Lessons from the Talmud

The Talmud in Eruvin [47b-48a] discusses the unusual case of a lake situated between two villages, such that each end of the lake is within the Sabbath limits of one or the other village. Because the water mixes, and thus someone who goes out and draws water might be removing water from the Sabbath limits of the other village, Rebbe Chiyah says you can’t draw water without an iron wall dividing the lake. The Talmud continues that Rebbe Yosse bar Rebbe Chanina disagrees — and laughs at Rebbe Chiyah.

The Talmud asks… why? Without focusing upon the rest of the story, and the actual reason behind the laughter, it’s interesting to note what the Talmud discounts. “Because his logic goes with a lenient view, he laughs at someone who teaches a more stringent opinion?!” The Talmud finds that inconceivable!

So you might think, as I did, that obviously the rabbis of the Talmud did not understand the blogger mindset. You know, the type of person who will make fun of anything that his shallow mind doesn’t understand? Perhaps the rabbis didn’t know such people!

But then I realized, no, of course not. The Talmud isn’t talking about your average ignoramus, but on the contrary, about one of the holy Amoraim, Rebbe Yosse bar Rebbe Chanina. Of course there are loads of people who would make fun of scholars who follow stricter opinions; the Talmud only said that that is inconceivable for a person of knowledge and intelligence.

The proof to this is Rebbe Akiva, who said about himself [Pesachim 48b] that before he went to study, if he would have encountered a Torah scholar he would have bit him “like a donkey.” His students asked, why say like a donkey, and not like a dog? He answered that a dog doesn’t break bones, meaning that the donkey’s bite is more violent.

There is another answer, though… when someone mocks scholars for their strict opinions, it’s not merely true that he shows himself to be lacking in both knowledge and intelligence. He’s also acting, like, well, a donkey…

Just saying.

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22 Responses

  1. YD says:


  2. Whoa Nelly says:

    R’ Yaakov,

    How dare you so brazenly mock the Rabbis of the blogosphere!!! You’re entering hairy territory. Don’t you know that they have not only secular knowledge, but have once held a sefer in the right direction as well (By mistake of course, but it certainly qualifies them as experts on everything)????

    We must be mocheh for the kavod of the internet, the source of all great and deep thoughts.

  3. joel rich says:

    תלמוד בבלי מסכת עירובין דף ו עמוד ב

    מחומרי בית שמאי ומחומרי בית הלל – עליו הכתוב אומר +קהלת ב+ הכסיל בחשך הולך

    [while of the man who adopts] the restrictions of Beth Shammai and the restrictions of Beth Hillel Scripture said: But the fool walketh in darkness


  4. Ben Waxman says:

    So is your argument that NO ONE short of a gadol b’yisrael has any right to criticize ANYTHING that another gadol says? After all, gedolim make pronouncements on all sorts of issues, issues not necessarily limited to questions in the Shulhan Aruch. Maybe I am not reading the correct blogs but I rarely see bloggers attacking/flaming rabbanim who give a psak on halachic issues netto. Yes I have seen people mocking chumrot on tzinut but how many of these chumrot came from a psak? When I write psak, I mean something published, with sources, svera, etc, not a wall poster.

  5. Daniel says:

    strawman? bloggers don’t laugh at stringency. They laugh at illogical positions and statements which in the conclusion of the gemara is why rabi yosse laughed isn’t it.

  6. Harry Maryles says:

    That 2nd comment by ‘Whoa Nelly’ is a – not so veiled -reference to me (hairy). But that’s OK. I can take it. Especially since the post just before this one by R’ Avi Shafran defended me.

    I feel sorry for people like him. It seems that whenever they read something I write that they don’t agree with – they see only evil or ignorance and therefore think they have the right to mock or ridicule me. Doesn’t really say much about their character, does it…

    And FTR I never make fun of Chumros!

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    “The proof to this is Rebbe Akiva, who said about himself [Pesachim 48b] that before he went to study, if he would have encountered a Torah scholar he would have bit him “like a donkey.”

    Of Rabbi Akivah and Donkeys, related to Sefirah:

    Tosfos in Kesubos ask how it could be that the Gemara there describes Rabbi Akiva as a “good person” when the Talmud elsewhere [Pessachim 49b] says that Rabbi Akiva (when he was an ignoramus) used to hate Torah scholars and would (if he could) bite into them like a donkey. Tosfos answers that Rabbi Akiva expressed this attitude not out of hatred for Torah scholars per se, but out of resentment that they kept themselves aloof from the masses. He perceived (perhaps erroneously) haughtiness on their part and therefore could not stand such perceived arrogance.

    Tosfos means that Akiva was, in fact, a good person – so good that he could not tolerate it when others put on airs and looked down on the masses. He felt that this was an affront to other (simpler) people and – good person that he was – felt an urgency to defend the honor of even simple people who were ignoramuses”(R. Frand on Torah.Org)

    The gemara (Bava Metzia 32b) says that it is preferable to help an enemy load than to help a friend unload his animal (despite concern for the overburdened animal). The reason is to help work on overcoming the tendency toward animosity. We see then why the Torah mentioned an enemy; however, problems remain.

    Ba’alei Tosafot (Pesachim 113b) ask: if the enemy’s actions make him fit to be hated, why should one try to overcome his hatred, and if he should not be hated, why is the hatred treated as a normal thing? They answer that his legitimate hatred will be sensed and mirrored by his counterpart. Therefore it is important to prevent the hatred from growing on both sides. (Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook urged applying this concept to relations between religious and secular Jews.)(From Rabbi Yossef Carmel eretzhemdah.org)

  8. Bob Miller says:

    By now, it should be clear that commenters and bloggers are a pretty diverse bunch, bringing in wide ranges of knowledge, prejudice, etc. Readers are assumed to have the seichel to sort this out. Why not?

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    Joel, that isn’t “on the other hand,” if you put the quote in context. It also says that the one who follows the leniencies of both Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai is a Rasha. For every person you can find adopting inconsistent chumros, I can find you ten calling around until they find a Rabbi who will give them the answer they were looking for.

    Ben and Daniel, I’m glad you are so oblivious to what bloggers write about. Before Pesach there were multiple bloggers making fun of the new machine “chaburah” matzos, even though they have been “new” for a few years now, and are based on the fact that the machines run for close to 22 minutes in a normal “18 minute” cycle. [The details are beyond what I can write here.] Because they had no clue what the facts were, they made fun in lieu of finding out. [And no, I don’t personally get the “chaburah” ones, but no one who learned chelek 5 of the Mishnah Berurah even once would have anything negative to say about those who do.]

    And whomever “Whoa Nelly” thought I meant, Harry, he was wrong. It wasn’t you. And frankly I didn’t catch his reference until I’d approved his comment. It’s a pity, because attacking someone anonymously is cowardly, and the rest of his comment was very funny…

    And no, Daniel, the Gemara does not conclude that Rebbe Chiyah’s position was illogical, much less that that was the reason for laughter.

  10. Harry Maryles says:

    I didn’t think you meant me, Rabbi Menken. I appreciate the clarification.

  11. Yerachmiel Lopin says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    You write:

    For every person you can find adopting inconsistent chumros, I can find you ten calling around until they find a Rabbi who will give them the answer they were looking for.

    I would say that for every kol koreh ban(as opposed to psak) you will find askanim selectively shopping their often self interested agenda by selectively sifting 10 relevant facts to deliver the facts that will secure them the signatures they need. This was documented by Rav Natan Slifkin (who was slandered by a subsequently discredited rabbi and by a subsequently convicted felon). Similar misconduct by Askanim was also documented and reported by Rav Natan Kamenetsky.

    What the Chazon Ish said about psak applies even more to kol korehs. iirc ‘most bad psak is not because of halachic ignorance but because too many rabbanim paskin without enough attention to the metsius (factual particulars).

    What is a responsible Jew to do when a Kol Koreh is maneuvered by askanim and accomplished and attained by misrepresentation of the metsius? Doesn’t a responsible Jew have to warn the public of the dangers of a falsely derived kol koreh.

    What’s if you lived in Monsey and you knew of a kosher chicken fraud and you could not get the relevant machshirim and rabbonim to respond. Would it have been irresponsible for a blogger to broadcast the fact?

  12. Yaakov Menken says:


    What you wrote may be true in some cases, but is largely irrelevant. Bloggers think they have something positive to contribute, but that hardly means they actually do. And I wish you wouldn’t bring in Natan. I like him personally, we have a dialog, and we agree to disagree. But given that area of disagreement, I don’t think you can argue that those who signed didn’t know what they were signing. Your poskim can agree or disagree with their opinion.

    From this week’s Ami Magazine:

    Recently, that newest repository of “wisdom,” the blogosphere, has been alight with righteous indignation concerning the act of metzitza b’peh during bris milah. Commentators with no knowledge of the relevant halachos have weighed in with the arrogance one has come to expect from anonymous online commenters. It takes a discerning intellect to divide the kernel from the chaff, and sadly, the tumult of today’s electronic information avalanche can make it even more difficult.

    — Rabbi Y. Reuven Rubin, Rosh Mesivta, Ohr Shlomoh; Rav of Adass Eish Kodesh of Prestwich, UK;

  13. Chardal says:

    >I don’t think you can argue that those who signed didn’t know what they were signing

    People called gedolim signed a cheers against a book written in a language they could not read without even talking to the author so that he could defend his position. An author, BTW who already received haskamos from other rabbis. I am not sure if you think that saying that they understood what they were signing is being Dan leKaf zchut. To say they were manipulated makes their actions just a tiny bit less horrifying.

  14. lacosta says:

    all this with the proviso that there are two areas that haredi leadership finds fault with bloggers

    1. where they are wrong /full of leitzanus

    2. where they bring up issues that the leadership would rather not be public

    criticism of 1. is valid criticism of 2. is problematic to say the least–others would use more inflammatory adjectives…

    if bloggers bring to light that which need be addressed but others wish would never come up….

  15. mevaseretzion says:

    The beauty of anonymous blogging is that it allows arguments to stand or fall on their merits and not on appeals to authority. This is something which may be cause of angst and frustration to members of circles where appeals to authority are the primary method of banning views with which they disagree.

    Perhaps instead of spending time writing about how bad anonymous bloggers are, how unknowledgeable they are, and how uninformed their views are, it would be better to spend time considering the dictum, קבל האמת ממי שאמרו, accept the truth from wherever it comes. Remember, even if there is one instance where a blogger brought some fact to light, or protected the public from dangerous people lurking in our schools, it is enough – as King David only learned two things from Achitophel, and yet he called him “master, teacher…” (Avot ch 6)

  16. Yaakov Menken says:

    Chardal, since when is it necessary to talk to the author in order to know what words say on a page? It is my understanding that one of the Gedolim said this is not at all about him, that “he could be one of the 36 Tzaddikim,” it’s the content of the book, which he saw in translation. As it happens, I do know English moderately well, know his positions moderately well, and understand why some might be very uncomfortable with those positions. Again, there is no rationale behind your argument that they signed due to a lack of familiarity.

    Lacosta, bloggers definitely excel at bringing up in public issues better dealt with by responsible individuals in private. Those to whom you refer use a bazooka to solve a problem better dealt with using a stiletto, causing huge collateral damage to the innocent.

    Mevaseret, you would have a good point if you were right. But bloggers don’t care about how foolish they are, because they still have the privilege of ridiculing others from behind the veil of anonymity.

    As if this needed more proof, someone referred me today to yet another post from one of the leading anonymous bloggers, who, if I recall correctly, was one of the fools making fun of chaburah matzos. On April 22 he wrote a post about me in which he claims that my post about Anat Hoffman shows that I can “see into their souls and perceive their true intentions,” not to mention “tell the future.” Reading further, I see that someone actually tried to explain to him in the comments that I was simply paraphrasing her (and I appreciate the commenter’s kudos that I did so “quite well,” and no, when I said she wanted “to change the Kotel from permanent place of prayer to a “national monument,” I wasn’t even slightly off the mark), but as you might expect, this proved a great waste of time.

    In actuality, my relevant talents include the ability to watch YouTube videos of BBC interviews, read news articles on the web about Hoffman’s public appearances, and comprehend the English language. A leading anonymous blogger — again, a leading anonymous blogger — regards this as truly mystical skill! What does that say about the talents of someone who reads them?

  17. Whoa Nelly says:

    I find it somewhat amusing how some bloggers are so busy worrying about what it says on another blog about them.

    I guess it has to do with how meaningful anything posted on the web is. It gives their points legitimacy.

  18. Yaakov Menken says:

    Whoa nelly, Whoa Nelly! I didn’t know about it for over two weeks, and then only because someone happened to send it to me. Tell me again how much I care? (It’s thanks to people like that that I resent being called a blogger.) But yes, the problem is that people like “mevaseret” believe that if you read anonymous blogs you might learn something worthwhile. In reality, no one capable of understanding this could fail to find better uses of his or her time.

  19. Whoa Nelly says:

    R’ Yaakov,

    The comment was not directed specifically to you. It was addressing what I have noted to be a pretty significant focus of certain blog(ger)s.

    Where the focus is on what was ostensibly said about them rather than using it to demonstrate a point.

  20. Ben says:

    While finding the ban against R Slifkin’s books deeply disturbing, it is not true that all those who signed did not understand the book. R Yaakov Hillel has English as his mother tongue and in fact added his own additional condemnation to to the ban. I would rather it were possible that the ban was acheived by manipulation alone but that is not the case.

  21. Toby Katz says:

    Years before I read Slifkin’s outstanding, fascinating book *The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax* I already stopped using the “only four species” proof because my own logic told me that if we couldn’t clearly identify what the arneves and the shafan even WERE, the proof was no proof.

  22. Dr. Isaac Betech says:

    Dear R. Toby Katz
    Have you read the article on Dialogue Magazine No. 3 (Fall 5773) about the identity of the Biblical shafan and arnebet?

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