Talmud Tips

For the week ending 11 February 2017 / 15 Shevat 5777

Bava Batra 18 - 24

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Rav said to Rav Shmuel bar Shilat, “Until the age of six do not accept a student, but from that age on accept the student and feed him like an ox.”

Our daf teaches the origins and development of a revolutionary system of establishing schools for Torah study, beginning with young children. Originally, there were limited opportunities for Jewish children, depending on the family resources that were available to each child. However, the Sage Yehoshua ben Gamla, who was a kohen gadol during the time of the Second Beit Hamikdash, instituted the first “Torah Public School System”, which began a movement to enable all Jewish children from any location and any financial means to receive a quality Torah education.

Many halachot regarding this system and the way it should be managed, including the relationship between the teacher and the student, are taught on our daf, and are codified in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 245. One example is the above statement of Rav to Rav Shmuel bar Shilat, “to feed the student like an ox”. Rashi explains that this means to heartily insist that the student “eat and drink the nourishment of the Torah”, similar to the manner that a person puts a yoke upon his ox. Rashi in another place (Ketuvot 50a) explains this phrase in a slightly different manner: “Feed him so much Torah that he will be ‘stuffed with it’, in the same way that you feed an ox a very large amount of food.”

The Maharsha, however, suggests that the gemara intends to convey a different, more gentle approach to educating our youth. He writes: “The teacher should learn with the student tenderly and with great sensitivity, just as one feeds an ox with his hands without any force or coercion. The example of an ox is meant to depict an example where there is total lack of force applied, as opposed to feeding a camel or a calf, in which case the animal is forcefully fed without a sense of compassion (think of veal nowadays).” Torah should be taught and transmitted to the next generation in a loving manner, which will not only teach but also demonstrate to the youth the peaceful and pleasant ways of the Torah.

  • Bava Batra 21a

And Rav also said to Rav Shmuel bar Shilat, “One who studies, studies; and one who doesn’t study let him remain there in the yeshiva so that he will be company for his friend.”

With this statement Rav teaches one of the numerous rules and guidelines for conducting a Torah educational institution. The reason given for the one who does not study to remain in the yeshiva appears somewhat ambiguous in its meaning, since it does not seem to clearly state who will be the company of whom.

Rashi explains that the one who is not studying but sits there idly does not need to be sent out of the class or yeshiva — rather, he should be allowed to remain there with the others who are actually studying Torah, and eventually the “atmosphere” of Torah study will have a positive effect on him. He will be moved to also pay attention to the classes and to join in with the others in their pursuit of understanding the Torah.

The Maharsha, however, offers a different interpretation for this rule taught in the gemara. He claims that the phrase “so that he will be company for his friend” implies that his remaining there is for the friend’s benefit and not for his own benefit. The Maharsha explains that when his friend sees him there, sitting idly, his friend will constantly be reminded how wonderful it is to be learning Torah, unlike the unfortunate person sitting there as “company”, and the one who studies will be encouraged even more to be diligent in his Torah studies.

  • Bava Batra 21a

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