Friday, May 6, 2011

Single-Minded People

Rabbi Slifkin’s strident and ongoing disparagement of Chazal's wisdom remains unchecked. This is demonstrated most keenly in his treatment of the halachic definition of death. In this recent post, Rabbi Slifkin reiterates several of his previous assertions regarding this issue and even adds one for good measure. His shoddy scholarship is actually shocking. Here are a few examples.

And so, while Dr. Stadlan is absolutely correct to state that when babies are born with extra appendages or organs, they are considered to be two persons when they have two heads - it should be noted that Chazal did not view it that way!

This is unbelievable! Anyone opening a gemara Menachos 37a-b will see that a two-headed firstborn requires 10 selaim for pidyon haben! This gemara is juxtaposed with Rabbi Slifkin’s gemara regarding Palemo and Rebbi. If anything, this gemara can be brought as proof that Chazal understood a two-headed person as two distinct persons, not one.

In my monograph The Question of the Kidneys' Counsel, I showed how Chazal believed that significant components of the mind are located in the chest cavity - in the heart, kidneys, and other innards - rather than in the brain.

This assertion was already refuted here and here and yet Rabbi Slifkin continues to repeat the same error. Incidentally, Rabbi Slifkin did not claim that “significant components of the mind are located in the heart, kidneys, and other innards - rather than in the brain”. He claimed that Chazal believed that the mind was located in the heart and kidneys and not the brain, period. He seems to be engaging in some creative back-pedaling.

Accordingly, dicephalus twins — conjoined twins with a single trunk and one head — were regarded as a single person with two heads. We see this in the way that the Gemara presents the question mentioned above. The Gemara discusses the question of upon which head such a person (described in the singular!) should place tefillin.

We see nothing of the sort. Mee'ma nafshach; even if Palemo and the rest of Chazal held that a two headed person was definitely only one person, Palemo should still have asked the question differently. He should have asked, “Does a two-headed person need to put tefilin on both heads or can he be yotzeh the mitvah by putting on tefilin on one head”? The format of Palemo’s question is equally puzzling regardless of Chazal’s position regarding “two-headed personage”. Accordingly, Rabbi Slifkin’s “proof” is no proof at all.

23 comments:

  1. see the next amud for the explanation of why 10 selaim are needed according to the tanna of the braysa -- a diyuk in lagulgoles. this does not (necessarily) indicate that Chazal regarded them as two persons, but rather that even for one person, there is the obligation for each skull.

    meanwhile, the way of phrasing a question is not a gzeiras hakasuv, and might well reveal assumptions.

    not that i am really convinced by either proof. but his 'proof' is better than your 'proof'.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  2. Hello Josh,

    Thank you for writing.

    see the next amud for the explanation of why 10 selaim are needed according to the tanna of the braysa -- a diyuk in lagulgoles. this does not (necessarily) indicate that Chazal regarded them as two persons, but rather that even for one person, there is the obligation for each skull.

    You’re not learning the gemara properly Josh. First of all, a minor correction. The explanation on amud beis of “lagulgoles” is for the saba that provided the answer to Rebbi’s questioner in the presence of Rebbi and Polemo, not “the tanna of the braysa”. In fact, there is no braysa brought down here.

    Here’s the proper way to understand the gemara.

    1) Polemo asks Rebbi which head a two-headed person must put on tefilin?

    2) Rebbi assumes Polemo is mocking him and expresses a kipeyda against him. Apparently, Rebbi had never heard of a two-headed individual

    3) At this very meeting, a person (let’s call him “the questioner”) approaches Rebbi and informs him that he just had a two-headed first born son and wants to know if he needs to furnish the Kohen with five selaim or ten? Now obviously the juxtaposition of this incident with the Rebbi-Polemo interaction is the gemara’s way of informing us that indeed there is such a thing as a two headed individual and Polemo’s question was indeed a valid one

    4) An old man (let’s call him the “saba”) insinuates himself into the fray. In the presence of Rebbi, the saba approaches the chabura and teaches the questioner the halacha. “You must give the kohen ten selaim” he says.

    Now, at this point in the gemara the halacha would seem to be clear. Both in the case of tefilin and in the case of a bechor, both heads need to be taken into consideration. (If the gemara felt that the halacha by bechor was not a ra’aya to tefilin, the gemara would surely have mentioned it.)

    5) The gemara now questions the halacha by bechor from a memra by Rami bar Chama (an amora). Rami bar Chama teaches (from the term “ach” in the Torah) that a bechor nitraf need not be redeemed. So, fregt the gemara, how can we say like the saba that a two-headed bechor needs ten selaim, he should need no selaim at all! Why, because he is just like a bechor nitraf! (two peshatim why, see Rashi and Tosfos ad loc.)

    6) enfert the gemara, the term “gulgoles” comes to teach us that as long as the bechor still possesses a (live) gulgoles, he must be redeemed despite the fact that he may indeed be halachically comparable to a nitraf.

    Note: The only reason the gemara needs the term “lagulgoless” is in order to eliminate the limud of “ach” in the Torah regarding a nitraf from applying to a two-headed bechor. But when it comers to tefilin, it would seem clear that you need to put on two pairs because there is nothing by tefilin which tells us that a halachic nitraf is patur from tefilin.

    This is the proper way to understand this sugya and as you can see, it seems pretty clear that Chazal related to a two-headed individual as two persons.

    Continued…

    ReplyDelete
  3. Continued from previous comment

    I will confess that as I was writing my post, I thought of learning pshat in the gemara similar to what you said. In other words, once the gemara does bring the limud of lagulgoles, perhaps it also means to say that a two-headed individual is really one person but needs ten selaim because of the special limud of lagulgoles. And although this is quite a dochek to stick into the gemara, if a Rishon would say it I would have to accept it. But no Rishon (that I know of) says it. So there is no reason to learn pshat in the gemara that way. However, I was mindful of the fact that Rabbi Slifkin might respond with this ta’ana. So I chose my words carefully. If you are midayek in my post, I wrote “If anything, this gemara can be brought as proof that Chazal understood a two-headed person as two distinct persons, not one” operative words being “if anything”. In other words, this gemara certainly cannot be brought as a ra’aya that Chazal definitely held a two-headed individual possesses only one personage. That’s what I meant by shoddy scholarship.

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  4. Josh Waxman,

    meanwhile, the way of phrasing a question is not a gzeiras hakasuv, and might well reveal assumptions.

    Certainly. My point is that regardless of which way you learn, Polemo’s phraseology is problematic and therefore cannot be used as proof.

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  5. >>>> Rabbi Slifkin’s strident and ongoing blandishments of Chazal remain unchecked

    you might want to look up the meaning of the word "brandishment"

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  6. blandishments plural of bland·ish·ment
    Noun: A flattering or pleasing statement or action used to persuade someone gently to do something.

    Huh. Learn something new every day.

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  7. SC said:
    3) At this very meeting, a person (let’s call him “the questioner”) approaches Rebbi and informs him that he just had a two-headed first born son and wants to know if he needs to furnish the Kohen with five selaim or ten? Now obviously the juxtaposition of this incident with the Rebbi-Polemo interaction is the gemara’s way of informing us that indeed there is such a thing as a two headed individual and Polemo’s question was indeed a valid one

    4) An old man (let’s call him the “saba”) insinuates himself into the fray. In the presence of Rebbi, the saba approaches the chabura and teaches the questioner the halacha. “You must give the kohen ten selaim” he says.


    SC, you are aware that Rashi specifically says on eser slayim: Dchad bechor hu vis leih trei reishei. translation: Ten slayim: Because it is ONE first born son that has two heads.

    How does this mean that it is two people? Rashi specifically says it is one person, but we count heads. Implying that it is a single person but in terms of paying the kohein we count heads.

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  8. Also, see the Rosh in bechoros perek 8 siman 5 where he talks about this.

    ReplyDelete
  9. 2e8ddf6a-7a52-11e0-b15a-000bcdca4d7a,

    you might want to look up the meaning of the word "brandishment"

    and Baruch Pelta,

    blandishments plural of bland•ish•ment
    Noun: A flattering or pleasing statement or action used to persuade someone gently to do something.

    Huh. Learn something new every day.


    Hmm… I’m sure there’s a word which starts with a B which means to malign or disparage but I can’t think of it right now. In any case, “blandishments” is obviously not the right word. Thank you for pointing out the error. I’ve changed it online to “disparagement of Chazal’s wisdom”. By “disparage” I mean “to belittle”.

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  10. E-Man,

    Thank you for writing. I’m glad you’re back!

    You wrote: SC, you are aware that Rashi specifically says on eser slayim: Dchad bechor hu vis leih trei reishei. translation: Ten slayim: Because it is ONE first born son that has two heads.

    How does this mean that it is two people? Rashi specifically says it is one person, but we count heads. Implying that it is a single person but in terms of paying the kohein we count heads.


    You’ve quoted only one line in Rashi. Unfortunately, your quote is out of context. You must read the entire Rashi. By “one” Rashi means one body, not one personage. He goes on to compare them to twins and even explains that by twins you only pay 5 selaim because one of the twins must have come out first (peter rechem). On the other hand, these two bechoros share one body so both bechoros came out simultaneously thus making both of them a peter rechem and thus requiring both to redeem themselves with 5 selaim each.

    If, according to you, Rashi meant “one” personage, he obviously has no kushya from teumim (twins) who are clearly two personages.

    Think about it and let me know how you feel.

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  11. E-Man

    Also, see the Rosh in bechoros perek 8 siman 5 where he talks about this.

    Not really. He just quotes the gemara verbatim without explaining. His intention is simply to alert his readers to the halacha.

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  12. to quickly clarify, the reference to a braysa was not the result of my reading the gemara and determining that there was a brayta in play, but rather as a result of the Point by Point Summary. See here:
    http://dafyomi.co.il/menachos/points/mn-ps-037.htm

    In turn, they likely refer to the tanna of the brayta because they feel that the word תנא as a verb the elder is doing means that he is telling over a Tannaitic tradition. If it were his own insight in the story, then we would likely hear the attribution. To them, this means a braysa. kind of like in Moed Katan, for example, תנא חד סב קומי רבי זעירא אפילו נתמנה לו בגד כל שבעה חייב לקרוע.

    As to the rest, it feels like you are reading certain values into the give and take, but I don't really want to respond off the cuff to the reading of the sugya. So maybe, for now.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  13. דחד בכור הוא ואית ליה תרי רישי
    וחשיב כתרין
    That makes it sound like he is not really two people, or possibly not really two first borns?

    ... goes on to talk about twins and paying only 5 shekels...

    אבל הכא חד הוא ואפשר לצמצם
    Hmmm - if it was really one person, then what difference does it make if it is אפשר לצמצם?

    ...

    שיצאו כאחד והוי שניהם פטר רחם
    That sound like they really are two, but exited the womb as one..

    Looks like I am agreeing with Rabbi Coffer on something. 'מה רבו מעשך ה!

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  14. Either way, did you see tosfos? Did you see the case of Ashmodai bringing a two headed man to Shlomo hamelech and what Shlomo hamelech did to ascertain if it was considered one man or two? The Shita mikubetzes says http://hebrewbooks.org/shas.aspx?mesechta=30&daf=37&format=pdf

    א מ ר ש ל מ ה
    ש ״ מ ד ת ו ל ד ה א ח ת ל ש ת י
    ה ר א ש י ם ו א י ן נ י ד ו ן א ל א
    כ א י ש א ח ד

    So, even if you want to read Rashi differently than me, the shita mikubetzes clearly states that the Gemara is of the view, via Shlomo Hamelech, that two heads still only equals ISH ECHAD (one person). Not one body, but one man.

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  15. Yitz said: אבל הכא חד הוא ואפשר לצמצם
    Hmmm - if it was really one person, then what difference does it make if it is אפשר לצמצם?

    Yitz, the reason it is efshar litzamtzeim is BECAUSE it is one person.

    Yitz said:
    שיצאו כאחד והוי שניהם פטר רחם
    That sound like they really are two, but exited the womb as one..

    This is talking about the skulls because the amount you pay for peter rechem is because of the skulls, or per head.

    Even if one of the heads was just a skull, it would seem like you would still count both.

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  16. Yitz Waxman,

    Looks like I am agreeing with Rabbi Coffer on something. 'מה רבו מעשך ה!

    Aha! I knew I would wear you down eventually! :-)

    Thanks for the support Yitz. ‘tis truly a rare thing for me to receive on this Blog.

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  17. joshwaxman,

    As to the rest, it feels like you are reading certain values into the give and take, but I don't really want to respond off the cuff to the reading of the sugya. So maybe, for now.

    I remain prepared to explore this sugya (or any sugya) with you whenever you are ready. But I think that upon examination you will find that I haven’t read anything into the sugya.

    Incidentally, Rabbi Slifkin learns this gemara precisely the same way I do. See Sacred Monsters page 209. The only difference between us is his perplexity re Tosfos’ comment (page 210) which I will clear up bi’ezras Hashem in my comment to E-Man.

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  18. So, even if you want to read Rashi differently than me, the shita mikubetzes clearly states that the Gemara is of the view, via Shlomo Hamelech, that two heads still only equals ISH ECHAD (one person). Not one body, but one man.

    No sir, this is incorrect. The Shita is not commenting on the gemara. He is commenting on the medrash Tosfos brought down. And whereas Tosfos’ nusach of this medrash does not conclude with the fact that Shlomo haMelech ruled that the two-headed man was considered one man, the Shita offers an alternative nusach of this medrash (his comment begins with the acronym nun’aleph which stands for “nuscha achrina”) which does indeed conclude that two heads equal one, at least halachically.

    I have several comments to make. First of all, it is obvious that this medrash seems to be arguing with our gemara and Rabbi Slifkin knows this. All you need to do is read page 209 and 210 in Sacred Monsters to verify what I am saying.

    Second of all, this is an obscure medrash (as rabbi Slifkin points out in the aforementioned book) and when we have an apparent dispute amongst Talmudic sources, the Bavli takes precedence over all.

    Third of all, although this medrash does seem somewhat historical in nature, it obviously possesses a healthy dose of allegory accompanied by obscure references to things like the netherworld. What is the netherworld?

    Fourth of all, why does this two-headed creature have seven sons in this world? And why are they fighting over their “father’s” yerusha in this world? In fact, if this two-headed creature is not human, how did it marry in this world and have seven sons! All this sounds like a very real “this world” experience. And besides, the two headed man had a two-headed son (along with another six sons) in this world, even according to this obscure medrash, thereby proving that two-headedness is possible in this world. This is why I mentioned to you that obviously the Shita has a different nusach of this medrash than Tosfos who believed that this medrash was referring purely to ethereal creatures. (If you want to see a full translation of this remarkable medrash, check out RNS’s book SM page 210-212).

    Fifth, and most important, is the fact that you missed the implication of the very words you quoted. The words you quoted were “shma mina d’toladah achas lishtei ha’roshim v’eino nidon ela k’ish echad” which translated reads “we conclude from this that the two heads experienced one birth and are therefore judged as one person (regarding the laws of yerusha sc)” This by no means proves that Chazal understood a two-headed individual as one personage. On the contrary, the wording of this medrash would seem to indicate that Shlomo understood that these two heads possessed a measure of individuality and thus preformed a test to see if they were born simultaneously or were born separately and were somehow joined later on. When one head was able to feel the pain of the other, he concluded that these two personages must have experienced one birth and therefore halachically they could not receive two portions of yerusha. As the Shita concludes, these two heads are judged as one, meaning, in reference to the laws of yerusha.

    Conclusion: Rabbi Slifkin does not have a leg to stand on regarding his assertions. His conclusions re Chazal’s opinions in this matter are seriously flawed.

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  19. E-Man,

    Before I proceed, I would like to comment on how satisfied I am with this discussion. This is exactly the type of debate I relish. Both sides are looking for the truth, both sides advance strong argumentation, and both sides appeal to the relevant literature for textual support of their positions. Furthermore, we are debating a sugya in the gemara which makes our discussion pure Talmud Torah! I look forward to seeing more of this style debate from you in the future. Now to your comment. You’ve made a good point so please bear with me while I explain your Tosfos.

    Either way, did you see tosfos? Did you see the case of Ashmodai bringing a two headed man to Shlomo hamelech and what Shlomo hamelech did to ascertain if it was considered one man or two?

    Yes. But you are misquoting Tosfos. Tosfos does not relate what Shlomo haMelech did to ascertain if it was one man or two. Also, Tosfos is commenting on Rebbi’s hava amina that there is no such thing as a two-headed person. On this, Tosfos simply comments that even if you were to hold like Rebbi, a two-headed person is indeed possible but it must be brought up from the netherworld (whatever that means). But the very next line in the gemara informs us that there is such a thing as a two-headed man in this world. And the very next Tosfos comments on this type person within the framework of the gemara’s maskana. In fact, whereas Rashi maintains that a two-headed person is considered a treifa because he will die shortly, Tosfos disagrees and states that a two-headed person can indeed live a normal lifespan and the reason the gemara refers to it as a treifa is due to the klal of “kol yeser k’natul dami”.

    Continued…

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  20. E-man - my understanding of "אפשר לצמצם" is that there are two distinct events that could happen at precisely the same moment. In this case, two persons are claiming one title of the first born status.

    I don't understand how you are understanding the usage.

    RSC - you actually wore me down quite a long time ago, although that doesn't mean agreement in my book.

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  21. Yitz,

    RSC - you actually wore me down quite a long time ago, although that doesn't mean agreement in my book.

    I was joking. I don't mean to wear anyone down. My mandate is plain and simple; to promote the truth of the Torah as transmitted to me by my Rabbeim, to reinforce it via an appeal to the collective consensus of our mesorah, and to demonstrate its veracity, wherever possible, by an examination of the phenomena of the universe...

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  22. E-man

    Either way, did you see tosfos.? Did you see the case of Ashmodai bringing a two headed man to Shlomo hamelech and what Shlomo hamelech did to ascertain if it was considered one man or two? … So, even if you want to read Rashi differently than me, the shita mikubetzes clearly states that the Gemara is of the view, via Shlomo Hamelech, that two heads still only equals ISH ECHAD (one person). Not one body, but one man.

    I responded to this comment with a long and detailed analysis of both the gemara and the medrash. Unfortunately, there was some glitch in Blogger’s software and the comments from that day were entirely erased. It wasn’t just this site. Rabbi Slifkin’s site suffered the same fate. I was quite chagrined over this as I had spent a good half hour writing up my presentation. I don’t know if you saw it. I am willing to rewrite it if you are interested. Please let me know…

    Also, I think Yitz responded to your comment too but that was also lost… oh well.. chaval al di’avdin

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