First, Some Sources:

Regarding translations:

  • The translations of Biblical verses are usually the King James Version
  • The translations of the Bavli Talmud are usually Sefaria.org. (Note that I did not necessarily review or agree with the translation).
  • Since I have not found an open-sourced quality translation of the Rambams, Midrashim, Yerushalmis etc – all such translations are my own.

על פי התורה אשר יורוך ועל המשפט אשר יאמרו לך תעשה לא תסור מן הדבר אשר יגידו לך ימין ושמאל

דברים יז:יא

According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do. Thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee to the right hand nor to the left

Deuteronomy 17:11

אמר רב הונא תליוהו וזבין זביניה זביני מ”ט כל דמזבין איניש אי לאו דאניס לא הוה מזבין ואפילו הכי זביניה זביני ודילמא שאני אונסא דנפשיה מאונסא דאחריני אלא כדתניא יקריב אותו מלמד שכופין אותו יכול בעל כרחו תלמוד לומר לרצונו הא כיצד כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני ודלמא שאני התם דניחא ליה דתיהוי ליה כפרה ואלא מסיפא וכן אתה אומר בגיטי נשים כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני ודלמא שאני התם דמצוה לשמוע דברי חכמים אלא סברא הוא אגב אונסיה גמר ומקנה מותיב רב יהודה גט המעושה בישראל כשר ובעכו”ם פסול ובעכו”ם חובטין אותו ואומרין לו עשה מה שישראל אומר לך ואמאי התם נמי נימא אגב אונסיה גמר ומגרש הא איתמר עלה אמר רב משרשיא דבר תורה אפילו בעכו”ם כשר ומה טעם אמרו בעכו”ם פסול כדי שלא תהא כל אחת ואחת הולכת ותולה עצמה ביד עכו”ם ומפקעת עצמה מיד בעלה

בבא בתרא מז עב – מח עא

Apropos transactions performed under duress, the Gemara cites that which Rav Huna says: If one was suspended, e.g., from a tree, and thereby coerced to sell a certain item, and he sold it, his sale is valid. What is the reason? The Gemara suggests that it is because whatever a person sells, were it not for the fact that he is compelled by his need for money, he would not sell it, and even so, his sale is valid. This indicates that a transaction performed under duress is valid. The Gemara rejects this: But perhaps duress that results from his own needs, such as his need for money, is different from duress that results from another, as in this case. Rather, the basis for Rav Huna’s ruling is as it is taught in a baraita: With regard to one who pledges to bring a burnt-offering, the verse states: “If his offering be a burnt-offering of the herd, he shall offer it a male without blemish; he shall bring it to the door of the Tent of Meeting, according to his will, before the Lord” (Leviticus 1:3). The seemingly superfluous phrase “he shall offer it” teaches that they can coerce him to bring the offering. One might have thought that it can be offered entirely against his will, by taking it from his possession and sacrificing it. Therefore, the verse states: “According to his will” (Leviticus 1:3). How can these texts be reconciled? They coerce him with various punishments until he says: I want to bring the offering. This seems to prove that consent resulting from coercion is considered to be valid consent. Perhaps this principle can apply to acquisition, as a source for Rav Huna’s ruling. The Gemara rejects this proof: But perhaps there it is different, since he is in fact amenable to achieving atonement, despite his earlier statement to the contrary. But rather, prove Rav Huna’s ruling from the latter clause of a mishna (Arakhin 21a): And similarly you find this halakha with bills of divorce, that when the court rules that he must divorce his wife, they coerce him until he says: I want to divorce my wife. The Gemara rejects this proof as well: But perhaps there it is different, because it is a mitzva to listen to the statement of the Sages. The assumption is that when he is required by the court to divorce his wife, his real desire is to perform the mitzva of listening to the Sages, and therefore he actually wants to divorce her. This does not apply to the case of a transaction performed under duress. Rather, Rav Huna’s ruling does not have a source in a mishna or baraita, but is based on logical reasoning: By means of his being coerced, the seller then willingly decides to sell the field and transfers it. Rav Yehuda raises an objection to Rav Huna’s ruling from a mishna (Gittin88b): With regard to a bill of divorce that the husband was compelled by the court to write and give his wife, if he was compelled by a Jewish court it is valid, but if he was compelled by gentiles it is not valid. And with regard to gentiles, they may beat him at the request of the Jewish court and say to him: Do what the Jews are telling you, and the divorce would then be valid. The Gemara asks: But why is a bill of divorce compelled by a gentile court invalid? There too, let us say that as a result of his coercion, the husband decides to do what the court says and divorces her. The Gemara answers: In fact that reasoning is correct, as for this reason wasn’t it stated with regard to that mishna that Rav Mesharshiyya says: By Torah law a bill of divorce that the husband was compelled to give, even if he was compelled by gentiles, is valid. And what is the reason the Sages said that if it is compelled by gentiles it is not valid? It is so that each and every woman will not go and through temptation or bribery depend on a gentile to compel her husband to divorce her, and thereby release herself from her husband illegitimately.

Bava Basra 47b – 48a

מי שהדין נותן שכופין אותו לגרש את אשתו ולא רצה לגרש. בית דין של ישראל בכל מקום ובכל זמן מכין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני ויכתוב הגט והוא גט כשר. וכן אם הכוהו עכו”ם ואמרו לו עשה מה שישראל אומרין לך ולחצו אותו ישראל ביד העכו”ם עד שיגרש הרי זה כשר. ואם העכו”ם מעצמן אנסוהו עד שכתב הואיל והדין נותן שיכתוב הרי זה גט פסול. ולמה לא בטל גט זה שהרי הוא אנוס בין ביד עכו”ם בין ביד ישראל. שאין אומרין אנוס אלא למי שנלחץ ונדחק לעשות דבר שאינו מחוייב בו מן התורה כגון מי שהוכה עד שמכר או עד שנתן. אבל מי שתקפו יצרו הרע לבטל מצוה או לעשות עבירה והוכה עד שעשה דבר שחייב לעשותו או עד שנתרחק מדבר האסור לעשותו אין זה אנוס ממנו אלא הוא אנס עצמו בדעתו הרעה. לפיכך זה שאינו רוצה לגרש מאחר שהוא רוצה להיות מישראל ורוצה הוא לעשות כל המצות ולהתרחק מן העבירות ויצרו הוא שתקפו וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו ואמר רוצה אני כבר גרש לרצונו…

רמב”ם הלכות גירושין פ”ב הלכה כ’

Whoever according to the law is forced to divorce his wife and doesn’t want to – a Jewish Court – in any place and at any time – beat him until he says he wants to divorce his wife. Likewise if non Jews beat him and said “do what the Jewish court told you to do” it is valid. If the non Jews did so of their own initiative it is an invalid gett (divorce document).

Why is this gett not null? Wasn’t this gett forced, whether by a Jewish court or a non Jews?

It is because we only say someone was forced if he was forced to do something against his will which he is not obligated to do according to the Torah – like someone who was beaten to gift or sell something. But someone who’s evil inclination has possessed him not to to do something he is obligated to do according to the Torah or to transgress the Torah – and was beaten until he fulfilled his obligation or distanced himself from that which is forbidden – he was not forced by us but rather he himself was forced by his evil inclinations.

Thus, this person who doesn’t want to divorce his wife, he wants to be a Jew, do all mitzvos and distance himself from aveiros but his evil inclination has possessed him – and when he was beaten – his evil inclination was weakened and he said he wanted to divorce his wife from his own free will…

Miamonides, Laws of Divorce, Chapter 2:20

[The rest of the Halacha, which is not cited, is very important for qualifying the Rambam’s opinion regarding the specifics of this halacha – but is not entirely relevant to our topic, so I left it out.]

Note that the Rambam is seemingly ruling against Rav Huna’s assertion that forced sales work here. (See Rambam Hilchos Mechira Chapter 10 Halacha 1, were he seemingly says otherwise.)

הורו ב”ד וידע אחד מהן שטעו או תלמיד והוא ראוי להוראה והלך ועשה על פיהן בין שעשו ועשה עמהן בין שעשו ועשה אחריהן בין שלא עשו ועשה הרי זה חייב מפני שלא תלה בב”ד זה הכלל התולה בעצמו חייב והתולה בב”ד פטור

הוריות פ”א מ”א

If the court issued a ruling and one of the judges knew that they erred, despite the fact that the majority ruled against his opinion, or if he was a student and he was qualified to issue halakhic rulings, and that judge or student proceeded and performed that transgression on the basis of itsruling, then whether the judges performed the transgression and he performed it with them, or whether the judges performed the transgression and he performed it after them, or whether the judges did not perform the transgression and he performed it alone, in all these cases, the judge or the student is liable to bring an offering. This is due to the fact that he did not associate his action with the ruling of the court. This is the principle: One who associates his action with himself is liable, and one who associates his action with the ruling of the court is exempt.

Horayos Chapter 1 Mishna 1

וידע אחד מהן שטעו או תלמיד וראוי להוראה: תרתי למה לי אמר רבא איצטריך סלקא דעתך אמינא הני מילי גמיר וסביר אבל גמיר ולא סביר לא אמר ליה אביי להוראה גמיר וסביר משמע אמר ליה אנא הכי קאמינא אי מההיא הוה אמינא ה”מ גמיר וסביר אבל גמיר ולא סביר לא תנא ראוי להוראה ממשנה יתירה אפי’ גמיר ולא סביר סביר ולא גמיר: ראוי להוראה וכו’: כגון מאן אמר רבא כגון שמעון בן עזאי ושמעון בן זומא א”ל אביי כי האי גוונא מזיד הוא ולטעמיך הא דתניא בעשותה אחת יחיד העושה מפי עצמו חייב בהוראת ב”ד פטור כיצד הורו ב”ד שחלב מותר ונודע לאחד מהן שטעו או תלמיד יושב לפניהן וראוי להוראה כגון שמעון בן עזאי יכול יהא פטור ת”ל בעשותה אחת יחיד העושה על פי עצמו חייב בהוראת ב”ד פטור אלא היכי משכחת לה כגון דידע דאסור וקא טעי במצוה לשמוע דברי חכמי’ לדידי נמי דטעו במצוה לשמוע דברי חכמי’

הוריות בבלי דף ב’ ע”ב

The mishna teaches: And one of the judges knew that they erred, or if he was a student and he is qualified to issue halakhic rulings. The Gemara asks: Why do I need two cases? As a student qualified to issue halakhic rulings is the equivalent of one of the judges, why did the tanna mention both? Rava said: It was necessary to state both, as it may enter your mind to say that this statement that he is liable applies specifically to one who is learned and analytical, but that one who is learned but not analytical, no, he should not be liable to bring an offering. Therefore, the tanna cites both the case of a judge and the case of a student qualified to issue halakhic rulings, to teach that even one who is learned but not analytical is liable in this case. Abaye challenged this and said to Rava that the term: A student qualified to issue halakhic rulings, indicates that he is both learned and analytical. Rava said to Abaye: This is what I am saying: If the tanna had taught the halakhafrom that first halakha with regard to one of the judges, I would say that this statement applies only to one who is both learned and analytical, but if he was learned and not analytical, no, he would not be liable. Therefore, the tanna taught the additional case of a student qualified issue halakhic rulings, and from the extraneous case in the mishna one can infer that the halakha applies even to one who is learned but not analytical or one who is analytical but not yet learned. Since he associates his action with himself, he is liable.

The mishna teaches: Qualified to issue halakhic rulings. The Gemara asks: Like whom? Who is an example of one qualified to issue halakhic rulings? Rava said: It is one like Shimon ben Azzai or Shimon ben Zoma, who, although they were among the most outstanding Torah scholars of their generation, were not ordained. Abaye said to Rava: In a case like this, he is an intentional sinner, as a scholar of that caliber would certainly not err. If he ruled that a prohibited action is permitted, it is assumed that he acted with intent, and he is exempt from bringing an offering. Rava said to Abaye: But according to your reasoning, that which is taught in a baraita that cites the verse: “In performing one” (Leviticus 4:27), from which it is derived that an individual who performs a transgression on his own is liable, while one who performs a transgression based on the ruling ofthe court is exempt; how so? When does this apply? If the court ruled thatforbidden fat is permitted, and it became known to one of the judges that they erred, or if he was a student who was sitting before them and he is qualified to issue halakhic rulings, e.g., Shimon ben Azzai, might one have thought that he would be exempt? To counter this, the verse states: “In performing one,” from which it is derived that an individual who performs a transgression on his own is liable, while one who performs a transgression onthe basis of the ruling of the court is exempt. Rava continues: Rather, the baraita is difficult; how can you find thesecircumstances where a judge or a prominent Torah scholar would be considered an unwitting sinner? The Gemara answers: It is in a case where the judge or the scholar knew that the action with regard to which the court issued a ruling that it is permitted is in fact prohibited, but he erred with regard to the mitzva of heeding the statements of the Sages. He believed that there is a mitzva to heed the directives of the Sages even when he is certain that they are mistaken. If so, according to my understanding too, the reference is to one like Shimon ben Azzai or Shimon ben Zoma; it is also a case where they erred with regard to the mitzva of heeding the statements of the Sages. Due to that error, they are liable to bring an offering.

Horayos 2b

ועל המשפט אשר יאמרו לך תעשה . זו מצות עשה.

לא תסור מן הדבר אשר יגידו לך . זו מצות לא תעשה.

ימין ושמאל . אפילו נראים בעיניך על שמאל שהוא ימין, ועל ימין שהוא שמאל – שמע להם.

ספרי דברים פרשת שופטים קנ”ד

and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee thou shalt do: This is a positive commandment.

Thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee: This is a negative commandment.

to the right hand nor to the left: Even if it seems they are instructing you on left that it is right or on right that it is left, listen to them.

Sifrei Deut. 154

מתניתא כגון שמעון בן עזאי יושב לפניהן. מה אנן קיימין אם ביודע כל התורה ואינו יודע אותו דבר אין זה שמעון בן עזאי ואם ביודע אותו הדבר ואינו יודע כל התורה שמעון בן עזאי הוא אצל אותו הדבר אלא כי נן קיימין ביודע כל התורה וביודע אותו הדבר אלא שהוא כטועה לומר תורה אמרה אחריהם אחריהם. ואם בטועה לומר התורה אמרה אחריהם אחריהם אין זה שמעון בן עזאי כהדא דתני יכול אם יאמרו לך על ימין שהיא שמאל ועל שמאל שהיא ימין תשמע להם ת”ל ללכת ימין ושמאל שיאמרו לך על ימין שהוא ימין ועל שמאל שהוא שמאל.

הוריות ירושלמי פ”א ה”א

The mishna is referring to a case of someone like Shimon ben Azzai sitting in front of the court. What are we talking about? If it is like someone who knows all the Torah except this one thing – that is not like Shimon ben Azzai – and if he knows this one thing and not the whole Torah – he is like Shimon ben Azzai for this thing. Rather, we are referring to a case where he knows the whole Torah, including this thing – but is mistaken in saying that the Torah says “follow them, follow them”. If he is mistaken in thinking the Torah says “follow them, follow them” this is also not like Shimon ben Azzai as it is taught :

“Maybe if they tell you on your right that it is your left or your left that it is your right you should listen to them – we have learnt – “to go right or left” – until they tell you on right that it is right or on left that it is left”

Yerushalmi Horayos Perek 1 Halacha 1

Three noteworthy things I’ll mention the Sifrei and the Yerushalmi:

  1. Of course, there is an apparent contradiction between them.
  2. The Yerushalmi is in need of some explanation – there is no “follow them, follow them” or “to go left or right” in the verse we’re referring to.
  3. The Bavli seems to concur with the Yerushalmi as it holds responsible a student who made a mistake in his obligation to heed the words of the sages. According to the Sifrei, perhaps he would be right to do so.
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