On Nets and Pieces

The story so far: In the first post, I suggested that it was Rav Yehudah, founder of the Yeshiva in Pumbedisa, who really developed the style of shaqla vetarya (dialectic) that we find in the Talmud Bavli. Which implied that we wouldn’t expect to find the similar argument style in Israel. In the second post, I tried to show how in the Talmud Yerushalmi they not only didn’t use the same dialectic style, they give every appearance of eschewing it. Preferring instead a system of learning more centered on the transmission of traditions, an emphasis on quotes. Therefore the Israeli amoraim not only had less reason to engage in such dialectics, even when they could not resolve a question by dialectic they refused to. In fact, they often ridicule the Bavliim and their circuitous lines of reasoning. Such extrapolation would adulterate memory of the tanna’s actual statement.

This does not mean, however, that there is a dirth of logical argument in the Talmud. Rather, the argument is of a very different style. That will be the topic of the majority of this post. But first, a discussion of how the Yerushalmi does handle unanswered questions.

I already mentioned the difference in nomeclature between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. What the Bavli calls a mesechta, the Yerushalmi calls a meikhla. To translate: The Bavli considers one volume of Talmud to be a “net”, with gaps that the amoraim must fill in. The Yerushalmi considers it a “piece”, and as we’ll see, their analysis involves more connected the pieces to a larger whole.

Lateral Reasoning:

Here is an example of a style of reasoning one would find much more readily in the Yerushalmi than in the Bavli:

  1. רב הונא אמר: ג’ שאכלו זה בפני עצמו וזה בפני עצמו וזה בפני עצמו ונתערבו מזמנין.
  2. רב חסדא אמר: והן שבאו משלש חבורות.
  3. על דעתיה דרבי זעירא וחבורתיה: והן שאכלו ג’ כאחת.

רבי יונה על הדא דרב הונא הטביל ג’ איזובות זה בפני עצמו וזה בפני עצמו ונתערבו מזה בהן.

רב חסדא אמר והן שבאו מג’ חבילות.

על דעתיה דר’ זעירא וחבורתיה והוא שהטביל שלשתן כאחת.

אין תימר אין למידין אזוב מברכה ואנן חזינן רבנן קיימין בסוכה וילפין מטיט הנרוק.  כיי דתנינן תמן הרחיק את הסיכוך מן הדפנות שלשה טפחים פסולה הא פחות מיכן כשירה מהו לישן תחתיו התיב רבי יצחק בן אלישיב הרי טיט הנרוק משלים במקוה ואין מטבילין בו אף הכא משלים בסוכה ואין ישינין תחתיו.

  1. Rav Huna said: Three who eat, this one by himself, this one by himself, and this one by himself, who then mix together should bentch with a mezuman.
  2. Rav Chisda said: But this is [only] when they come from three [separate] groups [of three people, so that each ate with an obligation of zimun, even if from different groups].
  3. According to the logic of Rabbi Zei’ira and his friends: But [the only may make a zimun] when they ate together.
  1. Rabbi Yonah [commented] on that which Rab Hunah [was just quoted as saying]: If [the kohein] dipped three hyssop sprigs [into the water made with the ashes of a parah adumah], this one by itself and this one by itself, and mixed them [the hyssops] together, one may sprinkle [the person needing taharah] with them.
  2. Rav Chisda said: But this is [only] when they come from three [separate] groups [of three sprigs, so that each sprig was dipped as part of a group of three, even if different groups].
  3. Acording to the logic of Rabbi Zei’ira and his friends: But [the only may may be used for sprinkling parah adumah water] when they were dipped together.

– Yerushalmi Berakhos 7:1, 51b

The Yerushalmi draws a parallel between what could have been two separate disputes. One was about zimun, saying the opening blessing before bentchin, and the other about the hyssop used to sprinkle the water from a parah adumah to purify them after contact with a dead body. Both require a group of three. Typically, three men who ate together and now wish to bentch together, or three sprigs that were one bunch when they were dipped as well as when the person is sprinkled.

Rav Hunah says that a group of three is defined by the time of the mitzvah. Therefore, three people could eat separately, and Rabbi Yonah extrapolates that he would say the three sprigs could be dipped separately — as long as they are together at the time of bentching or sprinkling, respectively.

Rav Chisda, who speaks for himself in both disputes, feels that while they only need to be a group for the mitzvah itself, to be a member of the group requires being part of an obligating group when doing the preparation. Therefore, three men who each ate alone could not combine to make a zimun, only three men who each ate in a group of at least three. But they could recombine to create a new group of three for zimun. Similarly, one could take a sprig of hyssop out of three different groups to make a new group, because such sprigs were both dipped as part of a group of three and used for sprinkling as part of a group. This would mean that if a kohein had three people before him to sprinkle and dipped three large bunches of hyssop for them, and then along comes a fourth person, the kohein can redivide the hyssop into four groups and sprinkle all four.

Rav Zeira and his peers require that the group be the same group throughout. You can’t recombine people from different zimun groups, or sprigs from different bunches to make a new one.

This is “horizontal” reasoning. We saw one dispute, we are trying to find how it relates to other topics. The search is for a general philosophy of some aspect of halakhah.

Logical discourse in the Bavli is far more “vertical”, drilling down into the details of the particular decision before us, finding how it can be understood in an internally consistent way. What does either opinion do with the other’s proofs and source texts, and the like.

A second example, from Terumos, vilna 13b, that I will treat more concisely:

תמן תנינן: כביצה אוכלין שהניחן בחמה ונתמעטו, כן כזית מן הנבילה, וכעדשה מן השרץ, כזית פיגול, כזית נותר, כזית חלב — הרי אילו טהורין.
דרומאי אמרי: והוא שיהא כזית מעיקרו.
ר’ יוחנן ור”ש בן לקיש תריהון אמרין: ואע”פ שאין כזית מעיקרו.
תמן תנינן: אמרו לו, “אף היא היתה חסירה או יתירה.” מני אמרו לו? ר”מ: פעמים שהשאור יפה והוא תפוח. הא אילו סולת היתה צמוקה, ועכשיו שהוא שאור יפה והוא תפוח, את רואה את התפוח כילו צמק ונראית חסירה. ופעמים שהשאור רע, והוא צמק. הא אלו סולת היתה תפוחה, ועכשיו שהשאור רע, והוא צמוק את רואה את הצמק כילו תפח ונראית יתירה.
על דעתיה דר’ ירמיה דרומאי ור’ יוחנן ור”ש בן לקיש שלשתן אמרו דבר אחד ביתירה. על דעתייהו דר’ יונה ור’ יוסי שלשתן אמרו דבר אחד בחסירה. אילין דבר פטי בשלון אורז אנשין מתקנתה יתיה חברייא סברין מימר ייסב חיי לו לקביל מבשל אמר לון ר’ יוסי אף אנא אמר כן למה שדרכו לתפוח:

Here the gemara links together three statements, showing how they have a common theme. In all three cases, the issue is whether we measure intial volume, current volume or whether the fact that it is normal to go to that current volume should make a difference. This is seen as being a common principle whether it’s something that dries up and shrinks, or something that soaks up water and bloats, whether we are speaking of tum’ah or of tithing rice.


Suppose you saw a discussion in which the following distinction is made with regard to food bought with money that had the sanctity of maaser sheini placed upon it. (In lieu of bringing the second tenth of one’s fruit to Yerushalayim, the sanctity was transfered to money, which is then used upon arrival to buy food to be eaten there.)

In one ruling, shelamim which one bought with maaser sheini money does not have the sanctity of maaser sheini, only that of the offering. In another, if a kohein buys with such money terumah, the result is that the food bought is now both terumah AND maaser sheini.

Vus iz der chiluq? (What’s the difference between the cases of maaser sheini and terumah?)

There is a mitzvah to buy a qorban shelamim with maaser sheini money. Therefore, if one buys a shelamim with maaser money one completed the job of handling maaser. The chalos sheim maaser sheini (the fitting under the label of maaser sheini) falls off with the purchase.  However, there is no such mitzvah of buying terumah over any other food, and therefore it’s maaser sheini until consumed or as long as it remains edible.

The way I phrased it, this discussion sounds like 19th century lomdus, the style of logic they used for analyzing the Bavli and rishonim. However, the above is a description of the discussion in the Yerushalmi at the top of Maaser Sheini 16a (3:2). (There is also a similar discussion about when a law of maaser sheini ends on Maaser Sheini 1:2 5b.)

What the Brisker method does in its lomdus is divide  laws into categories, often using and reusing the same set of mechanisms. In the above, I invoked the Brisker idiom of “chalos sheim“, when something enters or leaves a halachic state (literally, when a label falls upon an object). Other such meta-principles: mitzvos that depend on the gavra, the subject doing the verb, vs. those that depend on the cheftza, the object. The distinction between a discussion of the pe’ulah, the action, and the chalos, the change in halachic state. Etc…

In Brisk, these rules are used to analyze a specific halakhah. Why do the Rambam and Tosafos disagree? Does one say the chalos comes with the pe’ulah and the other not? Does one see the obligation on the subject’s doing it, while the other sees it on the object having it done (gavra vs cheftzah)? Brisk drills downward.

However, these rules also have an orthoganal value — they are in common across a wide variety of halakhos. To the Brisker, these are tools for finding chaqiros, distinctions, between similar cases that have different rulings, or between one opinion and another. In the Yerushalmi, tools like those used in Brisk and other 19th century Lithuanian yeshivos are a the product of this same notion of lateral analysis. They are principles of mechanics seen in numerous  ways of connecting the law to others than use the same mechanism.

Another example, this one from Pei’ah 3:5, Vilna ed. pg 16a:

משנה: המוכר קלחי אילן בתוך שדהו, נותן פאה מכל אחד ואחד. אמר רבי יהודא: אימתי? בזמן שלא שייר בעל השדה. אבל אם שייר שדהו הוא נותן פאה לכל:
גמרא: עד כדון כשהתחיל לקצור. אפי’ כשלא התחיל לקצור?
נישמעינה מן הדא: לקח גז צאנו של חבירו. אם שייר המוכר, המוכר חייב. ואם לאו, הלוקח חייב. ר’ ירמיה בשם ר’ יוחנן: דר’ יהודא היא.
שנייא היא תמן בין שהתחיל לגזוז צאנו בין שלא התחיל לגזוז. וכא, לא. שניי’ ליה, בין שהתחיל לקצור, בין שלא התחיל לקצור.
מ”ט דר”י? משום דחובת הקציר בקמה, או משום דמוכר לו חוץ מחובתו?
נישמעינה מן הדא: לקח גז צאן חבירו. אם שייר המוכר, המוכר חייב. ואם לאו, הלוקח חייב. א”ר ירמיה בשם ר’ יוחנן: דר’ יהודא היא.
אית לך למימר: תמן, שחובת קציר בקמה לא משום דמכרו לו חוץ מחובתו וכא במכרו חוץ מחובתו.
מה נפק מביניהן?
  1. עבר הלוקח ומפריש. אין תימר משום שחובת הקציר בקמה, הפריש הפריש. ואין תימר משום דמוכר לו חוץ מחובתו, הפריש ונוטל ממנו דמים.
  2. נשרף חלקו של מוכר. אין תימר משום דחובת קציר בקמה, נשרף נשרף. ואין תימר משום במוכר לו חוץ מחובתו, נשרף נוטל ממנו דמים:

Mishnah: Someone who sold tree stalks [i.e. tree trunks or stalks of a plant] from within his field [where the pei’ah, the corner of the field, was not left for the poor to gather], he must give pei’ah from each stalk. Rabbi Yehudah said: When is this? When there is nothing left by the owner of the field [for himself]. But if he did leave something of his field, he gives pei’ah [from that] for the whole.

Gemara: Until now [we were only considering] when he already began to harvest [the crop produced when he started selling the trees themselves]. But what if he didn’t start to harvest?

We hear [this implication] from this [following ruling]: Someone who buys the shearings from his friend’s flock [without the first shearing first being given to a kohein]. If the seller left any [for himself], then the seller if obligated [to give the kohein replacement wool]. If not, the buyer is obligated. Rabbi Yirmiyah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that this is Rabbi Yehudah’s [position].

It makes a difference over there whether he began to shear his sheep or whether he did not begin to shear. Here, could it make no difference whether he began to harvest [the stalks] whether he did not begin to harvest?

What’s the reason of Rabbi Yehudah — Is it because the obligation with respect to harvesting [and pei’ah] is with standing [grain]? Or is it that he sold it to him outside of his obligation?

We hear [this implication] from this [following ruling]: Someone who buys the shearings from his friend’s flock [without the first shearing first being given to a kohein]. If the seller left any [for himself], then the seller if obligated [to give the kohein replacement wool]. If not, the buyer is obligated. Rabbi Yirmiyah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan that this is Rabbi Yehudah’s [position].

You must [therefore] say: Over there, it is where the obligation of harvesting is when it’s still standing, and not because he sold it ouside of his obligation, [whereas] here he sold it outside of his obligation.

What is the [pragmatic] distinction between them? …

Notice here a number of things, touching on much of the past two posts in this series.

First, there is a full repetition of a quote rather than abbreviating it in the second iteration. The latter risks compromising how it is passed down in the future, so this would be against the Yerushalmi’s citation culture.

Second, note the lomdisher use of making a distinction based on when the obligation applies. Why does the law of pei’ah from harvested grain that is sold to another differ than the law of reishis hagaz that was sold rather than being given to a kohein? Why is it that in the case of pei’ah it makes no difference whether or not he began to harvest, but when it comes to reishis hagaz it does make a difference whether or not he began to shear? And the difference is that reishis hagaz only comes into effect after the shearing. An issue of when the halachic category takes hold.

Third, note that this lamdus is being used to compare to disparate laws. Lateral reasoning.

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  1. July 5, 2017 – י״א בתמוז תשע״ז

    […] discussions to see where two topics are similar, to ask why a parallel is broken. (See “On Nets and Pieces” for more […]

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