Sunday, May 4, 2008

A conversation with Hagaon Prof. Dovid Halivni

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Professor Halivni and discuss several issues which I will record here. Prof. Halivni revolutionized the field of Talmudics by distinguishing between the various elements of the sugya – The amoraic statements and the stammatic discussions. This methodology helps clear up various difficulties within the sugya as Halvni demonstrates in his multi-volume Mekorot U’ Mesorot.

It was interesting to watch the Professor learning . He uses only the standard Vilna Shas and the Dikdukei Soferim. (He is currently studying Tractate Sanhedrin, after just recently publishing Mekorot U' Mesorot on Bava Basra) Occasionally he opens another Tractate (or the Sifra ,etc. ) in order to compare readings. It is fascinating to watch the amount of concentration that is placed in analyzing every line.

1. I asked him how he understood the Talmudic phrase (Ravina V’ Reb Ashi Sof Hora’ah). The Rishonim seem to have understood it as referring to the redaction of the Talmud (See Kalmin’s excellent book on that subject) although even they were not entirely sure (See Tosafos in Chullin 2a). Now the word Horaah literally refers to decision-making. One might say that one cannot refute a decision of Ravina and R’ Ashi but this also seems not to be correct as frequently a V’Hilchosa (which are generally assumed to be Geonic) argues on an Amoraic decision. See also my earlier post)

I cannot remember all the details of his response. He was (naturally) quite adamant that it had nothing to do with redaction. He noted that the term “Itmar” is only used in connection with pre- R’ Ashi Amoraim (although there weren’t that many Amoraim after R' Ashi for this to be significant?) and that the statement was simply meant to express the end of an era (marked by “Itmar”). Most surprisingly, he said that he believed that even today there is no technical reason that would prevent us from arguing on an Amora. The difficulty is practical i.e. we don’t know really understand the methodology that the Amoraim used to arrive at their decisions that we should be able to dispute them.

2. Another issue I raised is the statement in Shabbos 118b - וא"ר יוסי מימי לא עברתי על דברי חברי יודע אני בעצמי שאיני כהן אם אומרים לי חבירי עלה לדוכן אני עולה

First, I was bothered by the question of Tosafos – “What issur is involved…?”. I do not understand why Tosafos assumed that there must be an issur involved (raising the question that we will soon discuss how could he involve himself in an issur to please his friends). Certainly, the next statement (I never said anything and retracted) involves no issur. It would be easier to say that R’ Yosi was simply saying that he would even do something remarkably strange (for a non-kohen to go up to the duchen) for his friends.

Prof. Halivni’s response was that in the view of the Tosafists – it is obvious R’ Yose would do all one can for a friend, even something somewhat strange. The vehemence of R’ Yose’s exclamation would imply something more – an actual issur.

Regarding the main difficulties of the passage – 1. How could R’ Yose transgress an issur (acc. to Tosafos) 2, and why would his friends ask him to do so? Prof. Halivni is of the opinion that R’ Yose was merely using an expression to demonstrate his loyalty to his friends – not that he ever was asked to actually do so. I find this explanation somewhat difficult since I do not see why R’ Yose should have chosen such a strange way of expressing himself – one that has parallels anywhere else.

(The Torah Temimah had pointed to a variant in Rabbenu Yerucham that substitutes “K’dai” for Kohen. Acc. to this explanation – duchen which simply means a platform referred to a place where a darshen stood (as in Reish Duchna referring to an assistant teacher). This would resolve the question neatly.

This brought forth a rather immoderate attack from R’ Kasher in Torah Shlemah to Tsav. To cite one example – Kasher questions the TT’s new interpretation for Duchen as opposed to everywhere else where Duchen means Birkat Kohanim. In fact, in all of the Tannitic and Amoraic literature duchen never is used in to refer to Birkat Kohanim. I would suggest that perhaps the substitution of Kohen to K’dai might have happened during Geonic times when the word duchen started to be used in reference to Birkat Kohanim VT”I).

3.I also raised the issue of the “מאי לאו” that is that frequently a proof is brought in which the Talmud first assumes (w/o any proof) that the Baraita should be interpreted to be referring to the case under discussion and is then pushed off by saying that it does not refer to that case. Prof. Halivni’s explanation (it is already recorded numerous times in his book) is that when this proof is brought by Amoraim it is generally followed by a “אי הכי” which demonstrates why the first position (the מאי לאי) is to be preferred. The Stammim kept this form even where there is no אי הכי to be followed simply to demonstrate that they realize that there exist two ways to understand this Baraita (elsewhere Halivni writes of the general rhetorical style of the Stammaim which involved a back and forth even where this is not strictly needed). (I might add that generally one might say that the first option – the מאי לאו would fit more logically within the pashtus of the baraita whereas the second option is a mere דיחוי which doesn’t fit as well – ויל"ד)

4. I told him a pshat of mine (rather vilely written here) that I think he liked. I think it is important since it would mean that one has to carefully check every Maskonah to see if it might not be a reformulation of an earlier "Hava Amina".

5. Finally, he told me an explanation (I think its already printed in his Memoirs) on the statement לעולם לא יפטר אדם מחבירו אלא מתוך דבר הלכה שמתוך כך זוכרהו - ברכות, לא why the empasis on D'var Halach as opposed to Aggadah? This is because Aggadah is by nature plastic, as one can see that each movement and ideology through the ages interprets the aggadah to fit with their own ideas. Thus with an aggadah you will not "remember him" for the aggadah can be changed to a new form. But the Halacha is eternal and unchangeable.

(This is not at all an exact account and all the usual disclaimers apply)


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Most surprisingly, he said that he believed that even today it would there is no technical reason that we cannot argue on an Amora but the difficulty is practical i.e. we don’t know really understand the methodology that the Amoraim used to arrive at their decisions that we should be able to dispute them.

That's interesting - unless he is dogmatic that further researches cannot ever uncover a real understanding of their methodolog[ies], it would seem that he forsees the possibility of arguing with Amoraim in halakhic contexts.

RebMordechai said...

It is ashame that people are not aware of the contribution of Hyman Klein in this area of speararing out the layered components of a sugya already in the late forties. See JQR 38:1 1947

Anonymous said...

I didn't know about Klein, but I think A. Weiss contributed a lot to the field.

Halivni was the first to TOTALLY sperate the Stamma from the Amoraic elements so to present him as a major originator of the field is fair.

Anonymous said...

See his response to Feldmans review of an arrticle of his in Tradition in which he is quite clear that his work should have no bearings on Halacha.

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