Source #1: Bava Metzia 59b | בבא מציעא נט
Click here for a translation of this source from Sefaria: https://www.sefaria.org/Bava_Metzia.59b?lang=bi
This source serves as the cornerstone of the entire curriculum, and expresses the foundational principle of לא בשמים היא - that the Torah is not in heaven. In other words, there is a human component to Halakha, and we have the obligation and opportunity to interpret and apply the Divine word. This concept serves as the basis of much of Rabbinic legislation and activity and will be revisited repeatedly throughout the curriculum. The source also introduces us to Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer, two frequent disputatants and heroes of the halakhic system who will make repeated appearances in texts throughout the curriculum.
Students should also be introduced to the concepts of halakhic truth and objective truth. In this gemara, Rabbi Eliezer was clearly objectively correct (i.e. his position could be proven to be correct - as it was by his miraculous proofs). Yet one of the important lessons of this story is that halakha does not necessarily follow the position that is objectively true - rather, this gemara demonstrates that halakha seeks to follow the position that is halakhic truth, i.e. the answer that emerges from the halakhic process - in this case through the principle of majority rule.
- Is Halakha human or divine?
- What role to human beings have within the halakhic process?
- Who was right in the dispute about the “תנור של עכנאי” - Rabbi Yehoshua or Rabbi Eliezer?
- How do we decide what "truth? is?
- What is “Halakhic Truth”, and how does it differ from “Objective Truth”? Which one are we more concerned about when making decisions in halakha?
- How does halakha balance between tradition and innovation?
- How do we determine the “right” answer in halakha?
- How much power should the Rabbis have in halakha?
- What if we get the answer wrong?
Here's what students will take away from this source:
לא בשמים היא
- Students will understand that there is a human involvement in the interpretation, application and creation of halakha.
Halakhic Truth vs. Objective Truth
- Students will understand that Halakha is determined by what the halakhic process decides - even if it is not the “objectively” right solution. Students will spend the next two years studying how this “process” works, but realizing that we’re not looking for the one right answer to halakhic questions - rather, we’re using a specific process to find valid answers to those questions - is the key to understanding halakhic decision-making and debate.
אחרי רבים להטות
- Students will understand that one way that decisions are made in Halakha is through Majority rule.
How will this gemara shape the way your students see the world?
- One of the enduring messages of the principle of היא בשמים לא is that we have a vital role to play within our Jewish experience. Students often view themselves as passive spectators within the story of Jewish law and peoplehood - but this gemara stresses that they can become active participants in the development of their own Jewish identities, their personal growth, and their communities.
(See below for downloadable Word and PDF versions of students worksheets that can be used in the classroom)
Students should be introduced to use of the Jastrow Talmud dictionary to assist their translation efforts
See Jastrow Activity listed under "supplemental resources" for this source
Specific vocab words to be covered in this source:
- אמרי לה
- יה- (masculine suffix)
Reading and Navigation:
Havruta. This is the first gemara that students learn in the curriculum. They should be introduced to a methodology of learning in Havruta pairs.
- See Havruta Activity listed under "supplemental resources" for this source.
Students should be introduced to a methodology of punctuating and reading a daf of gemara. Use of iPads or curriculum web App for punctuation, highlighting and annotation is recommended.
- These two tanaaim play a formative role in the definition of the values and mechanisms of the halakhic process. They will be major figures that appear in sources throughout the curriculum.