Should I Ever Hide the Torah From You?


  • What is this concept of מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ולא מזידין--that it's better for Israel to remain unintentional sinners? Why do you think it first developed? What do you think it says about the relationship between the Sages and the "common people"?
  • How well do we think we can judge other people's belief and character?
  • What path do we think is best for an ultimate goal of there being more learned Jews performing mitzvot?
    • do you identify with this goal or strive towards something different?
  • In what ways are the concerns being dealt with in these sources both similar to and divergent from our concerns and situations today?
  • What do you think it means for someone to violate something "intentionally"?
  • What mitzvot/categories of law, and what situations/environments do you think this is most relevant for today?
  • Do we ever feel justified in keeping people in the dark?

This source is from the very first time Ezra reads the whole of "Torat Moshe" before all of Kehilat Yisrael.

  • Consider the devastation of the people, according to Rashi, upon learning mitzvot that they had not known, or details of the mitzvot they had been unaware of. Is this a devastation born of wishing they'd had the requisite knowledge to perform these mitzvot? Is it fear?
  • Take into account the source immediately following it, re: observance of Sukkot.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר נְחֶמְיָ֣ה ה֣וּא הַתִּרְשָׁ֡תָא וְעֶזְרָ֣א הַכֹּהֵ֣ן ׀ הַסֹּפֵ֡ר וְהַלְוִיִּם֩ הַמְּבִינִ֨ים אֶת־הָעָ֜ם לְכָל־הָעָ֗ם הַיּ֤וֹם קָדֹֽשׁ־הוּא֙ לַה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶ֔ם אַל־תִּֽתְאַבְּל֖וּ וְאַל־תִּבְכּ֑וּ כִּ֤י בוֹכִים֙ כָּל־הָעָ֔ם כְּשָׁמְעָ֖ם אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הַתּוֹרָֽה׃

Nehemiah the Tirshatha, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were explaining to the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God: you must not mourn or weep,” for all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Teaching.

כי בוכים כל העם. מפני שלא קיימו התורה כראוי:

For all the people were weeping. Because they had not been keeping the Torah as was fitting.

(יד) וַֽיִּמְצְא֖וּ כָּת֣וּב בַּתּוֹרָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֤ה ה' בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֲשֶׁר֩ יֵשְׁב֨וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֧ל בַּסֻּכּ֛וֹת בֶּחָ֖ג בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִֽי׃ (טו) וַאֲשֶׁ֣ר יַשְׁמִ֗יעוּ וְיַעֲבִ֨ירוּ ק֥וֹל בְּכָל־עָרֵיהֶם֮ וּבִירוּשָׁלִַ֣ם לֵאמֹר֒ צְא֣וּ הָהָ֗ר וְהָבִ֙יאוּ֙ עֲלֵי־זַ֙יִת֙ וַעֲלֵי־עֵ֣ץ שֶׁ֔מֶן וַעֲלֵ֤י הֲדַס֙ וַעֲלֵ֣י תְמָרִ֔ים וַעֲלֵ֖י עֵ֣ץ עָבֹ֑ת לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת סֻכֹּ֖ת כַּכָּתֽוּב׃ (פ) (טז) וַיֵּצְא֣וּ הָעָם֮ וַיָּבִיאוּ֒ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ֩ לָהֶ֨ם סֻכּ֜וֹת אִ֤ישׁ עַל־גַּגּוֹ֙ וּבְחַצְרֹ֣תֵיהֶ֔ם וּבְחַצְר֖וֹת בֵּ֣ית הָאֱלֹקִ֑ים וּבִרְחוֹב֙ שַׁ֣עַר הַמַּ֔יִם וּבִרְח֖וֹב שַׁ֥עַר אֶפְרָֽיִם׃ (יז) וַיַּֽעֲשׂ֣וּ כָֽל־הַ֠קָּהָל הַשָּׁבִ֨ים מִן־הַשְּׁבִ֥י ׀ סֻכּוֹת֮ וַיֵּשְׁב֣וּ בַסֻּכּוֹת֒ כִּ֣י לֹֽא־עָשׂ֡וּ מִימֵי֩ יֵשׁ֨וּעַ בִּן־נ֥וּן כֵּן֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא וַתְּהִ֥י שִׂמְחָ֖ה גְּדוֹלָ֥ה מְאֹֽד׃
(14) They found written in the Teaching that the LORD had commanded Moses that the Israelites must dwell in booths during the festival of the seventh month, (15) and that they must announce and proclaim throughout all their towns and Jerusalem as follows, “Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms and [other] leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” (16) So the people went out and brought them, and made themselves booths on their roofs, in their courtyards, in the courtyards of the House of God, in the square of the Water Gate and in the square of the Ephraim Gate. (17) The whole community that returned from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths—the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua son of Nun to that day—and there was very great rejoicing.

מוטב שיהו שוגגין ולא יהו מזידין

  • What does it mean for Amoraim, living only one era after the Tannaim, to be so certain people won't observe the proper law if told of it?

ואמר ליה רבא בר רב חנן לאביי תנן לא מספקין ולא מטפחין ולא מרקדין ביום טוב וקא חזינן דעבדין ולא אמרינן להו ולא מידי ולטעמיך הא דאמר רבא לא ליתיב איניש אפומא דלחייא דילמא מיגנדר ליה חפץ ואתי לאיתויי והא קא חזינן נמי דמותבי חצבי ויתבן אפומא דמבואה ולא אמרינן להו ולא מידי אלא הנח לישראל מוטב שיהו שוגגין ואל יהו מזידין

סבור מינה הני מילי בדרבנן אבל בדאורייתא לא ולא היא לא שנא בדרבנן ולא שנא בדאורייתא דהא תוספת דיום הכפורים דאורייתא היא וקא חזינן להו דקאכלי ושתו עד שתחשך ולא אמרינן להו ולא מידי:

And Rava bar Rav Ḥanan said to Abaye: Did we not learn in a mishna that one may not clap hands, or clap one’s hand against one’s body, or dance on a Festival? And we see, however, that people do these things, and we do not say anything to stop them. Abaye responded: And according to your reasoning, what about this halakha that Rava said: One may not sit on Shabbat at the entrance of a private alleyway next to the post, which delineates its boundaries, lest an object roll away into the public domain and he come to bring it back? And yet we see that women put down their jugs and sit at the entrance of the alleyway, and we do not say anything to stop them. Rather, in these matters we rely on a different principle: Leave the Jewish people alone, and do not rebuke them. It is better that they be unwitting in their halakhic violations and that they not be intentional sinners, for if they are told about these prohibitions they may not listen anyway.

There were those who understood from this statement that this halakha applies only to rabbinic prohibitions but not to Torah prohibitions, with regard to which we must certainly reprimand transgressors. However, that is not so. There is no difference between rabbinic prohibitions and Torah prohibitions. In both cases one does not reprimand those who violate unwittingly and would not listen to the reprimand. For the requirement of adding to Yom Kippur by beginning the fast while it is still day is from the Torah, and we see women who eat and drink on the eve of Yom Kippur up until nightfall, and we do not say anything to them. Thus, this rule, which applies to rabbinic prohibitions, applies to Torah prohibitions as well.

This is from the end of a Tosafot on Avodah Zarah 57b. Within this Tosafot, there is a back-and-forth between Rabbeinu Tam and his nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchak (living in 12th century France), regarding the question of whether Jews are allowed to receive non-Jewish wine as payment for debts, even though there is a prohibition on benefiting from non-Jewish wine. Within the Tosafot, Rabbeinu Yitzchak pokes holes in the takanah people had been relying upon to permit it.

והעיד ר"ת על רבינו מאיר אביו כי פעם נזדמן לו יין נסך והפסידו בידים ואעפ"כ לא רצה ר"ת לאסור הואיל ופשט המנהג להתיר והנח לישראל שיהו שוגגים ואל יהו מזידין

And Rabbeinu Tam testified that Rabbeinu Meir, his father, one time was offered non-Jewish wine (as repayment), and though he would incur losses, R. Meir did not want to take it. Despite this, Rabbeinu Tam did not want to forbid (the acceptance of non-Jewish wine as payment). And it appears the simple meaning of his ruling was to permit this, because it is better that Jews should be committing violations unknowingly than knowingly.

להוכיח עמיתו דכתיב (ויקרא י״ט:י״ז) הוכח תוכח את עמיתך ודרשו רבותינו הרואה חבירו עובר על דברי תורה: או שוגג או מזיד: וספק אם יקבל תוכחתו אם לאו אפילו הכי חייב להוכיחו: ואם לא הוכיחו נענש כמותו אך אם ברור לו שלא יקבל תוכחתו והחוטא שוגג: על זה אמרו חכמים מוטב שיהו שוגגין ואל יהו מזידין.

To rebuke her neighbor, as it's written (Vayikra 19:17) "You shall surely rebuke your fellow," and our rabbis explained that this refers to one who sees their fellow transgressing on a matter of Torah. Whether they are doing so unintentionally or intentionally: And there is doubt as to whether they will accept the rebuke or not--even then one is obligated to rebuke them. And if one does not rebuke him they are punished like him: unless it is clear to her that he will not accept her rebuke, and is currently transgressing in ignorance. Upon this the Sages said: Better that they be transgressing ignorantly than knowingly.

  • What do you think Rambam means by a "fit student of proper conduct?" Is it related to moral conduct, or observance of mitzvot? Are the two seen as inextricably linked?
  • Do you think Rambam's suggested order would be effective? How do you envision his recommendations playing out in contemporary scenarios?

אֵין מְלַמְּדִין תּוֹרָה אֶלָּא לְתַלְמִיד הָגוּן נָאֶה בְּמַעֲשָׂיו. אוֹ לְתָם. אֲבָל אִם הָיָה הוֹלֵךְ בְּדֶרֶךְ לֹא טוֹבָה מַחְזִירִין אוֹתוֹ לַמּוּטָב וּמַנְהִיגִין אוֹתוֹ בְּדֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה וּבוֹדְקִין אוֹתוֹ וְאַחַר כָּךְ מַכְנִיסִין אוֹתוֹ לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ וּמְלַמְּדִין אוֹתוֹ. אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים כָּל הַשּׁוֹנֶה לְתַלְמִיד שֶׁאֵינוֹ הָגוּן כְּאִלּוּ זָרַק אֶבֶן לְמַרְקוּלִיס שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי כו ח) "כִּצְרוֹר אֶבֶן בְּמַרְגֵּמָה כֵּן נוֹתֵן לִכְסִיל כָּבוֹד"

No instructions in the Torah should be given to any but a fit student of proper conduct, or to one indifferently known; but if one followed a way which is not good, we first must bring him back to goodness and lead him in the path of righteousness and scrutinize him, after which we may admit him to the Beth Hamedrash and give him instructions. The sages said: "He who instructs an unfit disciple is likened unto one who serves Mercury by casting a stone upon him, as it is said: "As a small stone in a heap of stones, so is he that giveth honor to a fool'" (Prov. 26.8; Hullin, 133a).

Rav Kook and the Hazon Ish both address the question of whether we can understand the idea of the "heretic" as articulated in Gemara being an operative concept today, in relation to the question of how much this notion is dependent upon society and circumstance, and the notion of what it means to sin "intentionally."

אגרות ראי"ה א , אגרת קל"ח , עמ' קעא

אבל אם יחשוב כת"כ כרב המון הלומדים, שראוי בהזמן הזה לעזוב להפקר את אותם הבנים אשר סרו מדרכי התורה והאמונה על ידי זרם הזמן הסוער, הנני אומר בפה מלא שלא זו הדרך אשר ה' חפץ בה. כשם שכתבו תוספות... דיש סברא לומר דלא יפסל חשוד על העריות לעדות משום דחשיב כמו אונס, משום דיצרו תוקפו. כן היא ה'שפחה בישא', של זרם הזמן, שנתנו לה משמים שליטה טרם שתכלה לגמרי ותנדף כעשן, שהיא משתדלת בכל כשפיה
הרבים את בנינו הצעירים לזנות אחריה . הם אנוסים גמורים , וחלילה לנו לדון אונס כרצון

Writings of Rav Abraham Yitzchak Kook I, Note 138, P. 171

However, if the Ketoret Kohanim thought according to the vast majority of learners, that it is fitting in this time to abandon to ownerlessness those children that have been turned from the ways of the Torah and faith by means of the current turbulent times, behold I will say with full emphasis that this is not the path that Hashem desires. It's like when the Tosafot wrote...that one suspected of illicit sexual relations is not disqualified from bearing witness, because this is thought of as a case of force, since they had tested his validity...So too is the case of the maidservant/misleading woman of the times...that she misleads with her mouth many of our young sons to prostitute themselves after her. They (the uninformed Jews) are an absolute case of unwilling sin/ignorance, and heaven forbid that we judge a forced person like a willing one.

The preeminent Hareidi (ultra-orthodox) figure of 20th century Israeli Judaism, R’ Avraham Yishaya Karelitz, better known by the title of his magnum opus, the Hazon Ish, responded to the commandment that one push a heretic into a pit.

ונראה דאין דין מורידין אלא בזמן שהשגחתו יתברך גלויה, כמו בזמן שהיו נסים מצויין ומשמש בת קול, וצדיקי הדור תחת השגחה פרטית הנראית לעין כל, והכופרין אז הוא בנליזות מיוחדות בהטיית היצר לתאוות והפקרות, ואז היה ביעור רשעים גדרו של עולם, שהכל ידעו כי הדחת הדור מביא פורענויות לעולם, ומביא דבר וחרב ורעב בעולם; אבל בזמן ההעלם, שנכרתה האמונה מן דלת העם, אין במעשה הורדה גדר הפרצה, אלא הוספת הפרצה: שיהיה בעיניהם כמעשה השחתה ואלמות ח"ו. וכיון שכל עצמנו לתקן, אין הדין נוהג בשעה שאין בו תיקון, ועלינו להחזירם בעבותות אהבה, ולהעמידם בקרן אורה במה שידינו מגעת.

Hazon Ish to Yoreh De’ah Shehitah 2:16

It appears that the law of pushing [heretics etc] down is operative only when the providence of God, may He be blessed, is manifest - such as when miracles were common, heavenly voices would speak, and the most righteous members of the generation were personally protected by God in ways that were apparent to everyone. In times like those, one became a heretic only through exceptional perversion, falling under the sway of the evil inclination towards hedonism and nihilism. At such a time, purging the wicked upheld the order of the world - for everyone knew that collective wrongdoing would bring retribution upon the world: warfare, plague, and famine.

But in a time of [God’s] hiddenness, when much of the nation has lost its faith, pushing down [heretics etc] does not mend the brokenness, but rather compounds the brokenness - for in their eyes, [pushing down] is an act of destruction and violence, God forbid. Since our entire purpose is to improve, the law is inoperative when it leads to no improvement. And it is upon us to bring them back through bonds of love, to restore them to the way of light, as much as we are capable.

Here, Rabbi Ethan Tucker of Yeshivat Hadar examines the halakhic question of when you can eat food cooked by another Jew on Shabbos, using and debating what the terms שגג and מזיד truly encompass.

Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Where Love Meets Condescension: Intention, Inclusion, and Respect

This all comes down to how we understand the term שוגג .If we consider this term as limited to actual accidents, then it would only apply to someone who mistakenly left raw food in an oven they had no idea was on, and then returned to find it cooked. The case I have described would clearly not fit the bill. But that is possibly a very narrow definition of שוגג and a very broad definition of מזיד ,which then includes any case where I knowingly perform the act of cooking on a day that has to be Shabbat. What about cases of ignorance of the law? What if this person simply had no idea that biblical and rabbinic law consider it forbidden to cook on Shabbat? Can we fairly characterize such a person as מזיד ,with its connotations of not only intention, but also rebellion?

What if the person lives in a community where plenty of other committed Jews cook on Shabbat? Yes, the person might be aware that it is forbidden according to some formal law, but, in their experience, “no one follows that law.” Does this social context blunt the edges of their actions, rendering this cooking no longer plausibly in the category of מזיד ,with its possible suggestion that one is flouting widely accepted norms? What if the person has what you 9 perceive to be a mistaken theory of law and religion? On the one hand, they are in clear conflict with your understanding of Torah and the covenant between God and the Jewish people. But they may well be acting in keeping with what they feel to be the moral law, and even the imperatives of Jewish history. If the host in this story is a committed Reform Jew who believes that the Torah and Judaism are meant to be interpreted differently in modern times, does that make a difference? Or is it the same case as a graduate of Orthodox yeshiva day schools who has simply decided the observance he learned about was stupid and should be discarded? What about a secular Israeli who was raised to believe that traditional Jewish observance was an important part of Jewish practice and identity in the Diaspora, but that it now can, and should, be discarded in favor of other forms of Jewish practice and loyalty? Does such systematic thinking and conscious positive intention shift people away from מזיד ?And what about a general feeling that, perhaps, the host was never really exposed to a viable model of observance such that he could choose it and embrace it? Can we label as מזיד someone we might feel is operating without all the right information and whose religious judgment has been clouded?

These questions of fact are surely essential for getting the law right in this situation. Even more important, how we answer them will not just implicitly define what I do at a given Shabbat lunch, but ultimately who my community is, who my interlocutors are, and the extent and limits of my responsibility towards other Jews.