

Bamidbar 31:7 – They mounted an attack against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed every male.

Sifri – they surrounded [Midian] on all four sides [this is the general opinion]; Rabbi Natan’s opinion is that the Israelites [surrounded Midian on three sides and] left a fourth side open so that [anyone who wanted to] could flee

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #9:

That is to say that [according to the opinion of Rabbi Natan] the Israelites left a place so that anyone who wanted to flee, could [in fact] flee. The Rambam is the six chapter of the laws of kings, in halacha seven, writes as follows: “when you siege a city to capture it, don’t surround it [completely] on all four sides, rather surround it on three sides. Leave a place for escape, so that anyone who wants to flee to save his life can do so. This is according to the oral tradition that thus it was commanded as it says in the verse ‘they mounted an attack against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses…”

The Kesef Mishna in his commentary on the Rambam cites the above mentioned Sifri as the the source for the Rambam’s ruling. To me, however, this is astounding.

It is not clear why the Rambam decided according to the opinion of Rabbi Natan against the general opinion. Also Rambam phraseology is not clear when he states “this is according to the oral tradition that thus it was commanded.” Where is this command [of only surrounding on three sides] alluded to? Further, what is the source of Rabbi Natan’s opinion?

It is possible to say that the Rambam was relying on what it says in the Jerusalem Talmud Mesechta Shviis, Chapter 6, Halacha 1. There is says that Joshua sent 3 public pronouncements prior to entering the Land of Israel. One of the pronouncements was that anyone who wanted to flee, was free to do so. So, apparently, it is unclear where Joshua was instructed to do this. One needs to conclude that Joshua learned to do this from [watching] the way Moshe conducted his wars. So, behold this is a proof to the opinion of Rabbi Natan. It is on this beraita [in the Jerusalem Talmud] that Rabbi Natan relied on for his opinion. Also, as it is known that an unattributed beraita is according to Rabbi Natan, it is therefore logical that the Rambam would decide according to Rabbi Natan.

This also explains the Rambam’s phraseology of “according to the oral tradition we learn”. The intent is that according to the way that Joshua conducted himself, we see that thus it was commanded to Moshe.

The reason for leaving the fourth side open is because if one does not do this, the fighters would fight without hope with their last remaining ounce of strength. It would then be more difficult for the Children of Israel to win the war. This would not be the case if a fourth side were left open for the combatants to flee.