In Hilchos Niddah, expertise in מראות, examining bedikos or kesamim (intentional examinations, or accidental stains on the woman's undergarments) to decide if they are tamei - which would make the woman a niddah - or tahor, is generally learned by "shimush". This is a process where the student sits down with a Rav who is an expert, and they look over cases together. The talmid/student sees the various factors the Rav takes into account (various colors, sizes, shapes,...) and eventually gains the skill to decide cases as well, presumably with the same result as the Rav. At that point the Rav grants the student permission to decide cases on his own.
To me, this sounds very much like the original process for transmission of תורה שבעל פה, the Oral Torah. The teacher taught the student everything about the Torah orally, one subject at a time, and eventually gave the student "semichah", permission to rule on cases himself. Since the study was personal, the Rav/teacher was able to gauge that his student understood each subject properly.
We don't do this any more for the rest of the Torah. These days, the "shimush" for most topics is that the talmid studies most of what he learns from sefarim, maybe hears some shiurim on them by the rebbi, or can ask him questions, and is perhaps given a test at the end of his studies by the rebbi or another Rav who can tell if he knows the topic. No one expects that he will answer every issue exactly the same as the Rav would.

  1. Why does the particular topic of מראות require shimush? Does it? Does anyone teach it in the more common way done these days for the rest of the Torah, say with picture books?
  2. On the contrary, it seems to me that מראות is a place where the original shimush would be very difficult to do properly! If the issue is recognizing exact colors, how are you going to learn that from a bunch of cases? Color is a continuum, of several dimensions (RGB...) and surely the result will be that there will be borderline edge cases that the student might never see often enough to learn. Lemon yellow, gold, a little bit orange, a little lighter, a little darker,... (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_colors#Extended_colors, and you're just getting started on all the possible variation.) Repeat this many times, generation after generation, and I would expect the borders to drift, maybe very far! Wouldn't it be better (these days) to give precise guidelines?
  3. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that was what they used to do! We don't judge shades of red any more, and all red is judged tamei since the times of the Rishonim - but in the mishnah and gemara Niddah 19a-21a they did. And the mishnah and gemara goes through various exact examples of how to judge which shades of red are tamei, with incredible precision: "red as the blood that flows from the smallest finger of the hand, which was wounded and later healed and was subsequently wounded again. And this is not referring to the finger of any person, but specifically to the finger of a young man who has not yet married a woman. And furthermore, this does not mean any young man; rather, until what age must he be? Until twenty years old." See there for more examples. It is clear from the gemara that they often did this in practice, like bringing in a cup of wine from the Sharon, mixed just so, and comparing it with the stain. It sounds like they did give precise guidelines, not just go through a lot of practice cases.

What am I missing here?

  • 1
    See the rama that says nikur can only be learned as such sefaria.org/…
    – אילפא
    Jan 19 at 0:09
  • 1
    see the following 2 pages that brings differing opinions if shimush is needed, hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=50570&st=&pgnum=64 hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=50570&st=&pgnum=65
    – אילפא
    Jan 19 at 0:16
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    Shechitah, niqqur, safrut (writing, checking, fixing tefillin batim), paskening shaylahs, and sitting on dinei torah are all activities that you can and still need shimush in nowadays
    – MDjava
    Jan 19 at 7:09
  • @MDjava Interesting list. Many of them seem very practical; it's got to be easier to show someone how to do niqqur, or tie tefillin knots, than to try to describe them in words. Paskening shaylos, again some practical experience and then you need to know the halacha itself from study.
    – MichoelR
    Jan 19 at 19:34
  • One answer to my question that fits with these comments is that the main part of shimush on mar'os is not about the colors, but about "everything else", whatever that is. Sort of the opposite to the gemara I was quoting, which is only about colors.
    – MichoelR
    Jan 21 at 1:09


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