Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Who is a Torah Ignoramus? Sotah 22 The Real Pain of Social Ostracism Sotah 23

Who is a Torah Ignoramus? Sotah 22

Our Gemara on amud aleph lists various criteria that describe an ignoramus (in Torah), as called by the Gemara, an Am-Ha’aretz:

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: אֵיזֶהוּ עַם הָאָרֶץ? כֹּל שֶׁאֵינוֹ קוֹרֵא קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע שַׁחֲרִית וְעַרְבִית בְּבִרְכוֹתֶיהָ, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי מֵאִיר. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים: כֹּל שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַנִּיחַ תְּפִילִּין. בֶּן עַזַּאי אוֹמֵר: כֹּל שֶׁאֵין לוֹ צִיצִית בְּבִגְדוֹ. רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן בֶּן יוֹסֵף אָמַר: כֹּל שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ בָּנִים וְאֵינוֹ מְגַדְּלָן לִלְמוֹד תּוֹרָה. אֲחֵרִים אוֹמְרִים: אֲפִילּוּ קוֹרֵא וְשׁוֹנֶה וְלֹא שִׁימֵּשׁ תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים — זֶהוּ עַם הָאָרֶץ.

The Sages taught: Who is an ignoramus [am ha’aretz]? It is anyone who does not recite Shema in the morning and evening with its blessings; this is the statement of Rabbi Meir. And the Rabbis say: It is anyone who does not don phylacteries. Ben Azzai says: It is anyone who does not have ritual fringes on his garment. Rabbi Yonasan ben Yosef said: It is anyone who has sons and does not raise them to study Torah. Aḥerim say: Even if one reads the Written Torah and learns the Mishna but does not serve Torah scholars, he is an ignoramus…

תָּנָא: הַתַּנָּאִים — מְבַלֵּי עוֹלָם. מְבַלֵּי עוֹלָם סָלְקָא דַּעְתָּךְ?! אָמַר רָבִינָא: שֶׁמּוֹרִין הֲלָכָה מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁנָתָן. תַּנְיָא נָמֵי הָכִי, אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ: וְכִי מְבַלֵּי עוֹלָם הֵן? וַהֲלֹא מְיַישְּׁבֵי עוֹלָם הֵן, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״הֲלִיכוֹת עוֹלָם לוֹ״! אֶלָּא, שֶׁמּוֹרִין הֲלָכָה מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁנָתָן.

It was taught in a baraisa: The tanna’im, who recite the tannaitic sources by rote, are individuals who erode the world. (Note: this word “Tanaim” is referring to the savants who memorized the teachings and not referring to the Rabbis of the Mishna.)  The Gemara is puzzled by this statement: Could it enter your mind that they are individuals who erode the world? Ravina says: This statement is referring to those who issue halakhic rulings based on their knowledge of mishnayos. This is also taught in a baraita: Rabbi Yehoshua said: Are they individuals who erode the world? Aren’t they settling the world, as it is stated: “His ways [halikhos] are eternal” (Habakkuk 3:6)? The Sages read the term halikhos as halakhos, inferring that one who learns halakhos attains eternal life. Rather, this is referring to those who issue halakhic rulings based on their knowledge of mishnayos.

The Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Ha-Torah 15) explains that the various criteria described by the Gemara which define a person as an am ha’aretz, although seemingly widely different, actually refer to the same concept. Rabbi Meir set the bar at the recitation of Shema because the moment he accepts the yoke of heaven, he has already established his existence beyond an animalistic physical level. The Chachamim similarly use the same idea, just one notch higher, and that is when the person wears tefilin. This too, is indicative of accepting the yoke of heaven, and elevating his existence. Ben Azzai has a similar criterion, however unlike tefilin which only covers strategic parts of the body, he requires the person to be wearing Tzitzis, which is a garment encompassing his entire physicality. Rabbi Yonasan’s criteria seems the most divergent, however, this too maintains the Maharal, is about leading a spiritual existence. If one cannot guide his progeny in the ways of the Torah, then his life was not grounded in spirituality. Then we moved to the final level, that of the “acherim”, the “other opinion” which I’m assuming is identified as “others” because it represents an extreme level that is not for everyone, but nevertheless, an important distinction. Even a person who understands Torah well and deep, without having spent time apprenticing with an elder Sage will be missing in understanding how to apply the Torah on a practical level and will make mistakes due to lack of awareness of nuances and what is called “the fifth Shulkhan Arukh”.

The Maharal then connects this to the additional statement of the Gemara, which describes those who render halakhic decisions from the memorized codes of the Mishna without deep understanding, as destroying the world. The Maharal famously goes on criticize the trend of the halachic codes of his day because he felt this would lead to an ossification of the dynamic halachic process:

They destroy the world because they offer halachic rulings from their rote memorized teachings…This means that they pasken from their teachings without understanding the basis of their rulings. This is why they destroy the world because they are destroying Torah when they do this, as this is not real Torah.

It is only real Torah when you decide based on your intellectual understanding…In our generation it would be bad enough if they ruled from the Mishna, which at least is the beginning of the Talmudic analytic process, but worse, they rule from codes which are not designed to teach Torah but rather to offer halachic guides. This state of affairs is contrary to proper thinking. True, the early authorities such as the Rambam and the Tur also wrote codes and didn’t provide their analysis, but their intention was to show the halacha they arrived at through the intellectual and analytic process of studying the sources. It never was their intention that a person should rule from their codes without knowing the underlying reason. If they thought that their writings would have led people to abandon studying Gemara and deciding halacha from merely external texts, they never would have written it.

And here we find one of the most remarkable statements from the Maharal:

It is far better to rule halacha from studying the Gemara even if it is possible that one might rule incorrectly. The scholar only can know what his intellect shows him from his analysis — and even his albeit mistaken ruling is beloved to Hashem, may He be blessed. The judge only can judge from what his eyes see. This is far preferable than to rule from a composition without knowing any of the real reasons, to be as a blind man who gropes along the path.

The Real Pain of Social Ostracism Sotah 23

Our Gemara on amud beis discusses a difference in how capital punishment is meted out to a man versus a woman. A man is completely naked while the woman is clothed. Although our Gemara offers a proof text for this, in reality it is based on a logical analysis, as per Gemara Sanhedrin (45a and Tosafos 45a.) The reasoning is as follows, though being stoned while naked will hasten death, because the impact will be more lethal, the woman still wears clothes because the emotional pain of humiliation is worse than the physical pain of a prolonged death process. (Even though the man is also naked, apparently his humiliation of nakedness is less emotionally painful.)

We see from this ruling that emotional pain is worse than physical pain. This is also similar to that which was stated in Gemara Bava Metzi’a (58b), although admittedly not precisely corresponding:

א”ר יוחנן משום ר”ש בן יוחאי גדול אונאת דברים מאונאת ממון שזה נאמר בו (ויקרא כה, יז) ויראת מאלהיך וזה לא נאמר בו ויראת מאלהיך ור’ אלעזר אומר זה בגופו וזה בממונו רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר זה ניתן להישבון וזה לא ניתן להישבון

Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: Greater is the transgression of verbal mistreatment than the transgression of monetary exploitation, as with regard to this, verbal mistreatment, it is stated: “And you shall fear your God.” But with regard to that, monetary exploitation, it is not stated: “And you shall fear your God.” And Rabbi Elazar said this explanation: This, verbal mistreatment, affects one’s body; but that, monetary exploitation, affects one’s money. Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says: This, monetary exploitation, is given to restitution; but that, verbal mistreatment, is not given to restitution.

Modern neuroscience has demonstrated the extent of emotional pain and how it is processed in the brain. According researcher Linda Hartling, (“Humiliation: Real Pain, A Pathway to Violence” ):

Recent research on social pain—“the distressing experience arising from the perception of psychological distance from close others or from the social group” (Eisenberger & Lieberman, in press, p. 6)—may help to explain both the acuteness and the enduring nature of humiliating experiences. Most of us would agree that humiliation provokes social pain. Eisenberg and Lieberman reviewed studies of animal and human behavior and conducted neuropsychological and neuroimaging research, to formulate a theory about how the brain processes social pain— and, presumably, the pain of humiliation:

Social Pain/Physical Pain Overlap Theory (SPOT)…proposes that social pain, the pain that we experience when social relationships are damaged or lost, and physical pain, the pain that we experience upon physical injury, share parts of the same underlying processing system. This system is responsible for detecting the presence or possibility of physical or social damage and recruiting attention once something has gone wrong in order to fix it….Based on mammalian infants’ lengthy period of immaturity and their critical need for substantial maternal contact and care, it is possible that the social attachment system, the system that keeps us near close others, may have piggybacked onto the pre-existing pain system, borrowing the pain signal to signify and prevent the danger of social separation. (p. 4)

Eisenberg and Leiberman observe that social pain triggers some of the same mechanisms and responses in the brain as physical pain. Could this be one of the reasons the pain of humiliation is so enduring? Unlike “separation distress,” which dissipates through maturation (Bowlby, 1969), Eisenberg and Lieberman stipulate that social pain is a phenomenon that can endure throughout a lifespan. Eisenberg et al. (2003) observe that one area of the brain is particularly active during the processing of physical and social pain:

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is believed to act as a neural “alarm system” or conflict monitor, detecting when an automatic response is inappropriate or in conflict with current goals … Not surprisingly, pain, the most primitive signal that “something is wrong,” activates the ACC … More specifically, dorsal ACC activity is primarily associated with the affectively distressing rather than the sensory component of pain… (p. 291)

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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