כ״ו בתמוז ה׳תשע״ז (July 20, 2017)

Sanhedrin 4a-b: Vocalization vs. Tradition

As we learned on yesterday’s daf according to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, since the word elohim in 22:8 is plural and is repeated twice, the basic requirement of a court is to have four judges, and the fifth is added so that there should not be an even number of judges. This stands in contrast with the Mishna’s requirement of three judges, which, according to Rabbi Yonatan, we learn from the twice-repeated use of the word elohim with an additional judge to avoid a split decision. The Gemara explains that he does not read each of the words elohim as requiring two judges since the word is lacking a vav when it is written in the Torah.

On today’s daf the Gemara brings Rabbi Yitzḥak bar Yosei who quotes Rabbi Yoḥanan as explaining that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s understanding of the passage is based on the fact that he believes yesh em la-mikra – that when interpreting a pasuk we emphasize the way it is read (its vocalization) rather than the way it is written. The other position would be yesh em la-masoret – that what is important for interpreting the pasuk is the tradition that we have regarding the way it is written.

The Gemara offers other examples of yesh em la-mikra vs. yesh em la-masoret. For example, in determining the number of parchments and compartments that we need in tefillin shel rosh (tefillin placed on one’s head) Rabbi Yishmael says that we derive the four compartments from the four times the word totafot appears in the Torah (twice in 13:16, 6:8 and 11:18). Clearly Rabbi Yishmael rejects yesh em la-mikra – even though totafot is a plural form, we only have four compartments. Rabbi Akiva disagrees on a different point, suggesting that the word totafot actually means four, since the word tat means two in the Katfei language and the word pat means two in the Afriki language.

Scholars have attempted to identify the languages and words that Rabbi Akiva is referring to – e.g. the word aft in Coptic. Nevertheless, no clear determination has been made.

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