I was listening to a lecture in my synagogue in which it was mentioned ( correctly or incorrectly - I don't know ) that a הלכה למשה מסיני - Halach to Moses from Sinai is a law that has never been disputed and whose interpretation is clear and universally acknowledged.

However, I've seen at least one case where there is dispute about the meaning of such a halacha: it states in three places in the Bavli and Yerushalmi:

י"א יום שבין נדה לנדה הלכה למשה מסיני

the eleven days that intervene between one menstruation period and the next are the halachah of Moses handed down from Sinai. ( Soncino Niddah 72b )

According to what I’ve read so far, there are exactly two interpretations of this among the Rishonim; Rambam’s, and everyone elses. In הלכות אסורי ביאה פרק ו Rambam states:

ה [ו] כָּל יְמֵי הָאִשָּׁה מִיּוֹם שֶׁיִּקָּבַע לָהּ וֶסֶת עַד שֶׁתָּמוּת, אוֹ עַד שֶׁיֵּעָקֵר הַוֶּסֶת לְיוֹם אַחֵר--תִּסְפֹּר לְעוֹלָם שִׁבְעָה מִתְּחִלַּת יוֹם הַוֶּסֶת וְאַחֲרֵיהֶן אַחַד עָשָׂר, שִׁבְעָה וְאַחֲרֵיהֶן אַחַד עָשָׂר; וְתִזָּהֵר בַּמִּנְיָן, כְּדֵי שֶׁתֵּדַע בְּעֵת שֶׁתִּרְאֶה דָּם, אִם בִּימֵי נִדָּה רָאָת, אוֹ בִּימֵי זִיבָה: שֶׁכָּל יָמֶיהָ שֶׁלְּאִשָּׁה כָּךְ הֶן, שִׁבְעָה יְמֵי נִדָּה וְאַחַד עָשָׂר יְמֵי זִיבָה, אֵלָא אִם כֵּן הִפְסִיקָה הַלִּידָה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאַר.

All the days of the woman from the day of her first menstruation until she dies, or until the day of her menstruation is removed to another day -- will forever count seven days from the beginning day of her menstruation and afterward eleven days, seven and then eleven; and be cautious in the counting, so that she will know at the time she sees blood, if it’s seen in the Niddah days, or in the Zavah days: because all the days of a woman are such, seven days of Niddah and eleven days of Zavah, unless interrupted by a birth, as we will explain.

Basically, he’s saying that the seven Niddah days and eleven Zavah days strictly alternate starting from the woman’s first period.

As far as what I’ve read, the opinion of pretty much all the other Rishonim is well represented by the Sefer HaChinuch ( ספר החינוך, מצוה קפב ):

מדיני המצוה, מה שאמרו חז”ל ( נידה עב ע”ב ) שאחד עשר יום הם שהם בין נדה לנדה, כלומר: שהאשה נעשית בהם זבה, כך היא הלכה למשה מסיני. ופירוש הדבר כך הוא: שכל אשה בעת שתראה דם בתחילת ראייתה תקרא נדה, ועניין הנדות כך דינו: שאם תראה יום אחד דם, או אפילו שבע ימים רצופים, כל זמן שתפסוק הדם ביום השביעי מבעוד יום, טובלת לערב, דהיינו הלילה שמחרתו יום שמיני לתחילת ראייתה. ואחר טבילתה טהורה לבעלה. ואחר שבעת ימי הנדות, אם תראה דם בתוך אחד עשר יום אחר השבעה, יקרא אותו הדם דם זיבה, ודינו כן: שאם תראה ממנו יום אחד , בין שתראה בתחילת הלילה או בסוף היום, משמרת יום אחד כנגדו וטובלת, וטהורה לבעלה לערב. וטבילתה אפילו ביום משתנץ החמה, וזאת היא זיבה קטנה. וכן אם תראה דם שני ימים ותפסוק בשלישי, דינה כמו כן לשמור יום אחד, ובכן יספיק לה אפילו לשני ימים ותטהר, וזאת גם כן תקרא זיבה קטנה. ואם תראה דם בתוך אחד עשר יום אלו שלושה ימים רצופים, תקרא זיבה גדולה וצריכה לישב שבעה ימים נקיים ואחר כך טובלת וטהורה לבעלה. ואחר אחד עשר יום אלו אם תראה, חוזרת לתחילת נידות ויש לה שבעה ימים כדין נדה , כמו שאמרנו למעלה. וכן יהיה הדבר לעולם, אחר הנדות יש לה אחד עשר יום שבהן נעשית זבה , ואחר שעברו אותן האחד עשר יום אינה נעשית זבה לעולם עד שיעברו עליה שבעה ימי נדות. ומפני שכבר טעו בזה אחרים וחשבו שהחשבון הוא שתמנה שבעה ימים של נדות ואחד עשר יום של זיבות, ושבע של נדות ואחד עשר של זיבות, וכן לעולם, הארכתי בעניין לומר שאינו כן, אלא לעולם אין ימי זיבה אלא אחד עשר יום אחר שבעה של נדות, ולא אחר כך לעולם עד שתחזור לתחילת הנדות. רצוני לומר שאם תעמוד ולא תראה אחר האחד עשר יום אפילו שנה, אין לה דין זבה עד שיעברו עליה שבעת יהי נדות.

According to the laws of the commandment, what Chazal z”l said ( Niddah 72b ) that there are eleven days between one Niddah and the following Niddah, such that the woman becomes a Zavah during those days, this is the halacha to Moshe handed down from Sinai. And such is the explanation of the thing: and any woman who shall see blood at the beginning of her Niddah days shall be called a Niddah, and the laws of Niddah as as follows: that if she sees blood one day. or even all seven days continuously, as long as the bleeding stops prior to sunset on the seventh day, she immerses that evening, specifically the night that it’s morrow is the eighth day from the beginning of her Niddah days. And after her immersion she is pure for her husband. And after the seven Niddah days, if she sees blood in the eleven days after the seven days, that blood shall be called Zivah blood, and it’s laws are as follows: if she see one day, whether she sees at the beginning of the night or the end of the day, she keeps one clean day against it and immerses, and she is pure to her husband in the evening. And her immersion is even during the day from the sunrise, and this is the minor Zivah. And likewise, if she sees blood two days and it stops the third day, and her law is to keep one clean day, and likewise it is enough for her even for two days and she is purified, and this is also called a minor Zivah. And if she shall see blood in the eleven days three days in a row, she shall be called a major Zivah and she must sit seven cleans days and afterwards immerses and is pure for her husband. And after these eleven days if she sees, she returns to the beginning of Niddah and she has seven days according to the laws of Niddah, according to what we said above. And such shall it be forever, that after the Niddah days she has eleven days in which she can become a Zavah, and after those eleven days have passed she may never become a Zavah again until she passes seven days of Niddah. And because others have already become mistaken in this matter and thought the calculation is that she should count seven days of Niddah and eleven days of Zivah, and seven days of Niddah and eleven of Zivah forever, because of this have I prolonged the discussion to say that it is not so, instead there are never Zivah days except the eleven days immediately following the seven Niddah days, and never again until after having returned to the beginning of the Niddah days. It is my desire to point out that if a woman gets up from her Niddah days and after the eleven days even for a year, she can not be a Zavah until she passes seven days of Niddah. ( my translation )

The above is fairly self-explanatory and the comments at the end seem to be clearly addressing the Rambam’s position.

So how is it that there are two interpretations here if in fact "Halacha to Moses from Sinai" means what the lecturer I heard says it means? I asked him and he said he wasn't aware of this particular case.

  • amazing question! – alice fine Jul 19 '14 at 21:11
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/38766/3 – WAF Jul 20 '14 at 1:48
  • Also see Tol'dos Hahalacha, which is cited there. It says that the Ra"sh explicitly stated that the term halacha l'Moshe miSinai, in addition to its usual usage of "very old and non-derived law" can also mean "very obvious and universal" or "undisputed by dint of its rationality". He gives examples. The lecturer could have intended the second category. Also, "undisputed" could simply mean until the time of the G'mara. After all, I can't retroactively nullify this designation by disputing something. – WAF Jul 20 '14 at 1:56
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    Robert see the חות יאיר ס' קצ"ב. As well as the מהר"צ חיות in :בבא קמא יז – Shoel U'Meishiv Apr 25 '15 at 21:22

The Rambam's opinion is that halacha limoshe misinai is undisputed. There is a tosafos in eiruvin which seems to say otherwise. The chavos yair (siman 192) has a very long tshuva addressing this issue and as one of his proofs to uphold the shita of tosafos he asks your question exactly. How could the Rambam have a shita about a halacha limoshe misinai that is disputed by everyone?!

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  • Thanks. Btw if your not so into the post yeshivish pseudo deification of the Rambam, you'll appreciate the tshuva as a whole. – user6591 Jul 20 '14 at 4:11
  • Link doesn't work in Firefox for some reason, but it's ok in Chrome. – Robert S. Barnes Jul 20 '14 at 12:49
  • @RobertS.Barnes works in FF for me. It's an embedded PDF I think, so maybe you have a plug-in issue? – msh210 Jul 20 '14 at 16:11
  • @user6591 I opened up the pdf, but had trouble reading it ( it's not a great scan and I'm not used to reading much Rashi script ). Could you summarize his argument? – Robert S. Barnes Jul 20 '14 at 20:19
  • @ Robert - Its been three full years since I learnt the tshuva so even if a summary of a twenty or thirty page tshuva was possible, I am certainly not the one to do it. I would suggest, if the subject interests you, to get your hands on a good print and devote some time to it. – user6591 Jul 20 '14 at 22:58

The lecturer may have been referring to the Rambam in Mamrim 1:3

דברי הקבלה, אין בהן מחלוקת לעולם; וכל דבר שתמצא בו מחלוקת, בידוע שאינו קבלה ממשה רבנו

Words of "kabbala" are never argued about; anything about which there is an argument can be known that it was not received from Moshe

The Rambam echoes this idea in the introduction to the Mishnah:

וזה עיקר יש לך לעמוד על סודו. והוא, שהפירושים המקובלים מפי משה, אין מחלוקת בהם בשום פנים, שהרי מאז ועד עתה לא מצאנו מחלוקת נפלה בזמן מן הזמנים, מימות משה ועד רב אשי בין החכמים

And this is a principle that you need to realize, which is that the explanations received from Moshe do not have arguments, as we do not find a dispute about them among the Rabbis from the time of Moshe until Rav Ashi

Note that here the Rambam clearly limits it to until the times of Rav Ashi, the end of the Talmud. (I think this addresses your specific issue.)


החלק השני הלכה למשה מסיני הם הדינים שנאמר בהן הלכה למשה מסיני, ואין ראיות עליהם כמו שזכרנו, וזה כמו כן אין חולק עליו.

The second section [of mitzvos] are "Halacha L'Moshe Misinai" ... and these similarly are not disputed.

I think the previous above quote addresses your example from Niddah. However, the Rambam himself seems to address the issue that there are seemingly plenty of examples of disputes about halacha. The last Mishna in Eduyos reads:

אמר רבי יהושוע, מקובל אני מרבן יוחנן בן זכאי ששמע מרבו ורבו מרבו, הלכה למשה מסיניי, שאין אלייהו בא לטמא ולטהר, לרחק ולקרב, אלא לרחק את המקורבין בזרוע, ולקרב את המרוחקין בזרוע. משפחת בית צריפה הייתה בעבר הירדן, וריחקה בן ציון בזרוע; ועוד אחרת הייתה שם, וקירבה בן ציון בזרוע. כגון אלו--אלייהו בא לטמא ולטהר, לרחק ולקרב. רבי יהודה אומר, לקרב, אבל לא לרחק. רבי שמעון אומר, להשוות את המחלקות. וחכמים אומרין, לא לרחק ולא לקרב, אלא לעשות שלום בעולם

Rebbi Yehoshua said "I have a tradition from Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai who heard from his Rebbe, a halacha l'Moshe mi'Sinai, that Eliyahu will ... distance and bring close." Rebbi Yehuda said "He will only bring close." Rebbi Shimon: "He will resolve disputes." The Sages: "He will make peace."

Rambam's commentary:

לא נשמע ממשה לשון זה, אלא נשמע ממנו הענין, לפי שמשה הודיע ביאת משיח... ואין בזה מחלוקת ולא שכחה

It was not heard from Moshe these exact words (of what Eliyahu would do), rather it was heard from him the central concept, as Moshe informed of the coming of Moshiach... and this is not disputed nor forgotten.

He goes on to explain that the details are disputed.

The Rambam understands that the principle of a Halacha l'Moshe mi'Sinai is not disputed, but the details may be.

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    hebrewbooks.org/… אפילו דבר שהוא הלכה למשה מסיני מדברי סופרים קרינן ליה ואין שם מן התורה אלא דבר שהוא מפורש בתורה כגון שעטנז וכלאים ושבת ועריות או דבר שאמרו חכמים שהוא מן התורה והן כמו שלשה ארבעה דברים בלבד – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Jul 20 '14 at 18:35
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    ... even a matter which halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai is designated 'from the Scribes,' given that nothing is from the Torah unless it is explicit in the torah, such as shatnez, kilayim, shabboth, arayoth or a matter that the Sages have declared to be from the Torah, of which there are only three or four such cases – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Jul 20 '14 at 18:36
  • reddit.com/r/Judaism/comments/271b8q/… a good friend of mine pointed it out here if anyone interested in the source – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Jul 20 '14 at 18:37
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    i dont know if you have mori qafi7's mt but i found an english translation for you on habad's website. Rav Kapach differs and states that the Rambam altered the text in his later years, and the correct version states, "All three are from the Torah." In explanation, he draws attention to the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah (Kiddushin 1:1) and to one of the Rambam's responsa, and on this basis differs with the above principle. – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Jul 20 '14 at 19:59
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    Even later, the Rambam accepted the opinion that the effectiveness of the transfer of money also stems from the Torah itself. This is reflected in Chapter 3, Halachah 20, and the corrected text mentioned above.(See Birkat Avraham, Responsum 44, in which the Rambam's son, Rabbenu Avraham, substantiates Rav Kapach's version of the Mishneh Torah.) – MoriDowidhYa3aqov Jul 20 '14 at 20:01

What Rambam means by saying that Halacha is undisputed, is that its existence is undisputed, not its interpretation.

He states it very clearly in his Hakdama Lamishna: Whenever one of chazal would have said that he had recieved a Halacha from his rabbi - the argument was shut. everyone accepted without arguing. The discussion about the interpretation of the Halacha, however, would just begin.

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  • How do you understand the Gemara in Sukka 5a-5b that has many disputes and opinions as to the source of the height of a mechitza. But R Chiyya says hilchos Mechitza is halacha lemoshe msinai. Seems to be that it can be a dispute that even to its existence – Shoel U'Meishiv Apr 25 '15 at 20:35

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