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PTIJ? I don't know. You tell me. I hope this stays up long enough for me to get an answer or two.

You can approach a text with some levity (which does not preclude seriousness), with neutrality, or with severity. Witness this story from the Talmud [Berachot 48b]:

The future King Saul asks some young maidens by a water well: “Is the prophet Samuel here?” Here is what the girls answer, verbatim from the Tanach:

He is. Behold, he is before you. Make haste now, for he came today to the city, for there is a sacrifice of the people today in the high place. As soon as you come to the city, you shall find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat -- for the people will not eat until he comes, because he blesses the sacrifice, and afterwards those who are invited eat. So therefore go up, for about this time you shall find him. [1Samuel 9:12-13]

The Gemara asks: Why did they make such a long story of it?

Three rabbis give an answer:

  • One is funny. (Funny to ME. Your mileage may vary.) He said: Because Saul was very handsome, and the girls wanted to feast their eyes on his good looks for as long as possible.

  • Another is neutral. He said: Because women like to talk. (This may strike some as funny, others as sexist, but it echoes what the Talmud says elsewhere: Ten measures of speech descended to the world. The women took nine [and the men took one.] [Kiddushin 49b])

  • The third is a stern, no-nonsense answer: Because Saul was not meant to be king until a certain specific moment, and God made the girls talk a lot to delay him until that moment.

In this story and similar ones, which of the three is the preferred attitude? Since the Talmud records all three, are all three acceptable? Is any of them disrespectful? Can all three coexist without accusations flying back and forth?

Remember, Ellu v'ellu. And God laughed.

  • Possible duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/9093/170 – msh210 Mar 10 at 22:32
  • @msh210 I don't think he's asking which is correct, but rather do other sources reject or accept one of these options over another, or if they don't actually contradict. In the latter case, he's not asking in theory how eilu v'eilu works, but rather how it would be applied here. – DonielF Mar 10 at 22:57
  • Please edit your question to clarify whether you're asking about this particular dispute, as @DonielF seems to have understood, or just using it as an example and asking about such disputes in general, as I understood. – msh210 Mar 10 at 23:06
  • @msh210 -- Done. I also added an answer to your reference, judaism.stackexchange.com/q/9093/170. – Maurice Mizrahi Mar 10 at 23:12
  • +1 A wonderful question. Why don't you think you'll get precisely 3 types of answers, just as you quoted? Keep in mind that ALL of those interpretations aren't "traditional", they are personal speculations. I won't be surprised if there could be tens and hundreds of different attitudes toward anything written in Sages, not only 3. – Al Berko May 2 at 16:51
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Chazal tell us (Sukkah 21b and Avodah Zarah 19b) that "even the mundane speech of Torah scholars requires study." So even if we suppose that some of the opinions in this passage were meant to be humorous, the fact that they were said by great Torah scholars - and more so, that they're recorded as part of the eternal Torah - means that there's much more to them.

In this particular case, the Bnei Yisas'char actually explains (in a sefer of his called Magid Taaluma) that all three opinions are true, and all of them were meant as hints to Shaul about his kingship.

Mesilos Haneviim writes that the point Chazal were making is that Hashem directs people's will (the "funny" answer) and their nature (the "funny/sexist" answer) to accomplish His plans in the world (the "stern, no-nonsense" answer).

So this seems to fit into the "eilu v'eilu" idea. Chazal may sometimes express things in ways that strike us as funny or silly or exaggerated (and maybe were meant, on the surface, that way, like Rabbah's jokes to his students before he began teaching), but we should realize that there are deep layers of meaning in them.

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