Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Va-Yikra 5762/March 16, 2002
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Va-Yikra 5762/March 16, 2002
Study and Sacrifices
Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Woolf
Naftal-Yaffe Department of Talmud
Why, Rabbi Jose asked, are young children taught Leviticus
first, in the curriculum of the Rabbis, and not Genesis? Because, as the Holy
One blessed be He said, just as the sacrifices are pure, so young children are
pure; let pure youngsters study subjects that are
reflects the importance ascribed by the
Sages to studying sacrificial rites in the era after the destruction of the
Temple. By continuing to delve into this topic, they hoped to allay the sorrow
caused by destruction of the Temple and alleviate the sense of spiritual
helplessness that ensued from the disappearance of the rituals that had bound
Jews to their Father in Heaven.
subject of sacrifice the first topic in the curriculum of young children was
intended to impress upon them the importance of sacrificial worship and to
channel hopes for rebuilding the Temple into constructive
Nevertheless, study of laws of the Temple and sacrificial
worship did not fare well over the years.
Quite the contrary, by the beginning of the Middle Ages the world of Jewish
learning showed a clear trend towards what one might call "pragmatism." The
subjects of study shrunk to those commandments in current practice. Entire
orders of Mishnah-- Zeraim
, and Toharot
neglected. This is reflected in the Halakhot
of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi
(1013-1103), whose summary of Talmudic law skips over all subjects that were
thought to be "halakhot
for the times of the Messiah." Alfasi's book
(known as Talmud Katan
) to a large extent determined the direction
that study would take in subsequent generations (at least in the Jewish
communities of Spain and Provence).
reached such an extreme that Rabbi Menahem Ha-Meiri (southern France, early
century) complained bitterly that "the three latter [orders of
Mishnah] have become totally
Not everyone viewed this development as negative. Many Jewish
rabbis in the Middle Ages (again, primarily in Spain) feared that if too much
attention were given to theoretical subjects, including the three
, it would adversely affect a person's spiritual
For example, Rabbenu Bahya ibn
Pakuda had the following to say on this
One of the hakhamim was asked an esoteric question in
the realm of divorce law, to which he responded: You, Sir, are asking about
something that would in no way harm us if we did not know the answer; but do you
know all that you should regarding the commandments that you are not entitled to
ignore, and concerning which it is unbefitting for you to sin, that you turn to
other questions that will bring you no improvement in your knowledge of Torah
and faith, and will in no way amend that which is crooked in your
The response by Rabbi Bahya, a dayan
from Saragossa, is
extremely significant. Note especially that he was critical not only of
studying commandments that were not in current practice, but also of being
overly speculative in the study of subjects that were indeed relevant to the
times (such as Jewish divorce law). In other words, this dayan
Saragossa came out against the very sort of Jewish "study for its own sake" that
in the 19th
centuries would take over the entire
world of the Yeshivot. His main argument was that study of the Halakhah that
does not go hand in hand with spiritual development is not of enduring value.
Therefore, even though it is obligatory to study those sections of the Talmud
that pertain to commandments in current practice, one is not to exert
intellectual and spiritual energy delving into the above-mentioned kind of
questions. Rather one should put time and energy into commandments of faith,
which are the "duties of the heart" (and the name of Bahya's
This appeal by Rabbenu Bahya fell on
willing and supportive ears especially among philosophers and kabbalists, who
sought a balance between halakhic and Talmudic studies on the one hand and
spiritual matters on the other.
There were, however, those who thought otherwise and not only
advocated theoretical Talmudic studies, but actually emphasized study of those
parts of the Halakhah that are not
current. The leading spokesman on
this subject, as on almost all other subjects, was Maimonides, who strenuously
objected to making an artificial distinction between commandments that were
practiced when the Temple stood and those current in his day. Therefore, in his
, Mishneh Torah
, he included all the commandments found
in the Torah.
His particular attitude to
the commandments in Seder Kodashim
is voiced in his commentary on the
The Sages who deal with the halakhot of sacrificial
worship are considered as if the Temple were built in their day; therefore it
behooves a person to delve into the details of sacrifice, and let it not be said
that these are unnecessary matters in our time, as most people say.
A similar attitude prevailed among the rabbis of the early
yeshivot of Ashkenaz and their heirs, the Tosafists. An important
representative of this group, Rabbi Moses ben Jacob of Coucy (author of Sefer
Mitzvot Gadol, active in the 13th century), wrote as
There are many people who say, "What have the commandments of
to do with us?" and all the more so, the commandments of
and of Seder Tohorot
, which pertain to things that are not
practiced today. One should not speak thus, for the fundamentals of the
commandments that the Lord of the Universe gave should be known even if they are
not needed at present. For we were commanded to teach all the commandments
(Deut. 11:19), and it is said, "Observe (sh-m-r
Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day" (Deut. 27:1), and it is said, "You
shall faithfully observe (sh-m-r
) My commandments" (Lev. 22:31). From
this we learn that observing the commandments and performing them are two
different things, for observing is done in none other than the heart, as it is
said: "It is good that you store them (sh-m-r
) inside you, and that all
of them be constantly on your lips" (Prov. 22:18). Indeed, thus said our Sages:
You shall observe this Instruction and perform these things to be
At first glance, it appears that Rabbi Moses of Coucy agreed
but on closer examination
we see that they disagreed on one crucial point. As a philosopher, Maimonides
believed that only through studying the Torah in its entirety and subjecting it
to philosophical analysis could one attain ultimate human perfection and be
worthy of the World to Come.
follows that studying Seder Kodashim
is but a necessary step on the way
to achieving the final objective, namely intellectual understanding of the
commandments contained therein.
apparently what Maimonides had in mind when he spoke of the need to study the
subject thoroughly, i.e., to enter a philosophic discussion of the subject (in
addition to purely halakhic investigation).
Rabbi Moses of Coucy, on the other hand, aspired to something
quite different. In his opinion, we are commanded to know all the Instructions
irrespective of their relationship to our ability to implement them. This
knowledge itself represents the highest level of worship of the
In other words, according to him
studying the halakhah
answers the need for guidance in performing the
commandments and also constitutes the spiritual experience that underlies Jewish
faith. Almost six centuries later, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin would dub this
approach "Torah for its own sake," arguing that the most intimate connection
with the Lord could be forged precisely by study of subjects divested of current
Little wonder that study of
has been resurrected in those yeshivot that were
established on the inspiration of the work of Rabbi Hayyim.
 Pesikta de Rav
(Mandelbaum ed.) Ch. 6, s.v.
(c) "ata tzuveta
" and many
This endeavor was related
to the Sages' attempt to make study of the halakhah on sacrifice a substitute
for sacrificial worship itself, as is proven by this midrash
. The most
prominent figure in this undertaking was Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, as set forth
by Gedaliah Alon in "Rabban Johanan B. Zakkai's Removal to Jabneh," Jews,
Judaism and the Classical World
, trans. I. Abrahams, Jerusalem 1977, pp.
269-313, and also in "The Patriarchate of Rabban Johanan Ben Zakkai,"
, pp. 314-343. Cf. also Shmuel Safrai, "Behinot Hadashot
'asav shel Rabban Johanan ben
Zakkai le-Ahar ha-Hurban
," Sefer ha-Zikaron le-Gedalyahu Alon: Mehkarim
be-Toldot Yisrael uva-lashon ha-
, ed. M. Dorman et al
Tel Aviv, 1970, pp. 203-226.
Cf. Babylonian Talmud,
9a on Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai's ruling regarding offerings of
This is notwithstanding the
fact that we have a Seder Kodashim
in the Babylonian Talmud, unlike the
case of the mishnayot
of Seder Zeraim
, which do
not even have that (save for the tractates of Berakhot
This was not the case in
Ashkenaz, at least until the mid-13th
century, where a different
attitude was taken toward the Talmud and the rise of the school of the
Tosafists. Nevertheless, a similar trend emerged there, as well, albeit
 Beit ha-Behirah
, ed. Dickman, Jerusalem 1968, p. 32.
Cf. the discussion by I.
Twersky, "Halakic Pragmatism and Spirituality" in his Introduction to the
Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah),
1980, pp. 195-204.
 Sefer Hovot
In this regard, recall the
famous remark by Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra that if everyone were to act properly we
could do without large portions of Seder Nezikin
. Cf. Sefer Yesod
, ch. 1.
Among them one should
note R. Eleazar ben Judah of Worms (author of Sefer Ha-Rokeah
), R. Elijah
ben Moses de Vidas, R. Joseph ibn Caspi, R. Isaiah ben Abraham ha-Levi Horowitz
(Ha-Shelah), Ramahal, and others. The subject is discussed in greater detail in
I. Twersky, "Religion and Law", Religion in a Religious Age
, ed. S. D.
Goitein, Cambridge, MA 1974, pp. 69-82.
Maimonides remarks on
the all-inclusive nature of his work on several occasions. For a more detailed
discussion, cf. Twersky, Introduction
, pp. 204-208.
on the Mishnah, Menahot
On the basis of his
he constructed his Sefer ha-Mitzvot ha-Gadol
my article, "Maimonides Revised: The Case of the Miswot Gadol," Harvard
90 (1997), 175-205.
, Ch. 8, halakhah
8, and Guide to the Perplexed
Cf. Hilkhot Yesodei
, Ch. 8, halakhah
See my article above,
and the recent research work of Judah Galinsky, "Perek be-Haguto ha-Datit
shel Rabbi Moshe mi-Coucy
42 (1999), 23-25.
Cf. Sefer Nefesh