The Story and the Reasons: Daf Yomi #2

Continuing to notice what kind of sources are included in the Talmud and what use the rabbis make of them: today’s daf includes Rabbi Yosei [Jose ben Halafta] relating how he met, conversed with, and learned from the prophet Elijah:

תַּנְיָא, אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי
It was taught [in material outside the Mishnah] that Rabbi Yosei said
פַּעַם אַחַת הָיִיתִי מְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ
וְנִכְנַסְתִּי לְחוּרְבָּה אַחַת מֵחוּרְבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם לְהִתְפַּלֵּל
Once I was walking along the road
and I entered a ruined site among the ruins of Jerusalem to pray.
בָּא אֵלִיָּהוּ זָכוּר לַטּוֹב
Elijah, his memory for good, came
…לְאַחַר שֶׁסִּייַּמְתִּי תְּפִלָּתִי אָמַר לִי …
…When I finished praying, he said to me…
— B. Ber 3a

Rabbi Yosei (Jewish Encyclopedia; Sefaria) is recognized as a very important teacher of the 2nd Century CE, during the period of the Tanaaim. Steinsaltz says “one of the greatest of the tannai’m…the imprint of his teachings is evident throughout tanaitic literature” (Koren Talmud Bavli, Berakhot p.14 “personalities”).

This story includes Rabbi Yosei’s declaration that he learned three things — about when, where, and how to prayer the Amidah when traveling — from this incident:

  • one may not enter a ruin,
  • one may pray along the road,
  • one who prays on the road uses an abbreviated prayer.

The story goes on to tell of heavenly voices Rabbi Yosei heard and of Elijah’s addition of God’s perspective on those voices. The Gemara does not appear to judge the story or its narrator or dispute its conclusions. Neither does it adopt as given what Rabbi Yosei learned from Elijah. Instead, discussion moves on to provide separate reasoning for Elijah’s first teaching about not entering ruins.

So, I believe we can add folklore and personal experiences of teachers to yesterday’s list of sources that inform decision-making discussion, noting along the way:

  • there is no Talmudic objection to Rabbi Yosei changing his own practice based on his encounter with Elijah;
  • there is no Talmudic suggestion that any one else take another teacher’s private experience as proof, on its own, for new practice; and
  • the Talmud includes many forms of thinking and expression as part of its methodology.



PS — I won’t quote in depth again from “Harvey,” but I cannot help note that I personally have learned a lot from Elwood P. Dowd telling us about his encounters with a teacher, whom few can see and whom Elwood happened to come across while walking on the street alone.

Photo by Josiah Lewis

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