Talmud Tips

For the week ending 27 August 2016 / 23 Av 5776

Bava Kama 86 - 92

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rabbi Yehuda said, “A blind person is exempt from paying for embarrassing another person”, and, likewise, Rabbi Yehuda exempted a blind person from all mitzvot that are stated in the Torah.

This statement, which is taught in a beraita on our daf, is the ruling of Rabbi Yehuda regarding the lack of obligations of a “suma”, a blind person, and is derived from a verse in Devarim 6:1, as explained by Rav Shisha bar Rav Idi in the gemara.

Does this mean that a blind person has no mitzvot at all? Tosefot writes that although Rabbi Yehuda said that a blind person is exempt from “all mitzvot that are stated in the Torah”, a blind person is nevertheless obligated in mitzvah observance according to Rabbinical law, since otherwise he would be like a non-Jew who is not part of the Torah of the Jewish People. Tosefot points out that the Rabbis did not decree for a woman to “Rabbinically” observe time-bound positive mitzvot which the Torah exempts them from since they are at least obligated in all negative commandments of the Torah, as well as positive mitzvot that are not time-dependent. A blind person, however, would have no mitzvah obligation without Rabbical intervention, and therefore the Rabbis obligated him in order that he will share in the role of the Jewish People in having a share in mitzvah fulfillment.

Another opinion is found in the writings of Rabbi Akiva Egger in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah (1:9), regarding the status of shechita (ritual slaughter of animal for food) done by a blind person who is supervised. The Shuchan Aruch rules that the shechita should not be done, but if it was (and was properly supervised) it is kosher. Rabbi Akiva Egger explains that although a blind person is exempt from mitzvot according to Rabbi Yehuda, this exemption applies only to positive commands, but not to negative ones (“lo ta’aseh”). Therefore, since a blind person is obligated by the Torah in the command to not eat meat that was not “shechted” correctly, his act of shechita is acceptable if supervised.

I once asked a great Rabbi in Jerusalem a question on the opinion of Tosefot: “If the blind person is exempt from all Torah mitzvot, why is he required to obey the command of the Rabbis who decreed him to be obligated according to their law? Isn’t the reason why a person must obey Rabbinical law the statement in the Torah in Devarim 17:11, “According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left.” But a blind person is not bound by any mitzvah of the Torah, including Devarim 17:11, and thereby seemingly not bound to the decrees of the Rabbis. How would Tosefot answer this?”

The Rabbi answered me that it is “logic”. Any person who is part of the Jewish People, even a blind person who is exempt from mitzvot, must certainly listen to and obey the teachings of the Rabbis. They are the leaders, the teachers and the authorities in this world who help lead us in the path of Gd.

  • Bava Kama 87a

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