Daf Yomi

For the week ending 18 October 2014 / 24 Tishri 5775

Yevamot 13 - 19

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Love Peace and Truth

There were many debates between the schools of Shammai and Hillel on issues that affected marital status, ranging from the minimum value of money that can create kiddushin (matrimony) to the sort of woman to whom the mitzvah of yibum applies. Despite their differences, the members of Beit Shammai did not hesitate to marry into the families of Beit Hillel, and the Beit Hillel people had no qualms about marrying into the Beit Shammai families. This teaches us, says the gemara, that despite their differences, these Sages related to each with affection and friendship in the spirit of the prophetic instruction to (Zecharia 8:19) "Love truth and peace."

On a practical level, this relationship was possible because if there was a problem in one of the families resulting from the halachic position of the opposing school, the potential suitor would be informed. Thus he would avoid that particular family, leaving them to marry within their own ranks where that problem did not exist thanks to the halachic position of that school.

The application of the above passage from Zecharia is explained by Maharsha in the following manner:

Even though it is impossible for conflicting views to both be the ultimate truth, nevertheless, both are endowed with a dimension of truth from the perspective of their peaceful and loving relationship. This idea is expressed in the gemara in Masechta Chagigah (3b) which offers advice on how the student of Torah should view the differences of opinion which he encounters among Torah scholars. No scholar bases his position on the teachings of any source other than the Torah. You must therefore respectfully pay attention to the opinions of both (until you are capable of deciding which position must guide you Rashi).

On a metaphysical level both the opinions of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai are considered as truth. The gemara (Eruvin 13b) tells us that after three years of debate between the two schools, a voice from Heaven announced: "The words of both are the words of the Living G-d, but the halacha is like Beit Hillel."

  • (Yevamot 14b)

Cow-Herder and Shepherd

A major debate raged between the schools of Hillel and Shammai over the issue of "tzarat habat" if a man died childless and left behind two widows, one of whom was the daughter of the surviving brother, who is supposed to perform yibum by marrying one of then. The position of Beit Hillel, based on a gezeirah shavah deduction, was that just as yibum cannot be performed with his daughter, who is forbidden to him, so too yibum cannot be performed with the other widow and she is free to marry anyone else. Beit Shammai's position was that the second widow is unaffected by the fact that she shared her first husband with his niece; thus, the surviving brother may perform yibum by marrying her, and she is not free to marry outside the family unless he releases her through chalitzah.

Yonatan ben Hirkinus was a brilliant member of the Shammai school who had 300 arguments to support its position. Rabbi Akiva and two other leading Sages visited his brother, Rabbi Dossa ben Hirkinus, to investigate rumors that he had ruled like Shammai against the prevailing ruling of the main body of the Sages who held like Hillel. Rabbi Dossa told them that, despite all of Yonatan's arguments, he could testify with certainty that the Prophet Chaggai had ruled that a "tzarat habat" was forbidden, exactly as Hillel later did. Yonatan accosted Rabbi Akiva on his way out of his brother's home and logically challenged his Beit Hillel position on this issue. When the latter failed to refute his challenge and clung to the tradition going back to the prophets, Yonatan chided him by saying: "You are the Akiva whose reputation as a scholar is known throughout the world? How fortunate are you that you have reached such fame without even reaching the level of a cow-herder!" Rabbi Akiva's response was, "Even the level of a shepherd!"

This enigmatic dialogue is thus explained by Maharsha:

Yonatan's mention of a cow-herder was a reference to one of the earlier prophets, Amos, who described himself as such (Amos 7:14). This was intended as a putdown of his brother's claim that the Beit Hillel's view had a tradition all the way back to the Prophet Chaggai, for Chaggai was one of the last prophets. "You do not have a tradition going back to an early prophet like the cow-herder Amos," Yonatan argued, "and even if you did, you could not rely on it because the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah) says that Amos had difficulty with his speech." Rabbi Akiva's response was that the information received from a prophet, even one with speech difficulty, was reliable, and that the position of Beit Hillel went back to the earliest prophet, the shepherd Moshe, who also had a speech difficulty, and from whom the gezeirah shavah was originally received.

  • (Yevamot 16a)

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