Daf Yomi

For the week ending 1 May 2004 / 10 Iyyar 5764

Chullin 93 - 99

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The Mothers Torah

"It is permissible to eat this part of the animal," Rabbi Yochanan in Eretz Yisrael told Rabbi Shaman bar Abba, "but since you are from Babylon you should refrain from eating it because that is the custom of your community."

As the source for such strict adherence to Jewish custom Rabbi Yochanan quoted the passage "Hear, my son, the instruction of your father and do not forsake the Torah of your mother." (Mishlei 1:8) While the first part of this passage, explains Rashi in Mishlei, refers to the Written and Oral Torah given by G-d to Moshe, the second part refers to the rabbinical laws that the Sages of the Jewish People established as a protective "fence around the Torah".

Since there were sometimes different opinions amongst the Sages as to such laws, there arose a variation in regard to adherence. What was considered permissible in Eretz Yisrael was abstained from in Babylon where the Sages prohibited it.

This concept of the Jewish community being a "mother" whose Torah must be respected has been extended to Jewish minhagim (customs) which developed even after Talmudic times. No minhag instituted by Torah leaders should be ignored, for all of them have important value for the spiritual security of the community for which they were initiated. The different circumstances of time and place are responsible for the variation of minhagim from community to community and from era to era. But each community should be sure to honor its "mothers" Torah alongside that of its "Father".

  • Chullin 93b

Superstition or Prophecy?

"What passage in Tanach did you learn today?"

This is what Rabbi Yochanan, the leading Sage in Eretz Yisrael, asked a child before deciding whether to embark on a trip to Babylon. After discovering that there was much he could learn from the Sage Shmuel in Bablyon, he was anxious to visit him, but wanted to make sure that such a trip would be worthwhile.

"Now Shmuel is dead," answered the child, quoting a passage (Shmuel I 28:3) recording the passing of the Prophet Shmuel. Rabbi Yochanan interpreted this as a sign from Heaven that the Sage Shmuel was no longer alive and therefore cancelled his trip.

Although the Torah prohibited (Vayikra 19:26) acting upon superstitious interpretations of omens (nichush), such as a black cat crossing ones path as a sign of bad luck, we do find that an exception was made in regard to relying on the passage randomly quoted by a child. In addition to Rabbi Yochanan who regularly followed this practice, we find that Rabbi Sheishet (Mesechta Bava Batra 68a) refrained from doing something because of a passage he heard from a child.

There is much discussion in the commentaries (see Rambam - Laws of Idolatry 11:4) regarding this issue. The simplest explanation is that the passage randomly quoted by a child was viewed by our Sages as a mini-prophecy and not a superstitious omen.

In the case of Rabbi Yochanan, however, it was not a message from Heaven that Shmuel was indeed dead for in truth he was still alive but rather that it was not deemed necessary for him to bother making such an arduous trip.

  • Chullin 95b

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