Saturday, 15 February 2020

Parsha: Mishpatim, "Following the Majority Opinion"

Mishpatim: Following the Majority Opinion

A story about Rabbi Akiva, when the famed second century Talmudic sage was a young scholar...

Rabban Gamliel, the head of Sanhedrin, hosted a gathering of scholars in the town of Jericho. The guests were served dates, and Rabban Gamliel honored Rabbi Akiva with reciting the brachah achronah (final blessing). However, Rabban Gamliel and the other sages disagreed about which blessing should be said after eating dates. The young scholar quickly made the blessing - in accordance with the opinion of the other rabbis.
"Akiva!" exclaimed Rabban Gamliel. "When will you stop butting your head into Halachic disagreements?"
"Our master," Rabbi Akiva replied calmly, "it is true that you and your colleagues disagree in this matter. But did you not teach us that the Law is decided according to the majority opinion?" [Brachot 37a]
In truth, it is hard to understand Rabban Gamliel's criticism. What did he expect Rabbi Akiva to do? Why was he upset?
Two Methods to Resolve Disputes

In order to resolve legal disputes, there are two methods a scholar may use to decide which opinion should be accepted as law.

The first way is to conduct an extensive analysis of the subject to find out the truth. We examine the issue at hand, weighing the reasoning and supporting proofs for each view, until we can determine which opinion is the most logical.
However, if we are unable to objectively decide which opinion is more substantiated, we fall back on the second method. Instead of the truth, we look for consensus. We follow the majority opinion - not because it is more logical or well-reasoned - but out of the simple need to establish a normative position and avoid disagreement and conflict. If we are seeking consensus and peace, then the most widely held opinion is the preferred one.

Rabban Gamliel was critical of Rabbi Akiva because he thought the young scholar had had the audacity to decide which opinion was the correct one. Therefore he castigated him, "When will you stop butting your head into these legal disagreements?" In other words, where did you get the idea that you could use your head - your own powers of logic and reasoning - to decide issues that are beyond your expertise and knowledge?

Rabbi Akiva responded that he hadn't presumptuously tried to decide which opinion is correct. Rather, he had simply applied the second method of resolving a legal dispute: deciding the issue by consensus, according to the majority opinion.

- [adapted from Ein Ayah vol. II, p. 176]



P. Mishpatim - Midrasho vs. P'shuto

See Mishpatim 21:28
Rashi: "Baal Hashor Nakki"

The Halachah is "Midrasho"
P'shuto is something else.
So - as per Rashi - a Halachic translation here would be "al pi midrash, even though it is based upon Midrash Halachah and not upon Midrash Aggadah.  P'shat - while not anti-Halachic - does not [necessarily] imply the Halachot derived here.


Parshas Mishpatim: There Are No "Alternative Facts"

From RRW
We would like to blog Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the parsha. Hope you enjoy

Baltimore Jewish Life | Parshas Mishpatim: There Are No "Alternative Facts"

P. Mishpatim 1 - "Et Ishti" The Question

Originally published 1/27/11, 9:01 am.
I posted the following in the Leining discussion group:

See Shemot: 21:5 "et ishti."
Rashi - [namely] the shifchah.
Rashi makes perfect sense because, after all,  his regular wife goes out with him...
My query is about the term ISHTI. How is this applicable to a woman who is not his lawfully wedded wife, and is merely given over to produce children for the Adon?
The terminology ISHTI seems a bit strange because she never really belongs to this eved Ivri in the first place.
Any suggestions?


P. Mishpatim 2 - "Et Ishti" The Answer

I received this answer
From Gershon Eliyahu
Giorgies E. Kepipesiom

«For that matter, bonay is equally troublesome, as the children are not legally his sons, they are the adon's property, they have no yichus to the eved ivri, for example, if he later dies leaving no other children alive, these do not exempt his lawful wife from yibbum or chalitza.

My guess: the key word is "ahavti". True, she is not his, and not his wife. But he has fallen in love with this woman and these children. He is using the possessive forms ishti, bonay, in the sense of "I love this woman as if she were my wife, I love these children as if they were my own sons.


I said "this makes sense to me" and I received GEK's permission to share.


Mishpatim: Understanding Torah

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Mishpatim and the topic is mitzvot we understand and mitzvot we don't understand. Most significantly, what we understand may actually change over time. Certain laws which were presented as understandable in the past are now deemed not understandable. And other laws which were described as beyond human comprehension in the past are now seen as making sense. What does this indicate about the human interaction with Torah? We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Parsha: Yitro, "Navol Tibbol", Torah as a Co-operative Venture

originally published on 1/12/14

Let's recall Yitro's Mussar to Moshe Rabbenu. Moshe Rabbenu himself couldn't handle the sheer volume of Bnei Yisrael's legal cases without a ranked system of judges beneath him. 

We can easily understand why it's necessary for "G'dolim" to address knotty issues like agunot, defining death, etc. Yet if Moshe Rabbenu  couldn't manage it all,  then al achat kama vakammah, g'dolim today could be overwhelmed too! If it were required that each Rav master every Halachic complexity, then everyone, individually, would face "navol tibbol."  We'd be overwhelmed by the Yam Hatalmud, and Pos'qim, Chas v'Shalom

So it's mistavra that the role of Sarei alafim etc. is just as vital to avoiding "navol tibbol" as Moshe's own role on the top of the pyramid. Local Rabbonim, G'dolim, and any "vaad" or Dayan in between, all play necessary roles in this legal mechanism.Therefore, all levels really need each other. Recall, no one Jew can do all 613 Mitzvot! 

It seems this is the Mussar Heskel from our Parshah: Torah is a co-operative venture


Yitro: Emunah

Originally posted Jan. 23, 2016
From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Yitro and the topic is emunah, which is generally translated as faith or trust. The question of how to translate the word actually reflects an issue involved in understanding the word. Is emunah something we control or is it a natural response of one's being? We invite you to look at an article on this topic at

Parsha: Yitro, "2,000 Years Without Torah"

originally published on 1/12/14

Someone recently asked me the following question:

If the Torah is the guidebook for life, how could humanity have survived without this guidebook for 2000 years? In other words, why did God wait for 2000 years before giving the Torah?

I look forward to the ideas and to the discussion in your comments.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

P. Yitro - Last 3 Mitzvot, the Questions

Originally posted Jan. 23, 2016

 There are 3 mitzvot at the end of P. Yitro that are wedged in between the end of the 10 Dibrot and P. Mishpatim.
What are they?
What underlying theme connects these three together?
Hint: one is explicit, the other 2 are only subtly connected.


P. Yitro - Last 3 Mitzvot, the Answers

Originally posted Jan. 23, 2016

The 3 mitzvot are
1 "Lo Ta'asoon iti ...elohei chessef..."
2. "Mizbach adama.." thru "ki charb'cha..."
3. "V'lo ta'aleh b'ma'alot...Asher lo tiggaleh ervatcha..."

The common thread?
1. Idol Worship
2. Murder [charbecha]
3. Gilluy Arayot [explicitly so]

These constitute the 3 "cardinal sins" - albeit the last two are "subtle / abbizraihu" cases related specifically to the Mizbei'ach.


Parsha: Yitro - How to Divide the Asseret Haddibrot?

originally posted January 23, 2013

How are the "10 Commandments" to be parsed [i.e. enumerated into different commandments] according to:

A. Hazal?

B and C. The Masoretic text?
[two different answers]

D. R Wolf Heidenheim? -

Wolf Heidenheim - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shalom and Best Regards,

MISTAKES are always forgivable
If you have the courage to admit them.

Yitro: The Flow of Sinai

Originally published 2/13/09, 11:45 AM.

To many, the goal of religion is to attain a greater and greater religious or spiritual experience. Within the realm of Torah, though, the Jewish nation has already reached the pinnacle of religious experiences, the Revelation at Sinai. So what then is the Jewish religious experience or process through life?

Rabbi Hecht addresses this issue in an Insight from 5758 available at