Sanhedrin 33 and 35 – Jewish Link of New Jersey

Posted By on August 24, 2017

May these words of Torah serve as a merit leiluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, ah.

This week we learned Sanhedrin 33 and 35. These are some highlights.

Sanhedrin 33: Why cant a contemporary rabbi rule against the conclusions of a rabbi in the Talmud?

Our gemara teaches that when a rabbi or court issues a ruling and then discovers that the ruling is against a mishnah, the ruling is reversed. A sage cannot rule against a mishnah. The Gemara adds Rav and Shmuel and the Talmud to this category. A rabbi cannot rule against Rav and Shmuel or against the conclusions in the Talmudwritten by Ravina and Rav Ashi. Why is this so? Why cant a contemporary sage rule against the rulings of earlier rabbis?

Kessef Mishna (Hilchot Mamrim 2:1) suggests that when the Mishnah and Talmud were completed they were accepted by the entire Jewish community as the last and final word. The sages of the time accepted that no one would dispute the conclusions of the Mishnah and Talmud. Chazon Ish (Kovetz Inyanim Hearot Hachazon Ish ot 2) adds that the sages of those times, based on truth, accepted that the issues dealt with by the Mishnah and Talmud could not be reopened. They acknowledged how they were inferior intellectually to the rabbis of the Talmud and Mishnah. If I cannot reach the intellectual levels of my predecessors I cannot argue with them. Only someone who understands fully as much as someone else can engage in a dispute. The sages right after the Talmud and Mishnah all saw that they were not on the level of the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud. The laws of those rabbis therefore cannot be overturned. According to Raavad, it is not only the Talmud and Mishnah. Later sages, such as Rishonim, cannot disagree with a sage of an earlier and greater level, such as a Gaon (Rosh Siman 6). Contemporary rabbis are nowhere near the level of Geonim or Rishonim. We cannot issue a ruling against their conclusions.

Rav Elchanan Wasserman (there) disagrees with this explanation. He points out that sometimes a contemporary sage is greater than those who preceded him. It is said that Rav Chaim of Volozhin testified that his teacher, the Gra, was as great as the Rashba and possibly on the level of the Ramban. Rav Hai Gaon was the youngest of the Geonim yet he was greater than all the other Geonim. Rav Elchanan therefore argues that the Gra was entitled to argue with Rishonim. No one can argue with the Talmud and Mishnah, for the acceptance of the Jewish nation is the equivalent of a ruling of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin represent the entire Jewish nation. Rambam writes that when the entire Jewish nation agrees to make one sage a musmach, the chain of semicha can restart. The reason for this is that the entire Jewish nation together has the status of the Sanhedrin and the ordained sages. The acceptance of the Mishnah and Talmud right away by all the Jews of the time rendered the compositions rulings of the Sanhedrin. No one can overturn conclusions of the Sanhedrin.

In Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 25:1) we are taught that a judge cannot issue a ruling against an established halacha. If poskim of earlier generations, such as Rama or Beit Yosef, have ruled on an issue and their ruling has been widely accepted, a contemporary sage does not have the power to rule against them (Meorot Daf Hayomi).

Sanhedrin 35: Is lifting the hands necessary for the priestly blessing?

Kohanim bless us by lifting their hands and reciting three verses to the community. Shut Noda BeYehuda (Kama Orach Chaim Siman 5) was asked about a kohen whose hands shook and was unable to lift his hands. Could the priest recite the blessing with his hands down? Is lifting the hands an essential component of Birkat Kohanim?

Noda BeYehuda quotes Shut Shevut Yaakov (Chelek Bet Siman Aleph) who addresses this question. Shevut Yaakov rules that it is only in the Mikdash where there is a necessity to lift hands. Outside of the holy Temple, a priest can recite the Birkat Kohanim with a blessing and not lift his hands when it is impossible for him to lift his hands. Shut Haradbaz (Chelek Vav Siman 117) also allows a kohen who cannot lift his hands to recite the blessing.

Noda BeYehuda disagrees. He feels that just as it is a requirement to stand, it is an absolute necessity to lift the hands. If the priest cannot lift his hands he cannot recite the blessing. Minchat Kenaot (Sota 38a) seeks to prove Noda BeYehuda correct from Tosafot on our daf. Tosafot (s.v. Sheneemar) say that a priest who killed is allowed to perform the service of sacrifices. He is only disqualified from duchaning. Duchaning is done with the hands. We have a rule: the prosecutor cannot also serve as the defense advocate, . To lift hands in blessing that are soiled with spilled innocent blood is impossible. The murderer cannot bless; however, he may perform sacrificial services. It emerges from Tosafot that the essence of the priestly blessing is the raising of the hands. If Shevut Yaakov is right, why is the kohen who killed always disqualified from blessing the community? Let him bless the community without lifting his hands. From Tosafot, Minchat Kenaot argues that a priest who cannot lift his hands cannot recite the priestly blessing.

Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 128:21) rules that lifting hands is a necessity for the priestly blessing. Shulchan Aruch Harav (OC 128:23), Birkei Yosef in Shiyurei Beracha (128:1), and Mishna Berura (128:52) all rule against the Shevut Yaakov and require lifting hands for Birkat Kohanim (Mesivta).

By Rabbi Zev Reichman

Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.

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Sanhedrin 33 and 35 - Jewish Link of New Jersey

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