[Avodah] Mesora only through Rashi
Chana Luntz via Avodah
avodah at lists.aishdas.org
Sat Aug 22 16:06:16 PDT 2015
On Sat, Aug 15, 2015 at 11:41:09PM +0100, RMB wrote:
:> Mesorah, in RYBS's lexicon, is the conversation down time, the flow of
the :> Oral Law from generation to generation. The code describes a
snapshot. The :> parshan connects the past to the now.
: That might be so, but that merely makes it a Humpty Dumpty conversation.
: Most people understand mesorah as being that which each previous
: handed over to the next.
And RMB further replied:
<<Yes, but if you want to know what RYBS meant, it requires knowing what the
word means in RYBS's lexicon, with the connotations he assumed. Notice my
suggestion about how "mesorah" was being used fits the quote from the qinos
and the example of the Yerushalmi.>>
I read the quote and the original RGS posting before commenting on the
thread because I generally try not to jump in mid-conversation without
understanding what has previously been said.
And that is precisely what I am objecting to. Because the RGS piece
(including the quote) - is actually about our mesorah *regarding learning*
(ie a much narrower slice of the wider definition). In that, as I said, I
think it correct - our mesorah regarding how to learn - how to sit in
Yeshiva and deal with the texts owes far more to Rashi and Tosphos than to
the Rambam. But as stated in the quote, this suddenly becomes "our mesorah"
in general and that is what I find problematic as I will try and articulate
So let us look at the quote again:
quoted Qinot Mesorat haRav. The quote is long, so I'm just giving part:
Our Torah shebe'al peh is based on Rashi and the Tosafists. If Jewish
history had not included Maimonides, the Jewish world would have missed
a great deal. Maimonides enriched our thinking and world view
tremendously, but the Torah shebe'al peh would have survived without
him. However, without Rashi and the Tosafists, there would not have
been any mesora, any chain of tradition; we could not teach Torah
shebe'al peh today. Take as a simple example, the Jerusalem Talmud.
Many Rishonim, the early Medieval scholars, speak about the Jerusalem
Talmud, and certain parts were interpreted and explained, but without
commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafists, it is a sealed book...
The point I am making is that "any mesorah, "any chain of tradition" is
much, much wider than what is done in Brisker yeshivas as part of the
<<I understand the frustration of thinking you were discussing a statement
that meant one thing and only after formulating a log response being told
that it likely meant something else. But that's a straightforward
misunderstanding due to your being outside the target audience when RYBS was
saying / learning Qinos, and therefore not being used to the connoctations
he assumes; and Lewis Carrol refferences aren't needed.>>
Now, if the point you are making is that RYBS was addressing yeshiva bochrim
within a yeshiva setting (albeit explaining kinos on Tisha B'av) and hence
explaining what it is that they do all day learning-wise- then the use of
such language is probably excusable without the modifier - ie in this
context mesorah is simply short for "mesorah with regard to how to learn".
But the problem is that this language has now been pulled, by way of RGS's
article (and lends itself to being pulled by its sheer breadth), into a
wider application and wider audience, and not modified as such. It was then
pulled across into Avodah, and the reference questioned, which I think it
should be, because RGS's argument is implicitly if not explicitly far wider.
And that I think is a problem, because what is true for one slice of "the
mesorah" is not necessarily true for the whole. Whether this imprecision is
RYBS's or RGS's is hard for me to be sure, as you say, this is a quote taken
out of context.
<<I intend to write a post on the meaning of the word "mesorah" as developed
in RYBS's and RHS's thought as the start of its own thread.
Because it not only comes up here, it comes up in the discussions raging
elsewhere (Torah Musings, Cross Currents, Facebook) on RWMO's objections to
Open O and feminism.>>
And this is where this slide from discussing one slice of the mesorah - what
to do in Yeshiva, to a much wider slice of the mesorah becomes problematic,
because of the implication you have just made which is that what is true of
the section applies to the whole. And in this context you are dealing with
what is called in common parlance the mesorah, not about conversations down
time. So by slight of hand what you are doing is taking a definition which
you acknowledge is a very limited and idiosyncratic one, but then sliding
the conclusions that arise from that definition into the more standard
debate, and claiming that was RYBS's opinion regarding the debate about what
is more commonly known as "the mesorah".
Let us therefore back up for a minute and discuss that aspect of RGS's post
which in my view is unquestionably correct, even using the usual definition
RGS comments that he and his father tried to learn meseches Nedarim just
using the meforash, in the absence of Rashi, and were not able to do so
(they were then only able to do it using the Ran, a much later commentary) -
thus demonstrating the point of the post, which is, without Rashi, most of
the Talmud Bavli would be a closed book to most people of average, and even
above average, intelligence (like the Talmud Yerushalmi).
This is unquestionably true.
The Rambam was also aware of this problem (after all he learned all of
Talmud Bavli without Rashi and everybody he knew either did so or tried to
do so). His solution to RGS's problem was to tell RGS and his father, and
people like him, not to try and learn Talmud Bavli, but to learn his, the
Rambam's, Code instead. Ie instead of trying to tackle Maseches Nedarim, he
would suggest that RGS and his father learn Hilchos Nedarim from the Mishne
Torah. Now the truth is that if RGS and his father had in fact learnt all
of Hilchos Nedarim from the Rambam, and all of the rest of the Mishne Torah,
backwards and forwards and inside out - they are likely then to be well set
up to tackle the Talmud Bavli without Rashi. Ie you *can* use the Rambam as
a guide back into the Talmud if you are bright enough (because you have most
of the concepts already explained by him), but it is not an easy way to do
it. The Rambam assumed that the average person would stop with his Code,
and only the best and brightest would need then to go back to the Talmud, to
help determine the ambiguous cases not caught by his code, in a method not a
million miles away from the one use by smicha students in learning Hilchos
Shechita or Kashrus - first learn the Shulchan Aruch, then work your way
back to the underlying gemoras so you are in a position to posken those
cases the Shulchan Aruch doesn't catch.
Our mesorah is like Rashi in this regard and not the Rambam (except when it
comes to smicha students). We open up the Talmud Bavli even to children
using Rashi and hundreds of thousands are sitting in yeshiva following
The problem is that people (it would appear including you) then generalise
from "how we learn" to "how we posken" - which is what really is involved in
the discussion regarding Open O and feminism. And they are not the same
thing at all. Indeed, the fact that smicha students (those that are being
set up to posken) are taught in a totally different way to the more general
way of learning in yeshiva, and one that owes far more to the Rambam than to
Rashi and Tosphos should alert you to that.
I am then going to diverge a bit to discuss RAM's post, because he is
discussing something completely different again:
> Yes Rashi and Tosphos enable the masses, or at least many more of
> them, to learn the process whereby the elite, such as the Rambam, were
> able to formulate their halachic conclusions.
And RAM replied:
<<You do realize, of course, that there was no such person as "Tosphos". The
Tosaphists were very real, and very important, but they were not the ones to
decide on the inclusion or exclusion of any particular comment. That was the
choice of the publisher of the gemara, and if his whim had gone in another
direction, who knows what other views would have gotten more press coverage.
(Yes, I know that there are many volumes filled with the writings of even
the most obscure Tosaphists, but the fact remains that getting included in
the standard printed edition is the path to widest influence.)>>
But you here (and it is even more explicit later) are discussing something
completely different to what I was and am discussing. To best
differentiate, I would say that you are discussing *content* and I am
discussing *process*. Yes with regard to *content* it makes a difference
which particular one of the Tosphosim were included on the page, and which
weren't - but that is not what I am discussing. Rather I am discussing *how
to learn* - ie how to make sense of this Talmud Bavli which (as RGS
elucidated so eloquently) is so difficult for people to get into without
What Rashi did was to provide a clear and simple explanation of the words on
What Tosphos did (and in this regard the whole commentary called Tosphos -
despite the fact that it was made up of many different people, in fact
teaches pretty much the same thing) was to teach people to say "hold on a
minute, if we take the simple explanation provided by Rashi, then: a) there
is a contradiction with what the gemora says somewhere else; or b) there is
a contradiction with what in fact people do - so therefore we need to try
and solve this problem. I then further goes on to teach people to say: very
commonly we can solve this problem by: (i) re-interpreting this gemora;
and/or (ii) reinterpreting that gemora; and/or (iii) finding some way of
harmonizing the two gemoras, or the gemora and people's practice, or if we
cannot manage to that (but only in extremis), (iv) working out that a
certain gemora is more authoritative or the people are wrong.
Note that when you are considering the process, it doesn't matter which
particular sets of Tosphos' questions made it onto the page and which didn't
- what is far more important is the fact that the commentary in general
teaches people to ask these questions and mechanisms for trying to answer
them. That is what a (eg child) who is first taught to study the gemora
with Rashi suddenly encounters when he moves on to Tosphos. Hold on, Rashi's
commentary may make a lot of sense in localised context, but we now have to
try and consider the whole.
Now of course the Rambam had not only to be his own Rashi, but he had to be
his own Tosphos. He could not have written his Code if underneath the
surface he did not deal with the fact that the gemora appears to contradict
itself all over the place, and also to contradict what people are actually
doing. The fundamental job of most meforshim on the Rambam is therefore
(a) to explain how the Rambam understood the simple explanation of the
gemora (ie what the Rambam would have said if he had written Rashi) and (b)
how the Rambam resolved the contradictions in the various gemoras and with
common practice (ie how the Rambam deals with the kinds of problems raised
by the Tosphosim).
But all of this is under the surface. All we have from the Rambam is the
result, what we have from Tosphos are the questions. And it is the
questions which give people a better window into how to learn gemora.
So that is why, when discussing *process* it does not matter that:
<<My point is that while RMB and RCL are trying to imagine what Torah would
look like without Tosaphos, as I see it, even the Tosaphos that we do have
is a somewhat random document. If Hashgacha (or, some might prefer, blind
luck) had gone in another direction, Tosaphos would be very different, and
practical halacha with it.>>
Because while we might have different Tosphos questions (ie content) on (or
off) the page if hashgacha had gone in a different direction, or if there
were gemoros on some of the mesechtos on which we have none, the process of
*how* Tosphos (or the Rambam) would have dealt with that content is still
But if we would have had no Rashi and no Tosphos at all, ie the process they
originated, but only the Rambam, we would all have learnt the code backward
and forward, and a few bright sparks would have then used that to understand
the gemora - a very, very different process of learning. In that regard our
mesorah of learning comes from Rashi and Tosphos.
On the other hand, RET is correct:
<<Remember that when the SA appeared there were strong objections against
Many felt that a posek should know the sources and make his own
interpretation and not rely or be bound by any text.>>
Although I would modify that statement not to say "and not be bound by any
text", as most at that point agreed that they should be bound by the gemora
(and the Tanach as understood by the mishna/gemora), just not beyond that.
And that is the point. There are two different concepts being discussed
here, the mesorah of "how to learn" and the mesorah of "how to posken"
(which then leads into what it is that people do). And when the Shulchan
Aruch came out a lot of people strongly objected to the way of poskening
that is a consequence of the codes. They thought that each posek should
re-learn the relevant underlying gemoras, and work out their own
harmonisation of them without being influenced, and certainly not bound, by
what the Shulchan Aruch said. Some people perhaps thought that was a bit
extreme, and that at least they should learn the underlying gemoras with all
the rishonim, and, to the extent there was rishonic view, at least make a
judgement within that spectrum (but not necessarily prioritise eg the
Rambam, Rif and Rosh, or the Trumas HaDeshen and the Mordechai, being the
most recent, over the others).
The problem you have though is that - well, according to the gemora there
are at least 50 ways of determining that a sheretz is kosher. Even if you
then say that the gemora draws certain lines in the sand, there is no
question that - well, let us take the hair covering question as
illustrative. There are clearly (at least) two ways of reading the
question: (a) hair covering for married women is an absolute and immutable
d'orisa principle; (b) hair covering for married women is a tznius related
convention - and given the convention at the time of the gemora (and
earlier) it is required in those societies where it is practiced by modest
Jewish women by virtue of rabbinic decree.
If you can't see that the underlying sources (eg the mishna and gemora)
*could* lead to either interpretation, then you are either wilfully blinding
yourself or you can't learn. If you purely follow Rashi and Tosphos, then
*if* you can read the underlying gemora sources in such a way as to
harmonise with common practice today (even if you believe it is a bit of a
dochek), then you would be free to do so, or at least, have no basis to
criticise others who do this.
However, nobody has that conversation today. The conversation you are
having is about "how authoritative" are the various poskim (and from which
tradition) who do appear to rule in one way or another. The power of Rav
Broyde's article for example - is that he argues that the Rosh (and hence
the Tur) and even the Rambam actually posken (b) out of the options, and
this can be seen in the Shulchan Aruch. That is the kind of conversation we
have today - with others of course rejecting that this is what can be read
into the Shulchan Aruch.
Hence I said:
: It is only those who also have an eye to
: codes who can say that there are restrictions on where parshanut can go in
: the light of common practice.
And RMB replied:
<<Actualy, it's only those who have an eye on common practice. After all, we
discuss machloqesin between Rashi and the Rambam in halakhah lemasseh
contexts all the time. And if Ashkenazim accepted Rashi's ruling, or one
found in Tosafos, the Rama has no problem limiting his pesaq to that rather
than that of the Rif, Rambam or Tur. And had there not been a Rama, then
some shu"t or parshan could as well.>>
But neither Rashi nor Tosphos gave us any method of limiting where psak
went, and indeed the Ri can hold one thing and Rabbanu Tam another within
the same Tosphos. The Codes are far less open. And the language of the
Shulchan Aruch is in the vast majority of cases the language of the Rambam
thereby leading back to the thought process of the Rambam. The Rema then
picks up a few of the cases where Ashkenazi practice differs and used a Code
process to insert Rashi's explanation into the Code (although often where it
had already been filtered through the Rosh and the Tur first). That is
taking Rashi content and using it in a Rambam like way. Which is why the
mesorah for how we posken is much closer to the Rambam than it is to Rashi.
And what we do outside of the yeshiva is more about how we posken than about
how we learn.
Which is why I disagree:
>Without the parshanim, there is no way to fill in the holes between
se'ifim, to know how the conclusions were reached so that halakhah can
survive beyond the limited set of cases in the Rambam >or SA.
Of course there is, you have to go back to the original gemora - having
first learnt through all of the related si'ifim in the Codes, and then make
sure you understand how the rulings that are in the Codes relate to the
underlying gemora. Once you have done that you can start to fill in the
gaps, But only the select few who need to actually posken need to know this
method - which is why it only needs to be taught to smicha students. But it
is obvious that is the method used by the Rambam when answering questions
outside of his own code in his teshuvos.
<<However, without the codifiers, it's hard to find Rashi's ruling, but not
And if you don't find it, it probably doesn't matter - because without the
attitude of the codifiers, you really only need Rashi to understand the
gemora and if you can do it without him, then great. And if you can't
understand the gemora without him you wouldn't have a hope of formulating
any ruling as the gemora would be a closed book.
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