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Din & Daf: Lifnim Mishurat Hadin

Din & Daf: Conceptual Analysis of Halakha Through Case Study with Dr. Elana Stein Hain

Lifnim Mishurat Hadin – Do we compel people to go above and beyond the law? (Bava Metsia 30b)

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The Gemara introduces the concept of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din, often described as going above and beyond the letter of the law. But what does this category actually mean? Does this mean that a person can choose whether or not to do it? If so, what are the ramifications of that? And if it can be forced, who can and enforce it, and how is it still considered going beyond the letter of the law?聽

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Dr. Elana Stein Hain 鈥 dinanddaf@hadran.org.il (Author of “Circumventing the Law: Rabbinic Perspectives on Loopholes and Legal Integrity”, available at 50% off today with promo code FOUNDERSDAY24)

Sources:

  • 讘讘讗 诪爪讬注讗 讻讚:

聽专讘 讬讛讜讚讛 讛讜讛 砖拽讬诇 讜讗讝讬诇 讘转专讬讛 讚诪专 砖诪讜讗诇 讘砖讜拽讗 讚讘讬 讚讬住讗 讗”诇 诪爪讗 讻讗谉 讗专谞拽讬 诪讛讜 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讛专讬 讗诇讜 砖诇讜 讘讗 讬砖专讗诇 讜谞转谉 讘讛 住讬诪谉 诪讛讜 讗”诇 讞讬讬讘 诇讛讞讝讬专 转专转讬 讗诪专 诇讬讛 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉 讻讬 讛讗 讚讗讘讜讛 讚砖诪讜讗诇 讗砖讻讞 讛谞讱 讞诪专讬 讘诪讚讘专讗 讜讗讛讚专讬谞讛讜 诇诪专讬讬讛讜 诇讘转专 转专讬住专 讬专讞讬 砖转讗 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉

Rav Yehuda was moving along behind Mar Shmuel in the market where pounded grain was sold. Rav Yehuda said to Shmuel: If one found a purse [arnakei] here, what is the halakha? Shmuel said to him that the halakha is as the mishna states: These belong to him. Rav Yehuda asked him: If a Jew came and provided a distinguishing mark to describe it, what is the halakha? Shmuel said to him: The finder is obligated to return it. Rav Yehuda asked: These are two contradictory rulings. Shmuel said to him: By law, it belongs to him. When I said the finder is obligated to return it if he learns the identity of the owner, that was beyond the letter of the law. This is like that incident where Shmuel鈥檚 father found these donkeys in the desert and returned them to their owner after the passage of twelve months of the year, as he acted beyond the letter of the law.

专讘讗 讛讜讛 砖拽讬诇 讜讗讝讬诇 讘转专讬讛 讚专”谞 讘砖讜拽讗 讚讙诇讚讗讬 讜讗诪专讬 诇讛 讘砖讜拽讗 讚专讘谞谉 讗”诇 诪爪讗 讻讗谉 讗专谞拽讬 诪讛讜 讗”诇 讛专讬 讗诇讜 砖诇讜 讘讗 讬砖专讗诇 讜谞转谉 讘讛 住讬诪谉 诪讛讜 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讛专讬 讗诇讜 砖诇讜 讜讛诇讗 注讜诪讚 讜爪讜讜讞 谞注砖讛 讻爪讜讜讞 注诇 讘讬转讜 砖谞驻诇 讜注诇 住驻讬谞转讜 砖讟讘注讛 讘讬诐

Rava was moving along behind Rav Na岣an in the tanner鈥檚 market, and some say in the marketplace frequented by the Sages. Rava said to Rav Na岣an: If one found a purse here, what is the halakha? Rav Na岣an said to him that the halakha is as the mishna states: These belong to him. Rava asked him: If a Jew came and provided a distinguishing mark to describe it, what is the halakha? Rav Na岣an said to him that in this case as well, the halakha is as the mishna states: These belong to him. Rava asked: But isn鈥檛 the owner justifiably standing and screaming that the purse belongs to him? Rav Na岣an said to him: He becomes as one who screams to no avail about his house that collapsed or about his ship that sank in the sea.

 

 

  • 讘讘讗 诪爪讬注讗 诇:

专讘讬 讬砖诪注讗诇 讘专讘讬 讬讜住讬 讛讜讛 拽讗讝讬诇 讘讗讜专讞讗 驻讙注 讘讬讛 讛讛讜讗 讙讘专讗 讛讜讛 讚专讬 驻转讻讗 讚讗讜驻讬 讗讜转讘讬谞讛讜 讜拽讗 诪讬转驻讞 讗”诇 讚诇讬 诇讬 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讻诪讛 砖讜讬谉 讗”诇 驻诇讙讗 讚讝讜讝讗 讬讛讬讘 诇讬讛 驻诇讙讗 讚讝讜讝讗 讜讗驻拽专讛聽

Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, was walking on the road. A certain man encountered him, and that man was carrying a burden that consisted of sticks of wood. He set down the wood and was resting. The man said to him: Lift them for me and place them upon me. Since it was not in keeping with the dignity of Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, to lift the wood, Rabbi Yishmael said to him: How much are they worth? The man said to him: A half-dinar. Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, gave him a half-dinar, took possession of the wood, and declared the wood ownerless.

讛讚专 讝讻讛 讘讛讜 讛讚专 讬讛讬讘 诇讬讛 驻诇讙讗 讚讝讜讝讗 讜讗驻拽专讛 讞讝讬讬讛 讚讛讜讛 拽讗 讘注讬 诇诪讬讛讚专 诇诪讝讻讬讛 讘讛讜 讗”诇 诇讻讜诇讬 注诇诪讗 讗驻拽专谞讛讜 讜诇讱 诇讗 讗驻拽专谞讛讜

The man then reacquired the wood and again requested that Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, lift the wood for him. Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, again gave him a half-dinar, again took possession of the wood, and again declared the wood ownerless. He then saw that the man desired to reacquire the sticks of wood. Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, said to him: I declared the sticks of wood ownerless with regard to everyone else, but I did not declare them ownerless with regard to you.

讜诪讬 讛讜讬 讛驻拽专 讻讬 讛讗讬 讙讜讜谞讗 讜讛转谞谉 讘砖”讗 讛驻拽专 诇注谞讬讬诐 讛驻拽专 讜讘”讛 讗讜诪专讬诐 讗讬谞讜 讛驻拽专 注讚 砖讬讛讗 讛驻拽专 诇注谞讬讬诐 讜诇注砖讬专讬诐 讻砖诪讬讟讛

But is property rendered ownerless in a case like this? But didn鈥檛 we learn in a mishna (Pe鈥檃 6:1) that Beit Shammai say: Property declared ownerless for the poor is thereby rendered ownerless. And Beit Hillel say: It is not ownerless, until the property will be ownerless for the poor and for the rich, like produce during the Sabbatical Year, which is available for all.

讗诇讗 专讘讬 讬砖诪注讗诇 讘专讘讬 讬讜住讬 诇讻讜诇讬 注诇诪讗 讗驻拽专讬谞讛讜 讜讘诪诇转讗 讘注诇诪讗 讛讜讗 讚讗讜拽诪讬讛

Rather, Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, actually declared the wood ownerless to everyone without exception, and it was with a mere statement that he prevented him from reacquiring the wood, i.e., he told the man not to reacquire the wood even though there was no legal impediment to that reacquisition.

讜讛讗 专讘讬 讬砖诪注讗诇 讘专讘讬 讬讜住讬 讝拽谉 讜讗讬谞讜 诇驻讬 讻讘讜讚讜 讛讜讛 专’ 讬砖诪注讗诇 讘专讘讬 讬讜住讬 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉 讛讜讗 讚注讘讚

But wasn鈥檛 Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, an elderly person and it was not in keeping with his dignity to tend to the item? Why did he purchase the wood and render it ownerless in order to absolve himself of the obligation to lift the burden if he had no obligation to do so in the first place? In the case of Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, he conducted himself beyond the letter of the law, and he could have simply refused the request for help.

讚转谞讬 专讘 讬讜住祝… (砖诪讜转 讬讞, 讻) 讜讛讜讚注转 诇讛诐 讝讛 讘讬转 讞讬讬讛诐 讗转 讛讚专讱 讝讜 讙诪讬诇讜转 讞住讚讬诐 [(讗砖专) 讬诇讻讜 讝讛 讘讬拽讜专 讞讜诇讬诐 讘讛 讝讜 拽讘讜专讛 讜讗转 讛诪注砖讛 讝讛 讛讚讬谉 讗砖专 讬注砖讜谉 讝讜 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉:…

As Rav Yosef taught in a baraita with regard to the verse: 鈥淎nd you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the path wherein they shall walk and the action that they must perform鈥 (Exodus 18:20). “And you shall teach them,鈥 that is referring to the structure of their livelihood, i.e., teach the Jewish people trades so that they may earn a living; 鈥渢he path,鈥 that is referring to acts of kindness; 鈥渢hey shall walk,鈥 that is referring to visiting the ill; 鈥渨herein,鈥 that is referring to burial; 鈥渁nd the action,鈥 that is referring to acting in accordance with the letter of the law; 鈥渢hat they must perform,鈥 that is referring to acting beyond the letter of the law.

讗诪专 专’ 讬讜讞谞谉 诇讗 讞专讘讛 讬专讜砖诇讬诐 讗诇讗 注诇 砖讚谞讜 讘讛 讚讬谉 转讜专讛 讗诇讗 讚讬谞讬 讚诪讙讬讝转讗 诇讚讬讬谞讜 讗诇讗 讗讬诪讗 砖讛注诪讬讚讜 讚讬谞讬讛诐 注诇 讚讬谉 转讜专讛 讜诇讗 注讘讚讜 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉:

鈥abbi Yo岣nan said: Jerusalem was destroyed only for the fact that they adjudicated cases on the basis of Torah law in the city. Rather, what else should they have done? Should they rather have adjudicated cases on the basis of arbitrary decisions [demagizeta]? Rather, say: That they established their rulings on the basis of Torah law and did not go beyond the letter of the law

  • 讘讘讗 诪爪讬注讗 驻讙.

专讘讛 讘专 讘专 讞谞谉 转讘专讜 诇讬讛 讛谞讛讜 砖拽讜诇讗讬 讞讘讬转讗 讚讞诪专讗 砖拽诇 诇讙诇讬诪讬讬讛讜 讗转讜 讗诪专讜 诇专讘 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讛讘 诇讛讜 讙诇讬诪讬讬讛讜. 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讚讬谞讗 讛讻讬 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讗讬谉 诇诪注谉 转诇讱 讘讚专讱 讟讜讘讬诐 (诪砖诇讬 讘). 讬讛讬讘 诇讛讜 讙诇讬诪讬讬讛讜 讗诪专讜 诇讬讛 注谞讬讬 讗谞谉 讜讟专讞讬谞谉 讻讜诇讛 讬讜诪讗 讜讻驻讬谞谉 讜诇讬转 诇谉 诪讬讚讬 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讝讬诇 讛讘 讗讙专讬讬讛讜 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讚讬谞讗 讛讻讬 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讗讬谉 讜讗专讞讜转 爪讚讬拽讬诐 转砖诪讜专 (诪砖诇讬 讘).

Some porters [negligently (see Rashi and Maharsha)] broke a barrel of wine belonging to Rabbah Bar Bar Channah.聽 Thereupon he seized their garments; so, they went and complained to Rav.聽 “Return their garment” he ordered.聽 “Is that the law,” he inquired?聽 “Yes,” he rejoined, “that you shall walk in the way of good people” (Mishlei 2:20).聽 Their garments having been returned, they observed, “We are poor men, have worked all day, and are hungry.聽 Are we to get nothing?”聽 “Go and pay them” he ordered.聽 “Is that the law,” he asked?聽 “Yes,” he rejoined, “and keep the path of the righteous” (Mishlei 2:21).

 

 

  • 讘讬转 讞讚砖 讟讜专 砖讜诇讞谉 注专讜讱 讞讜砖谉 诪砖驻讟 讬讘:讚

鈥ψ愖欁 讘住讜祝 讛讗讜诪谞讬诐 讘注讜讘讚讗 讚专讘讛 讘专 讘专 讞谞讗 讚转讘专讜 诇讬讛 讛谞讬 砖拽讜诇讗讬 讞讘讬转讗 讚讞诪专讗 砖拽诇 诇讙诇讬诪讬讬讛讜 讗转讗 讗”诇 诇专讘 讗”诇 讛讘 诇讛讜 讙诇讬诪讬讬讛讜 讗”诇 讚讬谞讗 讛讻讬 讗”诇 诇诪注谉 转诇讱 讘讚专讱 讟讜讘讬诐 讜诪讬讬转讬 诇讛 专讘讬谞讜 诇拽诪谉 讘住讬诪谉 砖”讚 讜驻讬专砖 专砖”讬 讘讚专讱 讟讜讘讬诐 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉 注讻”诇 诪砖诪注 讚专讘 讛讜讛 讻讬讬祝 诇讬讛 诇专讘讛 讘专 讘专 讞谞讗 讚讗诐 诇讗 讻谉 诪讗讬 拽讗诪专 诇讬讛 讚讬谞讗 讛讻讬 讗诐 诇讗 讘讗 诇讻讜驻讜鈥ψ曌涀 讘诪爪讗 讗专谞拽讬 讘砖讜拽 讘驻专拽 讗诇讜 诪爪讬讗讜转 讚拽讗诪专 讞讬讬讘 诇讛讞讝讬专 诪砖讜诐 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉 诇驻讞讜转 诪砖诪注 讞讬讬讘 诇讛讞讝讬专 讘讘讗 诇爪讗转 讬讚讬 砖诪讬诐 讻讚讗诪专 驻专拽 讛讙讜讝诇 讘转专讗 讗诪转谞讬’ 讚讛讗讜诪专 诇讞讘讬专讜 讙讝诇转讬讱 讜讻讜’ 讚讞讬讬讘 讘讘讗 诇爪讗转 讬讚讬 砖诪讬诐 讚讗诐 诇讗 讻谉 诪讗讬 讞讬讬讘 讜诇讻谉 驻住拽 讛诪专讚讻讬 讚讻讬讬驻讬谞谉 诇讬讛 诇诪讬注讘讚 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉 讗诐 讬讻讜诇转 讘讬讚讜 诇注砖讜转 砖讛讜讗 注砖讬专 讜砖讻谉 驻住拽 专讗讘”谉 讜讗讘讬 讛注讝专”讬 讜讻谉 讻转讘 讘讗讙讜讚讛 驻专拽 讗诇讜 诪爪讬讗讜转 讜讝”诇 讞讬讬讘 诇讛讞讝讬专 诪砖讜诐 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉 讜讻谉 讗谞讜 谞讜讛讙讬诐 诇讛讞讝讬专 讜讻谉 驻住拽 专讗讘”谉 讜专讗讘讬”讛 讚讻讬讬驻讬谞谉 诇讛讞讝讬专 讛讬讻讗 讚讛诪讜爪讗 注砖讬专 注讻”诇

The end of perek 讛讗讜诪谞讬诐 cites the anecdote of Rabbah bar bar Hannah where the porters broke his wine barrel, and he took their clothing (as payment/collateral). They went and told Rav, and Rav to him to give them their clothes. And he asked: Is this the law? And he responded, 鈥淚n order to walk in the ways of the good.鈥 And our teacher brought this in siman 304. And Rashi explained, 鈥渋n the way of the good鈥 – within the line of the law, end quote. It sounds like rav forced Rabbah bar bar Hannah (to act within the line of the law), for if not, what did he mean by 鈥渢his is the law鈥 if he did not mean to force him鈥nd likewise in the case of one who found a purse in the marketplace in chapter Eilu metziot, where he says that one is obligated to return the item in order to act within the line of the law: it at least sounds like the person is required to do so in order to fulfill one鈥檚 Divine requirement (even if there鈥檚 no earthly court requirement) as is said in the latter chapter Ha-gozel regarding the mishnah that One who says to another person, I鈥檝e stolen from you, etc., who is obligated if they are trying to fulfill a Divine obligation. If not, what does being obligated mean? And therefore the Mordechai ruled that we force a person to act within the line of the law if the person has the financial means to do so; and likewise the Ra鈥檃van and the Aviezri and the Agudah in chapter Eilu metziot, and this is is language: one is required to return it for the sake of acting within the line of the law; and such is our practice to return it; and likewise the Ra鈥檃van and Ra鈥檃vyah ruled to force the founder to return it if the finder has means, end quote.


  • 专讘讬谞讜 讞谞谞讗诇 讘讘讗 诪爪讬注讗 讻讚:

专讘 讬讛讜讚讛 讛讜讛 讗讝讬诇 讘转专讬讛 讚诪专 砖诪讜讗诇 讘砖讜拽讗 讚讘讬 讚讬住讗 讗诪专 诇讬讛 诪爪讗 讻讗谉 讗专谞拽讬 诪讛讜 讗诪专 诇讬讛 讛专讬 讛谉 砖诇讜. 讘讗 讬砖专讗诇 讜谞转谉 住讬诪谞讬讛 诪讛讜 讗诪专 诇讜 讗诐 专讜爪讛 诇注砖讜转 诇驻谞讬诐 诪砖讜专转 讛讚讬谉 诪讞讝讬专 讻讚讗讘讜讛 讚砖诪讜讗诇 讗砖讻讞 讞诪专讗 讘诪讚讘专讗 讜讗讛讚专讬谞讛讜 讘转专 讬”讘 讬专讞讬 砖转讗

Rav Yehuda followed Shmuel in the marketplace. He said to him: If one found a purse here, what (should one do)? He responded, It belongs to the finder. If a Jew came and articulated distinguishing marks of the item, what (should one do)? He responded: If one wishes to act within the letter of the law, one should/may return it, like the case of the Shmuel鈥檚 father who found a donkey in the wilderness and returned it after 12 months.

  • Dr. Deborah Barer, Ethics and Halakhah: Reframing the Questions Journal of Jewish Ethics, Vol. 5, No. 2 (2019), 192

Rabbinic literature often presents rule-based decision-making as the primary or standard model of reasoning鈥iscretionary judgment differs from rule-based decision-making in several key ways. Both types of judgment are attentive to the details of the case at hand, but while rule-based decision-making uses those details to isolate and identify the appropriate rules and precedents that provide guidance in the case, discretionary judgment considers how to balance those details in order to achieve an optimal outcome for the actors involved in the case. Such decision-makers are still constrained by existing rules; while rabbis acting lifnim mi-shurat ha-din diverge from the normative expectations established by law, they never explicitly transgress rabbinic prohibitions. Despite this awareness of legal constraints, however, their focus is not primarily on rules but on outcomes. When exercising discretion, the decision-maker does not act as an impartial judge; he is at the center of the process and is personally impacted by the outcome of the decision. As a result, various 鈥渆xtra-legal鈥 factors may impact his choices, such as his relationships with the other individuals involved.

  • Dr. Christine Hayes, 鈥淟egal Truth, Right Answers and Best Answers: Dworkin and the Rabbis,鈥 Din茅 Israel Vol. 25, 2008, pp. 73-121聽

As indicated, a norm or ruling may represent 鈥樷(shurat) ha-din鈥欌 (lit., [the line of] the law), which refers to the theoretically correct position, or 鈥樷榣ifnim mishurat ha-din鈥欌 鈥 within, or just short of the line of the law. The metaphor of law鈥檚 line strongly implies a 鈥樷榗orrect鈥欌 answer 鈥 represented by the line. One who crosses over the line (avar) commits a transgression 鈥 a negative deviation from the correct law. But one who stops short of the line of the law 鈥 renouncing thefull rights and entitlements due to him in law while remaining within the area bounded by the line of the law 鈥 is acting piously and mercifully. Such behavior is idealized in rabbinic literature, so much so that on occasion, standing squarely on the strict line of the law is viewed negatively in comparison. We see this idea in b. BM 30b: 鈥樷楯erusalem was destroyed because everyone insisted on the strict law of the Torah (din ha-Torah) rather than stopping short of the strict law (lifnim mishurat ha-din).鈥欌 Here again, we see that theoretically correct law can be destructive when applied in practice. The pious individual, who prioritizes religious values such as humility, compassion, modesty, peace, or charity should at times forego his right to the theoretically correct norm or ruling (stop short of the strict law) for in so doing he upholds these other values. While not exercising the鈥樷榗orrect鈥欌 option, the pious individual who remains lifnim mishurat ha-din chooses what is in that particular situation a superior (though not more legally correct) option.聽

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the Rosh Beit Midrash and a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Passionate about bringing Torah into conversation with contemporary life, she teaches聽Talmud from the Balcony, an occasional learning seminar exposing the big ideas, questions, and issues motivating Talmudic discussions; she authored聽Circumventing the Law: Rabbinic Perspectives on Legal Loopholes and Integrity (available at 50% off today with promo code FOUNDERSDAY24) which uses halakhic loopholes as a lens for understanding rabbinic views on law and ethics; and she co-hosts聽For Heaven鈥檚 Sake, a bi-weekly podcast with Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi, exploring contemporary issues related to Israel and the Jewish world.聽Elana聽has also started聽TEXTing; a podcast where she and guest scholars study Torah texts that engage issues of the moment for the Jewish world. She lives in Manhattan with her beloved family.

 


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Beyond the Daf is where you will discover enlightening shiurim led by remarkable women, delving deep into the intricacies of Talmudic teachings, and exploring relevant and thought-provoking topics that arise from the Daf.

Dr. Elana Stein Hain

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the Rosh Beit Midrash and a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Passionate about bringing Torah into conversation with contemporary life, she teaches Talmud from the Balcony, an occasional learning seminar exposing the big ideas, questions, and issues motivating talmudic discussions; she authored Circumventing the Law: Rabbinic Perspectives on Legal Loopholes and Integrity (pre-order discount code: PENN-ESHAIN30) which uses halakhic loopholes as a lens for understanding rabbinic views on law and ethics; and she co-hosts For Heaven鈥檚 Sake, a bi-weekly podcast with Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi, exploring contemporary issues related to Israel and the Jewish world. In mid-January, Elana will be starting a new podcast called TEXTing, where she and guest scholars study Torah texts that engage issues of the moment for the Jewish world. She lives in Manhattan with her beloved family.
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