|hatam_soferet (hatam_soferet) wrote,|
@ 2006-08-19 09:41 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||ketivat sefer torah, sifrei torah, talmud|
The Talmud asks, what constitutes a holy book? Is a translation of Torah holy enough that one may break Shabbat to carry it out of a burning building? What about one written in impermanent ink? Transliterated? Perhaps only Torah and Prophets, but not that frivolous section, the Writings?
The Rambam (R' Moshe ben Maimon) rules that the only holy books which may be saved are those in Hebrew, written in the square Hebrew script used for ritual writing.
The Rosh (R' Asher ben Yechiel) will let you save any Bible stuff, no matter which part of the Bible it's in, or what script or language it's using.
And the Rashba (R' Shlomo ben Avraham) will let you save not only Bible, but Mishnah and Talmud and rabbinic lore generally.*
These work as a good illustration of how halakhic practice can be influenced by historical experience.
The Rambam lived from 1135 to 1204. He didn't exactly have a life free from persecution, but he lived before book-burning became popular. Rambam's life wasn't too affected by a lack of books, apparently: he won't let you save a Talmud from a fire on Shabbat, and his interpretation of the commandment to write a sefer Torah is just that - write a sefer Torah.
The Rosh lived from about 1250 to 1327. He was born into an era where burning the Talmud was the up-and-coming thing, after the mass destruction of Jewish manuscripts in Paris in 1244. Do you remember a while ago I posted about the Rosh's perspective on the commandment to write a sefer Torah? In brief, Rosh says that writing a sefer Torah isn't the point these days, but you should acquire as many Jewish books as you possibly can - given that offical destruction of Jewish manuscripts was a very real concern, that's a sound ruling. The Jews were much more likely to lose the Talmud than the Torah; owning a copy of the Talmud was much more illegal than owning a copy of the Torah.
The Rashba lived from 1235 to 1310, and he was good chums with the Rosh. I couldn't find out** whether he interprets the commandment to write a sefer Torah like the Rosh does, but given that he lived in the same period and probably shared many of the Rosh's concerns, it makes perfect sense that he would permit you to break Shabbat to save not only the Bible but Talmud and other Jewish books from fires.
Halakhic decision-making balances values: if you have to choose between breaking Shabbat and saving a Torah, you choose the Torah, because we value Torahs very highly (in a nutshell). If you have to choose between breaking Shabbat and saving photocopies of the Book of Daniel in English, maybe you choose to preserve Shabbat, because we value Shabbat over photocopies of Daniel in English. The above rulings balance values when we have to choose between breaking Shabbat and saving Talmuds. The Rambam experiences no drastic shortage of Talmuds, so he can choose to prioritise Shabbat. The Rosh and Rashba have experienced a dramatic shift in circumstances: the number of Talmud manuscripts has suddenly been drastically reduced, and if Jewish continuity is to be preserved, they must prioritise books over Shabbat.
Nowadays the value balance should perhaps be back the other way - the Mishnah Berurah says that you can rescue Talmuds and Torahs from fires on Shabbat, but you should get the Torahs first. But we have no shortage of Talmuds these days; the Jewish people isn't in danger of losing the Talmud altogether. Why are we not prioritising Shabbat over copies of Talmud? It seems that for the Mishnah Berurah, Talmuds are pretty much as holy as the Bible.
Is this good for the Jews? Discuss.
* You can look this up in the Beit Yosef, if you feel inclined. OH334.
** from a search on Bar-Ilan's database; if you happen to know a Rashba expert who knows the answer, do please tell me about it.