Divrei Torah

The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs

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Rabbinic Authority

By: Rav Yechezkel Yakovson

Chazal mention that when one of the crew (chabura) dies, the other members should be concerned. Two opinions exist as to the identity of "one of the chabura"; a great member, or a small member. A great member is the fellow who ponders the deep, insightful questions of our purpose in life. The small member raises the spirits of the chabura with a cheerful disposition.

Yehuda fulfilled both functions. He assumed the responsibility of improving the emotional and intellectual state of the chabura in Yeshvat Sha'alvim.

How does the chabura show its' concern? By endeavoring to fill the void created by his loss.

The gemara in Masechet Shabbat (23) inquires of the source for reciting a blessing prior to the kindling of the Chanuka candles. Indeed, this is a rabbinic ordinance; how can one recite that Hashem has "sanctified us in His mitzvoth and commanded us"? Rav Avya quotes the verse in Devarim 17 that we may not sway from the words of the supreme rabbinic authorities (lo tasur min hadavar asher yagidu lecha yamin usmol). Rav Nechemia marshals the verse in Devarim 32 enjoining us to ask our fathers for instruction (she'al avicha veyagedcha). Is there a practical difference (nafka mina) between these two versus?

The Rambam in various places (introduction to the Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Mamrim, introduction to Sefer HaMtizvot) rules that an individual who has violated a rabbinic injunction has violated the Biblical prohibition of lo tasur. The Behag (in his own Sefer HaMitzvot) enumerates the rabbinic commandments as part of the 613 mitzvoth. The Rambam in his principles for the Sefer HaMitzvot takes issue with this approach; rabbinic commandments are already included in lo tasur.

The Ramban raises several objections to the viewpoint of the Rambam. If rabbinic commandments are manifestations of the Biblical law of la tasur, why does the halacha exhibit lenience in rabbinic laws? In cases of doubt we are stringent if the issue at hand is of a Biblical nature; we are lenient if it is rabbinical (sefaka de'orayta lechumra; sefaka derabanan lekula).

When human dignity is at stake (kavod habriyot) rabbinic laws are suspended.

In extenuating circumstances (sha'at had'chak) we notice leniency in rabbinic laws; likewise there is a tendency to rule according to lenient opinions in laws of rabbinic origin. According to the opinion of the Rambam, one would expect rabbinic laws to be treated in an identical fashion to Biblical laws.

The Ramban offers the following answer to his objection. When the rabbis originally instituted their laws, they formulated them with the lenient clauses enumerated above. This concept is referred to as "haim amru, vehaim

amru"- there were built-in stipulations dealing with cases of doubt, difficulty and delicate personal issues. The Shev Shemaita comments that this approach removes the majority of the questions. However, the final objection mentioned above is not resolved. If an opinion maintains that an action is forbidden (even on a rabbinic level), why do we rely on alternative lenient opinions- the action is prohibited according to this particular opinion, and is on an equivalent footing with a Biblical prohibition according to the rationale of the Rambam!

The Mabit suggests an alternative explanation of the view of the Rambam. The prohibition of lo tasur forbids one to disregard rabbinic authority (Chazal), to rebel. In cases of doubt, perhaps the item is permitted.

Likewise, perhaps the rabbis did not enact their laws in difficult situations; thus no rebellion exists in such cases.

The Ramban himself differs from the Rambam. He opines that rabbinic laws are not included in the prohibition of lo tasur. Lo tasur refers exclusively to an individual who disobeys the Great Sanhedrin (zaken mamreh) in regards to a specific issue. The verse lo tasur when applied by the gemara to rabbinic laws is not to be understood literally; it is an asmachta (a source for the rabbis to rely upon while enacting laws- that are NOT derived from the verses quoted from).

In Sha'arei Teshuva (Sha'ar 2), Rabeinu Yonah writes in apparent agreement with the Rambam. He continues, however, that rabbinic laws are not as stringent as Biblical laws because the rabbinic laws are not mentioned explicitly in the Torah.

I believe that Rabeinu Yonah is suggesting a new understanding of the Rambam's view. Items mentioned explicitly in the Torah are inherently forbidden (isur cheftza). Items prohibited by rabbinic authorities are focused upon the individual (gavra); one must adhere to the words of Chazal.

Indeed, the Netivot HaMishpat (Choshen Mishpat 234) rules that an individual who has unintentionally (shogeg) violated a rabbinic injunction is not required to perform teshuva. The absence of a rebellion removes the prohibition. Thus, in cases of doubts, extenuating circumstances and conflicting opinions, the non-inherent nature of rabbinic ordinances lead to lenient rulings.

Be'ezrat Hashem next week we will examine the view of the Ramban regarding the authority of Chazal to enact laws (as he opines that lo tasur does not refer to rabbinical laws). We will also engage the issue of how rabbinic enactments such as reading Megilat Esther do not violate the prohibition of adding upon the mitzvoth (bal tosif).


Categorized under: 1: Halacha > General
Uploaded: 8/31/2005 5:51:21 PM