|Tractate Berachot, Chapter 6
Originally, when the Torah would get forgotten from the Jewish people the elders would swallow it (i.e. the Torah) between themselves, [and not publicly teach it to the masses in great detail]2 as it is said, “And behold, Boaz was coming from Bet Lechem and he said to the harvesters, ‘Hashem is with you’. And they said to him, ‘May Hashem bless you.’” (Rut 2:4)3 And [also] it says, “Hashem is with you, mighty warrior.” (Shoftim 6:12)4 And [also] it says, “… and do not scorn your mother when she has grown old.” (Mishlei 23:22)5 “It is time to do for Hashem, they have forsaken Your Torah.” (Tehillim 119:126)6
|מסכת ברכות פרק ו
בראשונה כשהיתה תורה משתכחת מישראל היו זקנים מבליעין אותה ביניהן שנאמר (רות ב:ד) והנה בעז בא מבית לחם ויאמר לקוצרים ה’ עמכם ויאמרו לו יברכך ה’. ואומר (שופטים ו:יב) ה’ עמך גבור החיל. ואומר (משלי כג:כב) ואל תבוז כי זקנה אמך. (תהלים קיט:קכו) עת לעשות לה’ הפרו תורתך.
- Mishna 9:5 says that when the heretics became very virulent the Rabbis have enacted that when people greet each other they should do it using God’s name. For example, instead of just saying “Hello” they should “May God bless you.” To prove that is allowed by the Torah and it is not a violation of the prohibition of saying God’s name in vain (see Shemot 20:7) the Mishna cites four different verses in the Tanach where either great people have greeted each other using God’s name or the verse simply teaches that in times when the Torah is not being followed then drastuic measures should be taken, therefore allowing such use of God’s name even though normally it would be prohibited. The heretics that the Mishna is referring to are probably a sect of the Escenes who did not say God’s name at all even in context that was permissible. See above Tosefta 6:26, note 8. This Tosefta uses the same four verses that the Mishna quoted but to prove a different behavior of the Rabbis than what the Mishna said.
- This statement of the Tosefta is very difficult to translate and explain, because it does not seem to flow very well with the verses quoted. In my translation I have followed the explanation of Shaul Lieberman in his commentary Tosefta Kepshuta, because it seems to me the most logical and well fitting into the words of the Tosefta. However there is a variety of other explanations proposed by various commentators. For a good summary of various explanations and their refutations see Higayon Aryeh on this Tosefta.
- Allthough the book of Rut does not imply in any way that Boaz was a judge or a leader of the Jewish people or that the Jewish people during that time were not generally keeping and studying the Torah, the Rabbis followed a tradition that Boaz was a judge of the Jewish people and is the same person as the judge Ivtzan mentioned in the book of Shoftim (see Talmud Bavli Bava Batra 91a) and during his time (approximately 1000 BCE) the Torah was generally forsaken (see Midrash Rabbah Rut 1). The verse shows that when Boaz greeted the farmers he used God’s name and they responded to him in kind. The Tosefta implies from this that that was the extent of Boaz’s teaching of Torah to the people, that ge greeted them using God’s name and reminded them of God, but he did not teach them any more details.
- The second verse is a statement made by the angel who visited Gideon and also greeted him using God’s name. The book of Shoftim explicitly says (Shoftim 6:7) that during Gideon’s time the Jews worshiped idols which is why God allowed other nations to oppress them. The Rabbis during that time apparently followed the same policy of not teaching the Torah to the people since they were not following it, so when the angel greeted Gideon he used God’s name as a hint to remind him of God, and as can be seen from Gideon’s response (Shoftim 6:13) that was a radical statement since Gideon started telling the angel that God is not with any of them since he has forsaken them and allowed other nations to oppress them. The Tosefta uses this verse in the same manner as the previous verse to imply that mentioning of God’s name in a greeting was the extent to which the leaders of the Jews would remind them of the Torah during that time.
- The 3rd verse from Mishlei is being used here as a direct defense of the ancient Rabbis’ policy. The mother in the verse is a reference to the Torah. So when the mother has grown old, meaning that the Torah has been forsaken, she should not be scorned, meaning that the Torah should not be taught to the masses, because all they are going to do is make fun of it anyway.
- The last verse is also being used as a direct defense ifthe ancient Rabbis’ policy. This verse is used in general by the Rabbis to teach that at certain times when the Torah is especially forsaken by the people it is permissible to violate the commandments of the Torah in order to defend God. See Talmud Bavli (Berachot 63a) and Rashi (Berachot 63a, Misefei Lereshei). The most famous case of this is the story of Eliyahu the prophet who built an altar on the mountain of Carmel during the time of the first Bet Hamikdash, when it was forbidden to build altars outside of the Temple, in order to prove to everybody that Hashem is the real God. See Melachim I 18:19 – 18:46. So the Tosefta uses this verse in a similar manner that since the Jews have forsaken the Torah and are not following it or learning it, it would be permissible not to teach it to them, despite the fact that the Torah itself either directly commands (Devarim 6:7, 11:19, 17:9-11) or implies (for example see Devarim 32:7 and 33:4) that it should be taught to others.
This Tosefta cites the behavior of the Rabbis in ancient times that when the Jewish people would not study the Torah and follow it very much the Rabbis would stop teaching it to them publicly in great detail, but rather would only mention to them slight hints to remind them of the Torah in general. However, they Rabbis would continue studying it among themselves to make sure that it would remain preserved through out the generations. And when the people would revert and decide to study and follow the Torah again, then the Rabbis would begin teaching it publicly again. The next Tosefta will cite a similar opinion of Hillel the Elder who advised teaching the Torah when the people were following it and taking in its teachings, and not to publicly teach it when the people were not willing to keep it or to listen to its teachings. Meanwhile this Tosefta defends the policy of ancient Rabbis by citing four verses to prove it.
|Tractate Berachot, Chapter 6
Hillel the Elder says, “At the time when they gather in you should spread, and at the time when they spread you should gather in.”2 At the time that you see that the Torah is beloved to all of the Jewish people and everyone rejoices in it, you should spread it (i.e. teach it) as it is said, “The one that spreads gathers in more …” (Mishlei 11:24)3 And at the time that you see that the Torah is being forgotten from the Jewish people and no one is paying attention to it, gather it in (i.e. learn it privately to yourself and do not teach), as it is said, “It is time to do for Hashem, they have forsaken your Torah.” (Tehillim 119:126)4 Rebbi Meir says, “[If] they have forsaken your Torah, [then] it is time to do for Hashem [and teach the Torah to the masses even with more force than before].”5
מסכת ברכות פרק ו
הלל הזקן אומר בשעת מכנסין פזר ובשעת מפזרין כנס. בשעה שאתה רואה שהתורה חביבה על כל ישראל והכל שמחין בה, את תהי מפזר בה שנאמר (משלי יא:כד) יש מפזר ונוסף עוד. ובשעה שאתה רואה שהתורה משתכחת מישראל ואין הכל משגיחין עליה את הוי מכנס בה שנאמר (תהלים קיט:קכו) עת לעשות לה’ הפרו תורתך. רבי מאיר אומר הפרו תורתך עת לעשות לה’.
- The Tosefta continues on the subject mentioned in the previous Tosefta. It also mentions the opinion of Rebbi Meir which is the same as the opinion of Rebbi Natan in Mishna 9:5.
- This statement of Hillel the Elder is vague enough that it can be interpreted in many different ways. The Tosefta continues with an interpretation that goes together with the policy of ancient Rabbis as was mentioned in the previous Tosefta. However, other interpretations are possible. The most obvious interpretation is proposed by Rashi (Berachot 63a) that Hillel is teaching us that when other people do not teach the Torah to others (i.e. they gather in) you should take their place and teach it (i.e. spread its words), but when other great people are already teaching it (i.e. spread its words) then you should not run and teach it, because that may look arrogant and may belittle those people who are already teaching it. It should be noted that in Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 9:5, Daf 68a) the interpretation provided by this Tosefta is also attributed to Hillel the Elder, but as a separate statement and not as an interpretation of his original statement.
- The verse in Mishlei does not really have a specific context, so it is open to various interpretations. Rashi and Ibn Ezra interpret it to be talking about giving charity, that a person who gives a lot of money to charity will eventually get more money, but a person who gives a little thinking that eh will save that way more money for himself in the end will lose it anyway. The Ralbag interprets it to be talking about spreading knowledge that a person who teaches others will become even wiser than he was, and a person who keeps his knowledge to himself will eventually lose even what he knows. The Tosefta seems to be following Ralbag’s interpretation however it is not clear from the verse what it has to do with the Torah being beloved by the people, since the verse seems to imply that a person should always spread his knowledge to others, regardless whether it is beloved to them or not.
- In other words, you should protect God’s honor and make sure that the people do not make fun of the Torah and of God since they are not interested in them, and therefore not teach it to others.
- Rebbi Meir argues on the interpretation of the Tosefta of Hillel’s statement and says that if the people have forsaken the Torah then it is absolutely critical that the Rabbis teach it to them and educate them so that the masses will go back to properly observing it. Rebbi Meir’s statement only appears in the Erfurt manuscript and not in the Vienna manuscript, however I would like to point out that it is absolutely cirtical to the flow of the Tosefta and without it the wording of the previous Tosefta does not make sense. The previous Tosefta began with the word “originally” implying that that is the way it used to be in the early days of the Tanach, however later it was changed. Since according to this Tosefta, Hillel the Elder (approximately 110 BCE – 10 CE), followed the same policy as in the days of the Judges, there is no reason for the previous Tosefta to say the word “originally” since nothing has changed in a thousand years. However once it quotes Rebbi Meir’s opinion who argues on that interpretation the conclusion is that the policy has been changed in the days of Rebbi Meir (end of the 1st century CE – beginning of the second century CE). Rebbi Meir’s opinion was so strong about education to the masses that he said (Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 99a) that a person who studies Torah but does not teach it to others disgraces God himself. He said this as a general statement and did not specify that it only applies when the people follow the Torah anyway.
It should be noted that the prevalent opinion among educators and economists today is that ignorance causes various problems in society, such as crime and poverty. Therefore it is incumbent upon governments and educators to provide as much education to the masses as possible to keep the crime down and the standard of living high, even if the masses may not necessarily be interested in receiving the education. Society today clearly follows the opinion of Rebbi Meir. I would like to suggest that it is possible that the reason Rebbi Meir changed his opinion about the education system from the more prevalent opinion of Hillel the Elder and those that came before him due to the influence of Greek philosophers, especially Plato, who taught in his longest dialogue, The Laws, that education for the masses is crucial to society and should be championed by the state. For a detailed analysis of Plato’s theory of education see Rupert Clendon Lodge, “Plato’s Theory of Education”, Routledge, 2000. One may ask why did it take a few hundred years for the Greeks to influence the Jews in terms of compulsory education, since Plato died in 347 BCE, over 300 years before Hillel the Elder who apparently was still not influenced by his teachings? And what has changed in the time of Rebbi Meir, who flourished right after the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash, roughly 60 years after Hillel’s death? There is simply not enough information to answer these questions. However, it should be noted that there are two events recorded in the Talmudic literature that imply that compulsory Torah education for children was introduced for the first time only during the reign of the Hasmonean king, Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE) by the Nassi (president) of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), Shimon Ben Shetach (see Talmud Yerushalmi Ketubot 8:11, Daf 50b), and that Torah schools for children have not been established in all towns and villages of Israel until the time of the High Priest, Yehoshua Ben Gamla (63-65 CE) as a result of the war with the Romans and danger of interruption in the transmission of the Torah (see Talmud Bavli Bava Batra 21a). From both of these stories it can be deduced that compulsory Jewish education has not been established in Judea until the end of the Second Temple period, which took place during the lifetime of Rebbi Meir. Clearly Rebbi Meir was pushed to change his mind from the precedent opinion of Hillel due to the tumultuous events of the Jewish War which put the transmission of the Torah in jeopardy. For a detailed analysis of Jewish education in ancient Palestine see John Joseph Collin, “Jewish wisdom in the Hellenistic age”, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997, p. 35-36.