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In discussing the source that Megillat Esther may be read on the 11th, 12th, or 13th of Adar in addition to the 14th and 15th of Adar, the Talmud (Megillah 2a) has the following exchange:

What we mean [by our question] is this: Let us see now. All these dates were laid down by the Men of the Great Assembly. For if you should [deny this and affirm] that the Men of the Great Assembly laid down only the fourteenth and fifteenth, [is it possible that] the [later] Rabbis should have come and annulled a regulation made by the Men of the Great Assembly, seeing that we have learnt, ‘One Beth din cannot annul the ordinances of another unless it is superior to it in number and in wisdom’? Obviously, therefore, all these days must have been laid down by the Men of the Great Assembly, [and we ask therefore], where are they hinted [in the Scripture]?

The Talmud argues that all the dates must have been ordained by the Men of the Great Assembly, because a later court would not have been able to change the law laid down by them. However, in this very paragraph the Talmud cites an exception wherein a later court can overrule an earlier court – namely where the later court is greater in both wisdom and number. Why, then, does the Talmud here assume that a later court couldn't have changed the rules of when Megillat Esther can be read? Perhaps the later court was indeed greater than the Men of the Great Assembly in both wisdom and number?

Is it for some unstated reason taken for granted that no later court could have surpassed the Men of the Great Assembly? Do any commentators suggest this, or offer any other explanation?

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The Men of the Great Assembly included Neviem (prophets) They were the last group that included prophets

Generally speaking, each generation is smaller than the previous generation. It is taken for granted that no greater group could have arisen. When the Talmud talks about a greater Beis Din it means within the same time period.

Rashi on the Gemorah says היכי אתו רבנן. דבתרייהו ועקרו תקנתא והתירו להקדים בתמיה

Rashi is saying this principle. There was no way any future generation was greater than the Men of the Great Assembly and could have overridden them.

  • Is this your own interpretation, or can you source it somewhere? – Alex Dec 22 '19 at 20:32
  • Isn't that what Rashi is saying? To translate, The Talmud asks How did the Rabbis come? Rashi explains that are later than them etc. – Schmerel Dec 22 '19 at 20:34
  • I don’t necessarily see that in Rashi. It sounds like Rashi is just explaining what would have happened: at some point subsequent to the original institution other rabbis would have added the additional three days. – Alex Dec 22 '19 at 20:35
  • I do not think this is correct. The fact that there were prophets on the court does not automatically mean that they cannot be overridden. Your second point is consistent with what is taught in yeshivos today, but I don't think it is supported. I also agree with Alex that Rashi is not saying that no later Rabbis could have changed the decree, only that the Gemara is asking on what basis they may have done so. – simyou Dec 23 '19 at 15:13
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Generally speaking, as Schmerel points out, every generation considered itself inferior to its predecessors. The rare exceptions were remembered: the court of Rebbi Yehuda haNasi, for example, was called “בי דינא דשרו משחא”, the court that permitted oil, because it overturned a previous ban on oil produced by non-Jews.

To directly answer your question: We know that the established dates were not changed by a later court because of the rule requiring such a later court to be “greater in wisdom and in number” and (implied but unstated) if this had happened there would be an explicit tradition about it, which there isn’t.

(Schmerel’s answer also explains why it was particularly unlikely for any court to be superior to the Great Assembly.)

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