Thursday, May 31, 2007

Laws of Zaken Mamre and the Mesorah

It is my understanding that Orthodox Judaism places an extreme amount of importance on the unbroken chain of tradition for its validity. In light of this attitude, I am having a hard time understanding this quote from Rambam Hilchos Mamre, beginning of chapter 4:

One who disagrees with the Supreme Beis Din on a matter whose intentional commission is punishable by death (caret) and whose unintentional commission one must bring a sin offering, be it something they forbid and he permits or something they permit and he forbids, he is punishable by death, even if what he says is from tradition and he says 'I received this from my rabbis' and they say 'this seems reasonable to us.' Since he discusses the matter with them, if he acts or teaches to act [according to his opinion] he is liable."

It seems like Rambam is saying reason trumps mesorah!

6 Comments:

Blogger Tobie said...

Reason trumps mesorah after everyone else has voted and over-ruled you, because not even mesorah can trump rule of law.
The really crazy thing is comparing zaken mamre to the korban brought when the sanhedrin makes a mistake- if a zaken goes along with them knowing that they're wrong, he has to bring a korban- if he refuses to accept their ruling, it seems like he would be executed...

June 01, 2007 12:51 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

"Reason trumps mesorah after everyone else has voted and over-ruled you, because not even mesorah can trump rule of law."

Please carefully analyze this sentence and explain how it fits into the idea that mesorah should be foundation of all our laws since it ultimately came from the Divine Revelation at Sinai.

June 01, 2007 5:41 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Okay...er...now I have to justify all the things I say?
Um...what I meant was this. You can't have people going around saying "I don't have to do what the court has decided because I have a mesorah straight from Sinai to the contrary." Because either they told the court about this and the court didn't believe them, in which case there's no reason to assume that they're righter than the whole court, or because they didn't bring it in front of the court, in which case a)it hasn't been vetted for accuracy and b) anybody can get away with doing anything just by claiming to have a mesorah.
You see in the gemara that people don't just get to say "I have a mesorah, I win"- often people disagree with them anyway, presumably because they think that the mesorah is flawed. And I think that even if we assume that the mesorah is true, it's the whole "lo bashamayim hi"/ tanur achnai thing- that absolute truth is less important than having an authorized court whose authority isn't being challenged, since the latter is necessary to have any sort of legal/judicial system function. So once there's an official ruling- whether or not the court was right to reject this guy's mesorah- everyone needs to follow the ruling for the good of the system as a whole, which is more important than the truth in this particular case.

Okay, that wasn't so very much clearer, sorry.

June 02, 2007 10:58 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>Okay, that wasn't so very much clearer, sorry.

No, it was actually much clearer.

You can't have people going around saying "I don't have to do what the court has decided because I have a mesorah straight from Sinai to the contrary."

I would agree, but my understanding is that the zaken is actually a 'sage', i.e. one of the Chazal, not Ploni Almoni.

that absolute truth is less important than having an authorized court whose authority isn't being challenged, since the latter is necessary to have any sort of legal/judicial system function.

Yes, this is true in a machiavellian political sense, but I guess I have a hard time accepting that when the basis for knowing how to live your life correctly, and the standard for doing so is supposed to come from G-d.

June 02, 2007 7:30 PM  
Blogger collegejews said...

Rabbi Klapper wrote a fantastic article on zaken mamreh and the mesorah. B'kitzzur, he says that the zaken mamreh is lost to the mesorah.

http://www.summerbeitmidrash.org/sbm/SBM.nsf/DocsByUName/F40C70C2CB546D9487256A36006ACFC0/$File/Zakmam.art.pdf!OpenElement

June 08, 2007 8:59 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

E-kvetcher- Rabbi Klapper is also the shiur that I quoted in my post/story/response- his whole shita is interesting and I would advise to check it out.

June 10, 2007 4:11 AM  

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