י״א בטבת ה׳תשע״ה (January 2, 2015)

Yevamot 90a-b: You Must Listen To Him

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, our Gemara is concerned with the question of whether yesh ko’ah be-yad la-akor davar min ha-torah – do the Sages of the Talmud have the ability to uproot a Torah law? The discussion continues on our daf, with a series of examples presented.

One source that the Gemara brings in an attempt to prove that such power is in the hands of the Sages is from a story that appears in Sefer (see I chapter 18). There we find that the prophet Eliyahu brings a sacrifice on an altar outside of the Temple at a time when it was forbidden to do so. This sacrifice was permitted according to the Gemara based on the passage in (18:15) that says elav tishma’un – “you must listen to him (i.e. to the prophet)” – even if his instructions require you, on occasion, to transgress a Biblical commandment. The Gemara responds that the only reason that the prophet can be listened to in that situation is because of the unique command of elav tishma’un – a passage that applies specifically to a navi, and not to the Sages. To the suggestion that we should try to derive a more general application from that passage, the Gemara responds that it is limited to cases where the prophet can immediately limit the people from transgressing and cannot be applied to a general concern of the Sages about a given act.

A basic question is raised by the commentators – both rishonim and – regarding this discussion. How can the Sages assume that a Biblical command that allows a prophet to transgress a commandment might be applied to the Sages themselves?

According to the Talmud Yerushalmi it appears that the suggestion is based on the Talmudic statement hakham adif mi-navi – a Sage is superior to a prophet (see Bava Batra 12a). This teaching implies that anything a navi can accomplish with his prophecy, the Sages can do through their methods of study and analysis. Furthermore, while a prophet is limited in his ability to establish halakhot beyond the immediate instance, the Sages have the ability to institute rules and regulations that will remain in effect for generations.