Sefer Ha-Hayim Blog
Monday, April 18, 2005
Students' Guide
It is my distinct pleasure to announce, 45 years after its last printing, that The Students' Guide through the Talmud, by R. Zevi Hirsch Chajes (Maharatz Chayes), is now back in print. Below is an article in last week's The Jewish Press about it.

The Students' Guide through the Talmud is divided, with half discussing halakhah and half aggadah. A significant portion of the first half of the book is the delineation of different types of laws, with explanations of their source and nature, and many examples to demonstrate the differences. In regard to all of this, the footnotes by R. Jacob Shachter, former Chief Rabbi of Northern Ireland, are invaluable. What follows is a short excerpt from Chapter 13: Enactments the Binding Force of which was Later Relaxed (pp. 103-104) [see notes 9 and 10 which are me-inyana de-yoma]:
Again, in many cases, we find that what had been definitely prohibited by earlier authorities was later permitted by the Beth Din, as in the following instance. According to the Biblical law, where the levirate marriage[1] could be performed, halitza[2] was not regarded as the fulfilment of the precept. Yet it was later ruled that halitza was preferable to the levirate marriage[3] (Yeb. 39b).

Indeed, even things prohibited by Biblical law were occasionally permitted by the Rabbis where only passive violation was involved,[4] and, in cases which appeared to them at the moment urgent, or where they had ground for apprehension that, in the absence of some guidance, the people would be led to more serious violations of the law, they felt prompted to set aside certain precepts, of which category the following are examples. They forbade the blowing of the shofar on a New Year's Day which fell on the Sabbath, lest one should inadvertently carry[5] the shofar four cubits in the public domain[6] (R.H. 29b).

They also forbade the taking of the lulab in hand on the Sabbath for the same reason[7] (Suk. 42b).

See Yeb. 90b for the following examples where the rabbis made their decisions in cases which would have entailed the punishment of Kareth,[8] even where there was involved only an abstention from performin the act in question, viz. the cases of the uncircumcised,[9] the sprinkling,[10] the knife.[11]

Similarly, they suspended Ezra's takkanah of immersion for those who had suffered pollution, see Ber. 22b and Yad, K. Shema 4,8,[12] and also the takkanah that a virgin should be married on a Wednesday,[13] v. Shittah Mekubezeth,[14] Keth. 3a.[15]

[1] See note 7, p. 9.
[2] See note 10, p. 6.
[3] Because it was noticed that the levirate marriage was not exercised for the fulfilment of the precept, but was prompted by other and selfish motives.
[4] Violation of the law by abstention, i.e. by passively not doing what one is commanded to do; this was in certain cases under the jurisdiction of the Rabbis (see Yeb. 90b), as distinct from active violation, i.e. by actually doing what one is commanded not to do, as this involved the defiance of a Pentateuchal law.
[5] As not all are skilled in the blowing of the shofar, some might be tempted to carry it to an expert to learn, and thus commit a transgression.
[6] The law prohibiting the transporting of things four cubits in the pbulic domain comes down by tradition (see Sab. 96b).
[7] See Rashi, Suk. 42b, s.v. ללמוד, who shows that the waving of the lulab required some teaching.
[8] i.e. precepts the violation of which involved the punishment of Kareth could be suspended by rabbinical ordinances.
[9] This refers to the proselyte who is circumcised on the Passover Eve. Although pentateuchally he would, as an Israelite, be obliged to keep the Passover, the rabbis pronounced him unclean (see Pes. 92a), and he was, in consequence, prevented from participating in the said celebration, even though failing to do so involved the violation of a precept carrying the punishment of Kareth.
[10] Sprinkling an unclean person on the Sabbath is only rabbinically forbidden (see Pes. 92a). If then the eve of the Passover fell on the Sabbath and also happened to be the seventh day of the purification of a person unclean according to Pentateuchal law, he would be permitted to participate in the Paschal-lamb celebration. Yet the Rabbis, by prohibiting the sprinkling, prevented him from fulfilling the Pentateuchal precept of the Paschal-lamb, even though its violation, as said before, involved the punishment of Kareth.
[11] i.e. circumcision, the violation of which involved Kareth. It was found sometimes necessary to postpone circumcision when it fell on a Sabbath, although it generally supersedes the Sabbath. That might happen through the rabbinic prohibition against carrying the knife on the Sabbath even along the roofs (see Sab. 130b).
[12] The author's reference in the text to the concluding paragraph of Tefillah is erroneous.
[13] See M. Keth. 1,1 because the Courts sat on Mondays and Thursdays, so that in the event of a man having a case regarding his wife's virginity, he could bring it forthwith before the court. Although a similar reason could be advanced for a Sunday that day was nevertheless excluded on account of the Sabbath which would interfere with the necessary preparations.
[14] See note 1, p. 31.
[15] Which states that where the Courts meet every day, the restriction to a particular day is suspended.
This classic book is now available to the public. Please ask for it in your local bookstores.

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