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In a comment on another question, R' Gershon Gold linked to a page on Beit El Yeshiva's Web site that starts its discussion of a point of halacha with a quotation from Chochmas ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus). I don't recall ever before seeing this book cited in an halachic discussion, and very rarely in a Jewish context at all. I wonder: What is its status? Specifically, (1) is it considered reliable[1] as a source of Jewish wisdom and outlook, and (2) can its pronouncements be used[1] to decide halacha?


[1] When I say "reliable as a source" and "can be used", I mean that the entire book is reliable or can be used. I do see that Wikipedia says that the Bavli quotes from ben Sira, but that may possibly be isolated excerpts that are considered valuable even if the book as a whole is not.

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Have you seen those Bavli sites inside? It calls Ben Sira "Ketuvim". –  Double AA Mar 27 at 18:58
    
What makes a book "good"? –  Double AA Mar 27 at 19:20
    
i'm guessing similar? judaism.stackexchange.com/q/22818/759 –  Double AA Mar 27 at 19:43
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of interest: aishdas.org/toratemet/en_canon.html –  Menachem Mar 27 at 20:50
    
@DoubleAA, re Bavli, I hadn't and haven't, but, anyway, that means "written things"; re "good", I thought the question's clear. Isn't it? –  msh210 Mar 28 at 1:06

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Ben Sira was a matter of dispute in the Talmud if it may be studied.

Rebbi Akiva includes in the Mishna's list of those who have no portion in the world to come (Sanhedrin 90a)

ר"ע אומר אף הקורא בספרים חיצוניים

Also someone who reads external books

The Gemara (100b) quotes the opinion of Rav Yosef:

בספר בן סירא נמי אסור למיקרי

It is also forbidden to read Ben Sira

Abaye then questions what about the works of Ben Sira is objectionable, and cites a long list of possibly objectionable teachings of Ben Sira, all of which he finds parallel to in words of Chazal, until he finally finds a statement which is objectionable - Rashi explains the objection as follows (s.v. לא יכלי ליה)

וכל הני דברי רוח

This is all nonsense

The Gemara concludes with the statement of Rav Yosef:

מילי מעלייתא דאית ביה דרשינן להו

The positive ideas in it, we expound

on which Rashi comments (s.v. דרשינן)

כלומר אמרינן להו בפרקא ומשמעינן להו לכולי עלמא

Meaning, we say them in public discourse and teach them to the public

From this discussion, it seems that even Abaye, in his defense of the book of Ben Sira, is only because of external validation of it's ideas. By implication,however, he finds all of the other ideas valid, and therefore one could draw on them. Rav Yosef seems to maintain that there are objectionable ideas in the book, but if you happen to know which ones are valuable ideas, you can teach them.

The Talmud does cite Ben Sira in various places (ex. Chagiga 13a), seemingly validating it, however those could conform to Rav Yosef's conclusion that if you know it you can teach it.

So as a reliable source of Jewish wisdom, it seems that it does not qualify.

As far as halacha is concerned, it would be difficult to imagine why it would be more independently reliable for halacha, and it is not explicitly quoted in Sha"s in a halachic discussion. Rashi in Eruvin 65a s.v. בצר אל יורה attributes a seemingly halachic statement to Ben Sira

אמר רב כל שאין דעתו מיושבת עליו אל יתפלל משום שנא' בצר אל יורה

Anyone who is unsettled should not pray, as it says "in sorrow do not shoot"

Rashi: ושמא בספר בן סירא הוא

Maybe this is in the book of Ben Sira

Tosefos offers alternative explanations of the source. However, this statement is not codified in halacha, and from context of the Gemara there it seems it may be more of good advice than a statement of halacha. Additionally, it happens to be that this sentiment is independently validated elsewhere - Berachos 31a:

ת"ר אין עומדין להתפלל לא מתוך עצבות

The Rabbis taught: one should not get up to pray in a state of sadness

and would therefore fit into the aforementioned rule of Rav Yosef.

So as a decider of halacha, it is at best tenuous.

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hebrewbooks.org/shas.aspx?mesechta=3&daf=65&format=text אמר רב חייא בר אשי אמר רב כל שאין דעתו מיושבת עליו אל יתפלל משום שנא' בצר אל יורה רבי חנינא ביומא דרתח לא מצלי אמר בצר אל יורה כתיב. See Rashi, though see Tosfos. (It's brought Lehalacha here) –  Shmuel Brin Mar 27 at 22:11

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