Speak up when it matters (Daf Yomi Eruvin 62)

“A disciple may not issue a warning in his teacher’s place of jurisdiction even on the simplest of matters.”

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Today’s Daf Yomi continues the discussion on establishing an eruv in a neighborhood where one of the domiciles facing a courtyard is inhabited by someone who does not follow Jewish laws. The reading takes a turn into a discussion on deference to one’s teachers and humility in the process, regardless of how learned and accomplished someone is. It a discussion that provides the context for why Judaism as a religion is grounded in learning and scholarship, and why so many of us continue the struggle through this most difficult Eruvin Tractate.

To be honest, this is the week that my head is spinning, and I am not sure I can take much more of discussing the granular details of establishing an eruv. I am on the verge of determining that everyone should just stay inside, as I did during the worse of the pandemic, and be done with it.

We are told by the Gemara that the teaching on the topic of establishing an eruv if someone leaves his home and returns on the same day is according to the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov. Abaye comments that although the rulings of Rabbi Eliezer are rarely rendered (the text says small in quantity), they are “clear and complete” and accordingly there is deference to his opinion in all matters. In other words, his rulings are few and far between, but when he speaks people listen.

Rabbi Eliezer reminds me of my departed father who was a very quiet and thoughtful man. He would say that “even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he kept his mouth shut.” He was not advising me to keep quiet, but rather to think before I spoke and to select my words wisely. He grew up during the second world war and I discovered through research that there were posters circulating at the time warning people to be careful about the information they conveyed in order to keep secrets out of the hands of the enemy with the fish saying printed on them. His lesson to be careful with my words is something I have carried with me throughout my life.

The Gemara asks if a disciple of Rabbi Eliezer can issue an opinion in a place where the Rabbi is the recognized authority. We are told that rendering even an inconsequential opinion when one is in the jurisdiction of his teacher is inappropriate. This is true even among learned Rabbis who have garnered respect in their own right.

Rav Yosef relates that Rav Hisda who was a disciple of Rav Huna, refused to issue rulings on even the simplest matters while his teacher was alive when he was within the boundaries of his authority. He even refused to respond to a query about cooking an egg. We are told that “Rav Ḥisda was a disciple of Rav Huna, and a disciple may not issue a ruling in his teacher’s place of jurisdiction about even the simplest of matters. Rav Hisda did, however, issue rulings in the town of Kafri, which was not “his teacher’s place.”

The deference to one’s teachers suggests a hierarchical system in the Yeshiva which must have been frustrating to the up-and-coming generation who had to wait patiently for their turn to assume leadership positions. We were told in Eruvin 46 that a hierarchy of Rabbis existed, and a list was created indicating which Rabbi’s opinion would prevail when there was a disagreement. And yet, there are examples of deviations from the list. (see https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me/eruvin/eruvin-46)

Decisions are rendered and then challenged and challenged again. At times the voice of the Gemara breaks in and announces that the dispute between two opinions, or sometimes more, shall remain unresolved. We are left with the uneasy position that after having poured over pages of dense text that present differing points of view, that there is no conclusion or resolution to some matters. It is like a play that ends mid-scene with the curtain falling across the stage and everything abruptly ended. (This is what happened to Broadway after the theaters were shut down so suddenly in March.)

And with that ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end this post with a reminder to remember our teachers who nurtured us when we were young and excited about learning so much for the first time, and to think carefully before we speak because our words matter. But we need to speak up when it really matters. And with what is happening in the world, and dare I say with the United States being run by someone seemingly unhinged who might benefit from keeping his mouth shut, that time would be now.


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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