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Q&A

Groundbreaking disagreement in the Gemara?

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Last Shabbat, one of the community, who came from Ethiopia, gave a lesson about the different customs an traditions that they had back there at Ethiopia.

He was pointing out several major differences between what the Ethiopian tradition and the Gemara-Rishonim-Shulchan Aruch way of Psika that we practice.(e.g. Sfirat Ha-Omer starts after the seventh day of Passover, rather then the first)

At this point, one of the listeners said that now, that he knows better, he can fix all of the mistakes that they made back there, since they didn't know the Tora ShBeal Pe (Oral tradition).

After the lesson, I told that guy that it is very ignorant of him, and since they have father-to-son tradition all the way back to Bait Rishon (first temple), well before the Mishna, it is legitimate and they should keep it.

I was able to make him change his mind about most of the subjects, except one - the Sfirat Haomer start time. he said that since it is impossible that there was a disagreement about it ever, because Shavuot was celebrated once and not twice, so they must be wrong about it.

I told him that even so, since they have a tradition of a different opinion, it is still valid. [although, when the Jews of Ethiopia came to Israel, they started to count from after the first festival]

I am looking for a similar level of disagreement at the Mishna\Gemara, that is, a disagreement that holds even that there is a established practice that supports one opinion.

The closest I could find is the disagreement about if a Yovel is part of the Shmita cycle, but it is not good enough, since that the cycle count probably ceased at some point.

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9 comments

I couldn't find a better title for this question. Feel free to edit. Alaychem‭ about 1 month ago

"(e.g. Sfirat Ha-Omer starts after the seconed festival of Passover, rather then the first)" what do you mean by that? You mean second day of Pesach? Why would anyone say it's after the first day of Pesach? It doesn't fit the verses... robev‭ about 1 month ago

@robev I meant the second Yom Tov. I fixed for celerity. Alaychem‭ about 1 month ago

Fascinating. Both of the stated cases - Sefirah and Yovel - have to do with things that, at their core, require living in Israel, and clearly will be observed by all Jews identically once we have the Temple again (as opposed to, for example, disagreements about many other things that are not inherently dependent on a public act (Omer) or statement of Sanhedrin (counting of Yovel, etc.). But as far as Sefirah, I wonder if the Ethiopian way is based on "Mimacharat Hashabbat" - the day after the manassehkatz‭ about 1 month ago

Shabbat being interpreted to mean "after the Shabbat = 7th day = end of week" of Pesach, rather than the traditional accepted "day after 1st day of Pesach, which is a Shabbat-like day" or the alternative (Samaritan? Karaite? I get all those confused...) "day after actual Shabbat" which led to some groups trying to force Pesach to start on Shabbat, so that the Omer offering/start of Sefirah would be on a Sunday, which in turn, IIRC, led to manipulation of Rosh Chodesh. manassehkatz‭ about 1 month ago

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The main discussion regarding when to begin counting occurs in Menachot 65a.12-66a.15. The discussion is prompted by the Boethusian practice of interpreting the charge of Leviticus 23:15 to begin counting ממחרת השבת, lit. "from the morrow of the Sabbath," as referring to the literal weekly Sabbath, and therefore they would always observe Shavuoth on a Sunday. As we know, the oral tradition is not this way, and eight different proofs (two of which are mentioned twice) are cited in defense of our practice. For the sake of completion, I will cite all eight proofs here; however, not all of them will be relevant to our discussion.

  1. Rabban Yokhanan ben Zakkai: One verse states (Leviticus 23:16) that we count fifty days; another verse states (Leviticus 23:15) that we count only seven complete weeks (i.e. forty-nine days). His resolution of the conflict is that in some years you will have seven complete weeks (i.e. Sunday through Saturday), which occurs when we begin counting on a Sunday; other years we will only have fifty complete days.
  2. Rabbi Eliezer: We are commanded (Deuteronomy 16:9), "Seven weeks shall you count for yourself." This implies that the counting should hinge on a Sabbath which is "for yourself," i.e. in our power to institute, i.e. a festival and not the weekly Sabbath.
  3. Rabbi Yehoshua: In two different contexts we are commanded to count days before sanctifying: once regarding sanctifying the month (derived from Numbers 11:20) and once regarding sanctifying Shavuoth (our discussion). Just as you begin counting the days of the month from a fixed day of a month (i.e. the first), so, too, do you begin counting toward Shavuoth on a fixed day of a month (excluding the count beginning on a different day of Nissan each year, depending on which day of Passover is Sunday).
  4. Rabbi Yishmael: The Leviticus verses imply a connection between the Omer offering on Passover, from which we begin counting, to the Two Loaves offering on Shavuoth, toward which we count. Just as the latter is at the beginning of its festival, so, too, the former is at the beginning of its festival.
  5. Rabbi Yehudah ben Betheira: A Gezeirah Shavah of the word שבת in Leviticus 23:15 and Leviticus 23:16 teaches that just as the שבת of the latter verse refers to the beginning of its festival (Shavuoth), so, too, the שבת of the former verse refers to the beginning of its festival (Passover).
  6. Rabbi Yosei bar Yehudah: "Fifty days" implies that in every year, Shavuoth will fall out exactly fifty days following the beginning of Passover; this does not hold if we begin counting from the Sunday of Passover, in which case Shavuoth might be anywhere from fifty to fifty-six days following the beginning of Passover.[1]
  7. Rabbi Yosei: The verse doesn't say that one should begin counting following the "Sabbath of Passover." If it meant the regular, weekly Sabbath, it could theoretically mean any of them! It must be, then, that it refers to the festival of Passover, not the Sabbath of Passover.
  8. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar: One verse states (Deuteronomy 16:8) that we eat Matzah for six days, while another verse states (Exodus 12:15) that we eat Matzah for seven days. How do we reconcile this prohibition? The Omer is brought on the second day of Passover, permitting Matzah of the new crop for the latter six days; however, Matzah from an old crop may be eaten all seven days. Only if the Omer is brought on the second day of Passover does this resolution work. He then expounds Deuteronomy 16:9 and Leviticus 23:15-16 to prove that we begin counting specifically on the day the Omer is brought, and that we begin counting on the preceding night; as the Omer must be brought on the second day of Passover, the counting begins on that day as well.

Rava proceeds to dispute five of these proofs, allowing to stand numbers 4, 5, and 8 (Rabbis Yishmael, Yehudah ben Betheira, and Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar). He disproves Rabban Yokhanan ben Zakkai's proof by an alternative resolution of the contradiction; Rabbi Yosei bar Yehudah's by suggesting the verse means fifty, excluding the difference due to Passover not always being a Sunday; Rabbi Yosei refutes his own opinion by demonstrating the ambiguity of שבת, and in the actual text he proceeds to offer the same answer as Rabbi Yehudah ben Betheirah (which Rava accepts); and, importantly for our discussion, he refutes the remaining opinions by saying that you haven't proven that it should be counted starting after the beginning of Passover. The remaining proofs are solid, all of them irrefutably linking it to the beginning of Passover.

I'm a big fan of confirming textual variants before assuming that you've got a good reading of the Gemara. At this point, I'm more surprised when a discussion has not fundamentally been altered more than when it has. It's entirely possible that the text was corrupted over time in favor of our first-days practice, right?

To my surprise, this entire page of Gemara is virtually intact! According to FJMS[2], there are only abbreviation or grammatical variances, not halacha-altering ones. Critically, Rava's refutation of Rabbi Eliezer's and Rabbi Yehoshua's opinions, based on their not linking it to the beginning of Passover, remains intact across manuscript editions.

Therefore, it would seem safe to say that either A) there's been a miscommunication somewhere as to what, exactly, the Ethiopians do, or B) the Ethiopians are wrong.


  1. Nowadays, Passover can only fall out on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, and therefore this argument would be adjusted that Shavuoth could fall out on day fifty, fifty-two, fifty-four, or fifty-six. However, at the time, we did not have a predetermined calendar, and as such, any day of any month could fall out on any day of the week. ↩︎

  2. I can't link directly to the page, but you can easily navigate there from this link. Login is required, but registration is free. ↩︎

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2 comments

I don't see how in any way this addressed "I am looking for a similar level of disagreement at the Mishna\Gemara, that is, a disagreement that holds even that there is a established practice that supports one opinion." robev‭ about 1 month ago

Thank you for your time. If I understand right, you tried to "kill the question" by proving that the Ethiopian tradition is a mistake. Even if it's true, I still looking for a disagreement that holds against a practice. Alaychem‭ about 1 month ago

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