Yevamot 90a-b

August 01, 2007

This month's Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by:
Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris
The Lewy Family Foundation
Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

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As we learned on yesterday's daf (=page), our Gemara is concerned with the question of whether yesh ko'ah be-yad hakhamim la-akor davar min ha-torah ? do the Sages of the Talmud have the ability to uproot a Torah law? The discussion continues on our daf, with a series of examples presented.


One source that the Gemara brings in an attempt to prove that such power is in the hands of the Sages is from a story that appears in Sefer Melakhim (see I Melakhim chapter 18). There we find that the prophet Eliyahu brings a sacrifice on an altar outside of the Temple at a time when it was forbidden to do so. This sacrifice was permitted according to the Gemara based on the passage in Devarim (18:15) that says elav tishma'un ? "you must listen to him (i.e. to the prophet)" ? even if his instructions require you, on occasion, to transgress a Biblical commandment. The Gemara responds that the only reason that the prophet can be listened to in that situation is because of the unique command of elav tishma'un ? a passage that applies specifically to a navi, and not to the Sages. To the suggestion that we should try to derive a more general application from that passage, the Gemara responds that it is limited to cases where the prophet can immediately limit the people from transgressing and cannot be applied to a general concern of the Sages about a given act. 


A basic question is raised by the commentators ? both rishonim and aharonim ? regarding this discussion. How can the Sages assume that a Biblical command that allows a prophet to transgress a commandment might be applied to the Sages themselves?


According to the Talmud Yerushalmi it appears that the suggestion is based on the Talmudic statement hakham adif mi-navi ? a Sage is superior to a prophet (see Bava Batra 12a). This teaching implies that anything a navi can accomplish with his prophecy, the Sages can do through their methods of study and analysis. Furthermore, while a prophet is limited in his ability to establish halakhot beyond the immediate instance, the Sages have the ability to institute rules and regulations that will remain in effect for generations.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.  To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.

Next: Yevamot 91a-b