Do the Generations Improve or Diminish?
1 א
2ב

For each source, indicate below the source what you think the source suggests about the idea of the decline of the generations.

3ג
ואמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי יהודה ברבי אלעאי בא וראה שלא כדורות הראשונים דורות האחרונים דורות הראשונים היו מכניסין פירותיהן דרך טרקסמון כדי לחייבן במעשר דורות האחרונים מכניסין פירותיהן דרך גגות דרך חצרות דרך קרפיפות כדי לפטרן מן המעשר דאמר רבי ינאי אין הטבל מתחייב במעשר עד שיראה פני הבית שנאמר בערתי הקדש מן הבית ורבי יוחנן אמר אפילו חצר קובעת שנאמר ואכלו בשעריך ושבעו:
Along these lines, Rabba bar bar Ḥana said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi El’ai: Come and see that the latter generations are not like the earlier generations. In the earlier generations, people would bring their fruits into their courtyards through the main gate in order to obligate them in tithes. However, the latter generations bring their fruits through roofs, through courtyards and through enclosed courtyards, avoiding the main gate in order to exempt them from the mitzva of tithing. As Rabbi Yannai said: Untithed produce is not obligated in the mitzva of tithing until it sees the front of the house through which people enter and exit, and it is brought into the house that way as it is stated in the formula of the confession of the tithes: “I have removed the consecrated from the house” (Deuteronomy 26:13), as the obligation to tithe produce whose purpose has not yet been designated takes effect only when it is brought into the house. And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Even bringing it into the courtyard determines its status as having completed the production process and obligates the produce to be tithed, as it is written in the confession of the tithes: “And I have given to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow, and they shall eat in your gates and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 26:12).
4ד

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5ה

אמר רבי זירא אמר רבא בר זימונא אם ראשונים בני מלאכים אנו בני אנשים ואם ראשונים בני אנשים אנו כחמורים ולא כחמורו של רבי חנינא בן דוסא ושל רבי פנחס בן יאיר אלא כשאר חמורים:

Rabbi Zeira said that Rava bar Zimuna said: If the early generations are characterized as sons of angels, we are the sons of men. And if the early generations are characterized as the sons of men, we are akin to donkeys. And I do not mean that we are akin to either the donkey of Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa or the donkey of Rabbi Pinḥas ben Yair, who were both extraordinarily intelligent donkeys; rather, we are akin to other typical donkeys.

6ו

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7ז
אמר רבי יוחנן לבן של ראשונים כפתחו של אולם ושל אחרונים כפתחו של היכל ואנו כמלא נקב מחט סידקית
Similarly, Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The hearts, i.e., the wisdom, of the early Sages were like the doorway to the Entrance Hall of the Temple, which was twenty by forty cubits, and the hearts of the later Sages were like the doorway to the Sanctuary, which was ten by twenty cubits. And we, i.e., our hearts, are like the eye of a fine needle.
8ח

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9ט

תנא דבי אליהו ששת אלפים שנה הוי העולם שני אלפים תוהו שני אלפים תורה שני אלפים ימות המשיח

In relation to the discussion on the calculation of years, the Gemara states that one of the Sages of the school of Eliyahu taught: The world is destined to exist for six thousand years. For two thousand years the world was waste, as the Torah had not yet been given. The next set of two thousand years are the time period of the Torah. The last set of two thousand years are the period designated for the days of the Messiah.

10י

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11יא

Ba'al Shem Tov, cited in A. Marcus, Ha-Chassidut, pp. 14-15

Our period enjoys superiority over those that preceded it. A thousand years ago the spiritual atmosphere was so hazy, to the point that [Jewish] philosophers held worthless opinion regarding the eternity of the world (the view of Aristotle, that the world has existed forever). Now there has been a change for the better, the atmosphere has become pure, and no [Jewish] thinker thinks that the world is eternal.

12יב

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13יג

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Orot ha-Kodesh II, p. 537

The theory of evolution, which is now conquering the world, is in greater accord with the secrets of the Kabbala than any other philosophical theory… All of existence has evolved and become [spiritually] elevated.

14יד

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15טו

There seems to be a contradiction between the different approaches represented here in terms of whether the generations become lower or higher in their spiritual levels. How do the various commentaries below seek to resolve this contradiction?

16טז

שו"ת הרי"ד, סי' ס"ב

ננסים רכובים על צווארי הענקים

Responsa Rid, 62

We are "dwarfs riding on the backs of giants."

17יז

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18יח

Rabbi Tzaddok Ha-Kohen, Tzidkat ha-Tzadik, p. 116

Every soul in Israel has its own special force in holiness, and as is the number of generations that have already passed, so is the number of holy forces and words of Torah that have been revealed in the world. Therefore, in each and every generation, holiness becomes ever more revealed, even though the generations are in decline, as is well known. The reason is that that which was revealed in the early generations has already been revealed, as is known by way of the parable of the dwarf sitting on top of the giant.

19יט

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20כ

Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz, Midrash Pinchas, p. 82

The Tannaim and the Amoraim were close in time to the destruction of the Temple, which still gave illumination, having only recently been removed. And the recent Tzaddikim in these generations are close to the light of the Messiah… But the [scholars of the Middle Ages were] far removed from the destruction [of the Temple] and also far removed from the Messiah, and, therefore, he did not attain a high spiritual level.

21כא

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