Sunday, June 04, 2023

Rabbi Jachter’s article about Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi Shimon (ben Yochai) made me happy (“Rabi Elazar ben Shimon and the Extraordinarily Ugly Man: Lessons for Potential Abusers and Victims,” December 30, 2021). I really liked the focus on the personalities involved, which injects meaning into the sugya, such as that the Sage in question learned from his father and yet had another teacher, whose house he was coming from. This teacher could be Rabbi Yehoshua b. Korcha or Rabban Shimon b. Gamliel, with whom he learned after his father’s death. However, something struck me about the Sage’s name, which is given as “Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi Shimon.” This is awkward, as that Sage is typically described as “Rabbi Eleazar be-Rabbi Shimon,” with “ben Rabbi” contracted. I searched, and this instance in Taanit 20 is the only such Talmudic occurrence. Looking at manuscripts, they all reverse the names, so that it is Rabbi Shimon b. Eleazar, whose teacher was Rabbi Meir. Unless of course the location is part of the name, that he was Rabbi Shimon b. Eleazar of Migdal Geder, who came from his teacher’s house.

I was also slightly confused by the lomdus in the ad on the same page. True, the one who lost the item has a claim of certainty (bari) that he lost it, while the finder has a claim of uncertainty, that maybe it wasn’t actually the loser’s. But the finder, demanding a siman, is a watchman entrusted with giving it to the correct person, rather than one asserting his rights to the object himself. Rava on Bava Metzia 28a reinterprets “until your brother [achicha] seeks [derosh] it [oto]” that the finder must scrutinize [doresheihu] the claimant to ensure he isn’t a swindler [ramai].” This also argues against the assertion in the lomdus that generally people don’t lie, that people don’t make non-credible claims, and that the concern is that the claimant may be mistaken. A swindler isn’t merely mistaken. These principles may be generally true in court, but perhaps not by lost items. See Bava Metzia 2b, where someone grabbed onto a tallit might advance a false claim, rationalizing that the other finder never owned it and thus isn’t truly losing anything.

An article the previous week justified placing a book listing those who regularly study Mishnah Berurah by the Chofetz Chaim’s kever, noting that in Bava Metzia 85b, “one of the Amoraim who was ill and prostrated himself at the kever of his rebbi, saying, ‘I learn your Torah!’ In that merit he was healed.” This seems like a bit of an overreach. In context, a late Amora (around the time of the Talmud’s redaction) was brought by Eliyahu HaNavi to see the ascension of various Sages, but was instructed not to gaze at the chariot of the transitional Tanna/Amora, author of braytot, Rabbi Chiyya. He nevertheless did so and was blinded. He prostrated himself on Rabbi Chiyya’s grave and said, “I learn your Torah,” meaning braytot, and was healed. This wasn’t his direct rebbe, and perhaps it worked because the very illness was punishment for impugning Rabbi Chiyya’s honor. He was asking for forgiveness! This is far from a general endorsement of praying to tzaddikim to heal ailments. More generally, while some Acharonim endorse addressing a deceased tzaddik to intercede with Hashem on one’s behalf, the Chofetz Chaim, in Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim, 581:27, writes about visiting a kever that one should only address Hashem: אך אל ישים מגמתו נגד המתים אך יבקש מהש"י שיתן עליו רחמים בזכות הצדיקים שוכני עפר. The best way of demonstrating that we are learning the Chofetz Chaim’s Torah is by acting in accordance with his words.

Josh Waxman
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