Odd Scholarship–The Amoraim and the reasons for the halachot in the Mishnah
“A doorpost [generally, a mavoy is an alley onto which courtyards open and which itself opens onto the public domain, but here it means the wooden beams in the form of a doorpost between the alley and the public domain] which is larger than 20 amah should be lowered. Rabbi Judah says this is not necessary” (Eiruvin chapter one, mishnah one).
In previous articles we have already shown how our rabbis the Amoraim linguistically interpret the Mishnah in most odd ways. They change versions, subtract from and add to the Mishnah as they see fit. In this article we will show that even the reasons given in the Mishna for different halachot are explained strangely by our rabbis, who interpret verses without diligent study and with no consistent pattern. The result is that in the final analysis entire pages of the Gemara are rejected. Just as the study was casual and not in depth, so too is the rejection casual and with no consistent pattern.
See: Our rabbis the Tanaaim ruled that for an alley which opens onto courtyards (an alley unto which courtyards open and which itself opens onto the public domain), the residents along that alley must create a doorpost shape where the alley opens up onto the public domain, so that it becomes obvious where the alley ends and the public domain begins. The manner of distinguishing is a wooden beam placed as a doorpost.
Our rabbis the Tanaaim were divided on the permissible height of the wooden beam serving as door post. According to the Sages it is forbidden to be above 20 amah (about 10 meters), and according to Rabbi Judah even above 20amah it is kosher and acceptable.
The Amoraim try to explain the reason for the dispute (Eiruvin 2b): “Rabbi Judah quoted Rav: The Sages only learned it from the opening of the heichal, and Rabbi Judah only learned it from the opening of the ulam. As is said: the opening of the heichal is 20 amah high and 10 amah wide, and that of the ulamis 40 amah high and twenty amah wide. Both explicated a single verse (Leviticus 3:2), ‘and kill it at the door of the tabernacle.’ The rabbis supposed: the holiness of the heichal is one thing, and the holiness of the ulam another. It is written ‘at the door of the tabernacle,’ meaning the heichal. Rabbi Judah supposed: the heichal and the ulam have the same holiness, and when it is written ‘at the door of the tabernacle,’ it refers to both [the heichal and theulam].”
Notice how puzzling this interpretation is: the verse brought as proof, “the door of the tabernacle,” speaks of the Tabernacle, where the height of the whole construction was only 10 amah. The Gemara itself asks this question (Eiruvin 2a): “But this verse was written about the Tabernacle!” Rashi explains: The opening of the Tabernacle tent in the desert was written about, and there was no ulam there; the opening of the heichal was 10 amah.” The Gemara answers: “We find that the Tabernacle is called the Temple and the Temple is called the Tabernacle.”
How amazing! Here, wise student, is the Gemara’s method: A wooden beam which serves as a doorway shape must be up to 20 amah high since in the Torah the word “doorway” is written about the Tabernacle tent. The word “doorway” is written, but the height of the Tabernacle tent was only 10 amah. That is true, but since we have found many instances where the Tabernacle is called the Temple we will learn from the Temple, in which the door was 20amah high.
Don’t think that all our rabbis say they received from their rabbis as tradition; they made their own suppositions, as we have clearly stated in Pamphlet 8. Therefore we wonder at a person who sits in the study hall and interprets motives and verses in a way unacceptable to any reasonable person; the proof that their words are only based on their own judgement is that Rabbi Nachman the son of Isaac disagrees with this inference and says (Bavli Eiruvin 3a): “Why did the Sages require the beam in a mavoy? To make known and delimitate it from the public domain, and therefore up to 20 amah high it is visible. While what is written [in Tosephta Eiruvin chapter one] “More than the opening of theheichal, is merely a mark [mnemotechnical note] and we do not learn from the actual opening of the heichal.”
According to Rabbi Nachman the son of Isaac, a whole page of interpretation falls by the wayside.
Come, you who seeks knowledge, and we will bring you another example of this phenomenon, in which our rabbis of the Mishnah learn the reasons for the halachot from exegesis of verses and then casually refute them.
The Mishnah (Sukkah 2a): “A Sukkah…which is not 10 tephach tall…is invalid.”
Thus the Gemara interprets the invalidation of a sukkah which is not 10 tephachtall (Sukkah 4b): “And which is not 10 tephach tall. From where do we learn this? The Amoraim disagree…The aron was nine and the covering a tephach–so there are ten, as is written (Exodus 25:22) ‘There I will meet with you and I will impart to you from above the cover.’ It is taught: Rabbi Yossi says: TheShechinah never descended and Moses and Elijah never ascended, as is said, ‘The heavens are heavens for G-d and the earth He gave to man’.” (We will say, parenthetically, that if this is so, we conclude that the earth goes to a height of up to 10 tephach, and what was said about the Tower of Babel, “A tower with its top in the Heavens” is no remarkable thing, for anyone who stands on a kitchen chair has his head in the Heavens!)
See a strange thing — what has the issue of the Shechinah‘s descent to do with the height of a sukkah? Indeed, these ways of learning are amongst the strange and odd things. Come see that in continuing, the Gemara asks “And did the Shechinah not descend? It is written (Exodus 19:20) ‘And G-d descended upon Mt. Sinai!’ [Answer:] Above 10 tephach.” That is, G-d did indeed descend upon Mt. Sinai as written, but not all the way down to the mountain dirt did He reach. According to the Gemara the Shechinah floated at a height of 10 tephach above the ground. See, too, the continuation of the Gemara, which asks additional questions which cause any reasonable person to break out into giggles; see what we have written on these issues in our essay The Body of G-d. We will add a question of our own: And did theShechinah not descend? It is written (Exodus 3:4) “G-d called to him out of the bush” and the Gemara clarifies that this was a very low bush (Shabbat 67a): “The sneh…for it is the lowest of all trees.” Ibn Ezra also wrote on Exodus (3:2): “The sneh. The gaon said that this is a kind of thorn.” It is appropriate to wonder if the lowest of all trees was not lower than 10 tephach? If so, how did theShechinah speak from out of it? There is no end to nonsense.
But what is really important are the careless methods of learning, the lightheadedness with which our rabbis create worlds of interpretation and grounds for the halachot and then destroy them. Later on (Sukkah 5b) the Gemara rejects the explanation “The Shechinah did not descend closer than 10tephach” as the source for the law about a sukkah no taller than 10 tephach, for the following reason: “How do we know from here that [a sukka’s] space should be 10 tefach high, not including the roof [i.e. the height of the roof layer is not included in the count of 10 tefach]? Perhaps it is including the roof?” So the Gemara brings a different explanation for the mishnah requiring a height of 10tephach: “It is learned from the [First] Temple… In both the Temple and the Tabernacle the cherubs stood one-third the height of the building itself… ‘The cherubs shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings’ (Exodus 25:20) — the Scripture called a ceiling 10 tefach high s’chach [in reference to the cherubs which are called sochechim].” This is amazing: The Gemara learns from Solomon’s Temple about the Tabernacle; weren’t all the measurements of the First Temple utterly different than the measurements of the Tabernacle, as we wrote in our commentary on the portion of Terumah? Thus wrote Nachmanides (Exodus 25:9): “I do not think it is true that Solomon committed himself to making the vessels of the First Temple based on these measurements [of the Tabernacle]; the copper altar which Solomon made was 20 amah long and 10 amah wide (II Chronicles 4:1)”; tis is completely different from the altar made by Moses, which measured five amah by five amah (see Exodus 27:1). It is known that there was no comparison between the measurements and there is no way to learn about one from the other. There is no end to the patchwork and collages made by our rabbis.
This is still not the end. The Gemara asks: according to the opinion of Rabbi Judah, who holds that the measurement of an amah for vessels is five tephach[and not six] — wouldn’t the measure for the sukkah be different? And then comes the answer: “Rabbi Judah learned it from an halacha [given to Moses at Sinai].” How good and how pleasant! Wherever we have no verse or reason as the source of a law, Chazal say it to be tradition given to Moses at Sinai and that’s it. We wrote about this on the portion of Bo; see there.
Finally, after all the arguments and postponements, the statements and cancellations, the interpretations and refutations, the Gemara (Sukkah 4a) gives another reason to invalidate a sukkah which is not 10 tephach tall: “It was 10 tephach tall and leaves fall within the 10…Rava said: It is a foul dwelling [because it is too low], and no one lives in a foul dwelling.” From the start the mishnah in question (Sukkah 1:1) could have been explained in a simple and clear way, as Rabbeynu Obadiah of Bartenura explained it: “Which is not 10tephach tall — for it is a foul dwelling, and a person does not live in a foul dwelling.”
Why do they need all the empty, careless explanations and their refutations? Only Chazal know.
Know, faithful student, that there are many gemarot like this in the Talmud. They explain the Mishnah’s rulings through all sorts of odd and twisted exegeses of verses when they could explain them thoroughly, realistically, in a simple manner which is reasonable and truthful.
Words of True Knowledge