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My daughter came home from school with a textbook response for what "emunas chachomim" is. I disagreed strongly with what was written in the book, so I'm not even going to say what they said. Rather, I will ask the learned forum here if they have any good sources for what the origin is of this term, and what it means.

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  • As I understand, it means that if a Chacham makes a halachic decision or offers advice or guidance, we implicitly trust him b/c he is a Chacham. We do not doubt what he says or question how or why he says it. I question your use of the "source" tag, as you are not asking for the source in your question. I suggest you edit the question or delete the tag.
    – DanF
    Aug 18, 2015 at 19:00
  • I think it means simple people need to respect the wise ones, and trust them, they are learning for you, not, being like I did not learn this and I do not believe you and what you are saying is probably just maid up by you,
    – hazoriz
    Aug 18, 2015 at 19:09
  • See he.wikipedia.org/wiki/… (if you dont like the Hebrew you can always try translate.google.com)
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 19, 2015 at 1:17
  • related somewhat judaism.stackexchange.com/q/28773/1857
    – ray
    Aug 19, 2015 at 5:43
  • imgur.com/a/2oykb if anyone wants to read this chapter and write a summary go right ahead Oct 22, 2015 at 20:53

6 Answers 6

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Emunat Chachamim צomes from Avot 6:6 where a list of 48 ways of achieving Torah wisdom are mentioned. There are many commentatries on Avot in general and this mishna in particular, all saying slightly different things. However..

Traditionally, this phrase is meant to mean that you must trust those people who are wiser than you to give over the tradition accurately.

A story is told in the Talmud (Shabbos 31a) where a convert asks Rabbi Hillel for the written Torah but not the Oral Torah. The first day the student is taught the aleph-bet properly. The second day, he is taught the Aleph Bet wrongly. The student asks what is going on, and Rabbi Hillel says something along the lines of: "Just as you trust me to teach you the written Torah, you must trust me with the Oral Torah."

This is the basis of Emunat Chachamim.

As a general rule, it is a good idea to trust your teachers and not question them every step of the way. This leads you to be able to gain more knowledge more quickly, and once you know more, you can then go back and question the things that were difficult or not very believable.

As they say, in design and literature, one must know the rules well before you can successfully break them.

Rabbi Aviner basically says the same thing I'm writing here, but with a very diferent tone, so it's worth reading and growing from it. (Also giving very different and extended sources)

Rabbi Rabinovitch has an article in Hakirah (translated from Hebrew) that goes through many sources explaining the term. (And also basically says what I wrote here, but in more detail)

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    I believe the story that is told in the Talmud is actually of Hillel, not R' Akiva. (Shabbos 31a)
    – jake
    Nov 25, 2011 at 10:59
  • Thanks, for some reason I'm always confusing those two in my mind.
    – avi
    Nov 25, 2011 at 12:46
  • +1 Excellent succinct answer. Emunat Chachamim is extremely important. As a follow-up - what if you know and can prove that the rav is wrong? Let's say he's consistently wrong and advises people wrongly?
    – DanF
    Jul 30, 2019 at 13:37
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I think Avi nailed it, just to add my own spin.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote that he welcomed critiques of his halachic stances, if someone felt the sources better indicated a different view. He made no promises that his final product of p'sak (ruling) was perfect every time, only that his process was a good one and that he worked on it quite a bit.

So I can believe that most rabbis mean very well and are trying very hard without having to believe that they're therefore always right.

But I strongly suspect that this term's transition from one thing on a list of 48 to a major buzzword only happened within the past 150 years. Would be fascinating to search for the term's prevalence elsewhere.

UPDATE: THE TERM DOES NOT APPEAR AT ALL IN THE TALMUD BAVLI

(At least according to my search script.)

And of course Avos Chapter 6 isn't technically Mishnah, it's braisa that was added on later.

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    Did you try a search of similar phrases like Emunat Tzkanim, or Emnuah Rabbanim, etc? There is no question btw that the new and political meaning of the term, is just that, new and political.
    – avi
    Nov 26, 2011 at 17:57
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The Machzor Vitry (429) writes that this means believing the rabbis, unlike the Sadducees who denied the Oral Law.

באמונת חכמים. שמאמין בדבריהם. ולא כצדוקי' ובייתוסין

This is a very limited explanation which could certainly be interpreted as referring to acceptance of only the most basic structure of the Oral Law. This might not include the likes of personal advice.

The Beit Mordechai (vol. 2 #28) notes the aforementioned Machzor Vitry and emphasizes the implication that the statement pertains to acceptance of the Oral Law.

במחזור ויטרי פירוש לאבות ע' 560 "באמונת חכמים: שמאמין בדבריהם, ולא כצדוקין ובייתוסין". ובעקבותיו במדרש שמואל לאבות שם: כלומר, שיאמין בכל מה שיאמרו חז"ל כאילו ניתנו למשה בסיני, ועל זה נאמר לא תסור מן הדבר אשר יגידו לך ימין ושמאל, כלומר שמקבל ומכיר במדרש חכמים, מפני שזהו היסוד לתורה שבעל פה. ע' ברכות יא, ב: למקרא צריך לברך, ולמדרש אין צריך לברך. ופרש"י ד"ה מדרש: הוא קרוב למקרא כגון מכילתא, ספרא וספרי שהם מדרשי מקראות.

Rabbi Yosef al-Ashkar (15th-16th cent.) suggest two explanations (in his Mirkevet Hamishneh to Avot ch. 6). First that a student should not reveal his teacher's secrets:

אמונת חכמים, י"ל שהרב אין ראוי מי שיגלה סודו, כ"ש שאחד גילה מילתא דאיתמר בבי מדרשא לסוף תרתין ועשרין שנין, ואפקיה ר' אמי מבי מדרשא, ואכריזו עליה דין מגלי רזייא (סנהדרין לא ע"א). ואם כך לתלמיד, ק"ו לרב, שאין ראוי לו לגלות הסוד.

(I admit that I do not understand this explanation exactly).

His second explanation is that one should rely on rabbinic guidance and not rule exclusively based on one's own thoughts.

או י"ל שיאמין בדברי חכמים ובהוראתם, ואעפ"י שיהיה חכם גדול לא יסמוך על הוראתו

See also here.

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What does EMUNAT HACHAMIM mean?

Originally it meant “the faith OF the sages;” anti-Maimonideans changed the semantics of this term to mean “faith IN the sages.” Since generally their audience is grammatically illiterate, the change remained unnoticed.

Jose Faur AntiRAMBAM.pdf, footnote 154.

Side note: chapter 6 of Avos, where this term is used is, is not in the original Canon of Mishnayot, it was likely written in the medieval period and also not found in Rambams version of the Mishnah.

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    @sabbahillel I don't think it was a spelling error. I think he was using "h" as the transliteration for "ח" and "ch" as the transliteration for "כ", and he was writing חכמים rather than החכמים.
    – Alex
    Oct 29, 2018 at 1:49
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    – mbloch
    Oct 29, 2018 at 4:24
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Briefly, it means that if a Chacham makes a halachic decision or offers advice or guidance, we implicitly trust him b/c he is a Chacham. We do not doubt what he says or question how or why he says it. We have faith that he is an extension of G-d's word.

This article has an interesting explanation of the concept and reason of Emunat Chachamim:

The Mechilta takes note of the pasook, “ [the Jewish people] believed in Hashem and in Moshe His Servant.” Why does the Torah seem to grant equal importance to belief in Hashem and belief in Moshe? The Mechilta answers that anyone who believes in a Torah leader is as if he believes in Hashem Himself. We see from here that emunas chachamim and emuna b’ Hashem are inextricably linked. After splitting the sea, it wasn’t enough for the Jews to just believe in Hashem. They had to believe in Moshe as well. This belief is a tremendous pillar of emuna. The gemara in Kesubos 111a teaches that the only way to cling to Hashem is to cling to talmidei chachamim. Through our personal relationships with rabbis, we can come to an actual relationship with the ribono shel olam Himself. Rabbis have such a powerful association with Hashem that the gemara in Pesachim 22b says that we even have a mitzvah to fear talmidei chachamim just as we have a mitzvah to fear Hashem. Fearing Rabbis leads to a true fear of G-d.

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    The first paragraph contains no source. The second, citing the Mechilta adds nothing in the way of definition. The Gemara K'subos is similarly unenlightened. The Gemara P'sachim is interesting, but it is unclear whether the rabbinic expression אמונת חכמים is identical to fear. (I assume it is not). Accordingly, no answer has been provided except for an unsourced assumption.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 18, 2015 at 21:26
  • I meant "unenlightening" I am sure the Gemara was enlightened.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 19, 2015 at 1:15
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Rashi on Deut. 17:11 "Even if they tell you your right hand is your left..."

i.e. it makes no sense to you, nevertheless trust them and do what they say. see here for more.

likewise in the Chovos Halevavos Gate 5 ch.5

Be careful that your steps not stray from the path of the forefathers and the path of the early ones towards a new path you have devised, and be careful to not rely on your intellect nor to take counsel only with yourself. Do not reason on your own. Do not distrust your forefathers in the tradition they bequeathed to you as to what is good for you. Do not reject their advice in what they taught you

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    Do these comments relate to halacha? hashkafa? personal advice?
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 18, 2015 at 21:26
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    The question was about the phrase "אמונת חכמים". Can you edit to clarify how you know that these important sources are discussing אמונת חכמים?
    – msh210
    Aug 18, 2015 at 21:30
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    Contrast the Yerushalmi that derives the opposite idea...
    – Loewian
    Aug 19, 2015 at 3:12
  • @Loewian see link i added
    – ray
    Aug 19, 2015 at 5:37
  • "trust them and do what they say" and then what? If they don't trust one another who should I follow? And if they follow themselves why shouldn't I follow myself?
    – Al Berko
    Feb 28, 2019 at 18:11

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