Talmud Tips

For the week ending 27 January 2024 / 17 Shvat 5784

Bava Kama 86-92

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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A Mitzvah in Sight

Rabbi Yehuda said, “A blind person is exempt from paying for embarrassing another person,” and likewise Rabbi Yehuda exempted a blind person from all mitzvahs 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. It is derived from a verse in Devarim 6:1, as explained by Rav Shisha bar Rav Idi in the gemara.

But does this mean that a blind person has no mitzvahs at all? Tosefot writes that although Rabbi Yehuda said that a blind person is exempt from “all mitzvahs 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 mitzvahs the Torah exempts them from since they are at least obligated in all negative commandments of the Torah, as well as the positive mitzvahs that are not time-dependent. A blind person, however, would have no mitzvah obligation without Rabbinical 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 Eiger in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah (1:9), regarding the status of a shechita (ritual slaughter of animal for food) done by a blind person who is supervised. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the shechita should not be done, but if it was (and was properly supervised), it is kosher. Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains that although a blind person is exempt from mitzvahs 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 a blind person is exempt from all Torah mitzvahs, why is he required to obeythe command of the Rabbis who decreed him to be obligated according to their law? Isn’t the reason that a person must obey Rabbinical law derived from the Torah (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?’ A blind person is not bound by any mitzvah of the Torah, including Devarim 17:11, and is therefore seemingly not bound to the decrees of the Rabbis. So, how would Tosefot answer this?”

The Rabbi answered me that it is “logic.” Every person who is part of the Jewish People, even a blind person who is exempt from mitzvahs, 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 Hashem.

Bava Kama 87a

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