The Gemarra and Midrashei Halacha are filled with the phrases

  • יכול...ת"ל
  • שומע אני...ת"ל
  • אתה אומר...או אינו אלא

I don't know if there's any difference between them, but they all introduce a hava aminah, what I would have said the law is, and then brings a verse to show that the halacha is not that way.

Rav Menachem Mendel Kasher, in the Miluim to his Torah Sheleimah Volume 26, has a long piece on these phrases. He says many times the hava aminah is very out there, and no one would seemingly have thought of them. He also questions the purpose of bringing them in the first place, instead of just teaching us the halacha.

He then introduces an interesting idea, and says that these phrases are (if I understood him correctly) always coming to refute the opinion of the Saducees. Chazal knew that this was their opinion, therefore they introduced it as a hava aminah and refute it with a drasha on the verse. He then brings many examples to prove his point (although I'm not familiar enough with the gemarras he quotes to know if it's a real proof or not).

What I'm wondering is twofold:

  1. Is this his original idea, or is there an earlier source for such a concept?
  2. Is there anyone who disagrees as to the purpose of bringing these hava aminahs throughout shas/midrashim? For example: it's a stylistic choice for how to teach?

1 Answer 1


Rashi (Megillah 3a) quotes his rabbi that the way of the Talmud is to make rhetorical suggestions in order to clarify things more. The context is the Talmud proposing multiple suggestions and rejecting them for the same reason. Once it knows the reason it known that the proposals cannot actually be true. Rather the purpose is pedagogical; using the process of elimination to show that no other solution could be correct [i]:

מהוה הוו כו' - ואורחא דסוגיא דגמרא (להקשות) +מסורת הש"ס: [לתרץ]+ דבר שאינו, עד דטרח ומעמידה על בורייה, מפי רבי עד כאן

This is not exactly the same as the examples in the question, but it is very similar.

Similarly, R. Yeshaya di Trani writes (Tosafot Rid Pesahim 77b) that the Talmud suggests weaker answers first that it knows are untennable in order to then propose the actual solution in order to show via the process of elimination, that it is the only viable solution:

וכן דרך התלמוד תחלה מתרץ תירוצים קלים שאין עומדין ואח"כ מתרץ העיקר כדי להרחיב הסברא ולהראות שאין לתרץ אלא בענין זה

Similarly, Rashba (Megilla 2a) suggests that a question and answer in the Talmud are rhetorical, and he writes that this is common in the Talmud:

ולי נראה דמי שאמר כדבעינן למימר קמן הוא ששאל תחלה מנא לן ולפרושה למתני' בדרך קושיא ותירוץ הוא, ודכותה איכא טובא בגמ'

Similarly, his student Ritva writes (Megillah 2b) that some of the Talmud's proposals are rhetorical:

ודאי כל הני ואימא ואימא דאמרינן בסוגיא לא פירכי ממש נינהו אלא לברורי דרך קושיא ותירוץ, והיינו דאמרינן ואימא י"ג, שיקראו עיירות בי"ד או בט"ו דבתרוייהו ליכא למימר כדלעיל וכרכים בי"ג, ואף על גב דיהבי חשיבותא לעיירות טפי להקדים כרכים לעיירות ולקבוע להם ימים שלא היו למנוחה, דילמא אה"נ, והא ודאי לאו פירכא היא דליכא למפרך כי הא, אלא ברור הוא כדאמרינן כנ"ל.

An idea somewhat similar to R. Kasher's (though not as comprehensive) is stated by the Sefer HaKritut (L'shon Limmudim Shaar 2:54):

מצינו ששונה במשנה דבר שאינו צריך רק להוציא מלב השוטים כי הא דשילהי החולץ (דף נ') אשתו שמתה מותר באחותה אמר רב יוסף כאן שנה רבי משנה שאינה צריכה

More directly, Prof. David Weiss HaLivni writes [ii] that early Midrashim may have indeed posed suggestions specifically as part of polemics against those who espoused them, but in later Midrashim it is merely a rhetorical device. Among the Ammoraim, this form is rare, but among anonymous passages in the Talmud, which he identifies as a later stratum of Stammaim, this is common as a rhetorical device.

Also interesting, though less related, is R. Shaul Lieberman's position that Hazal said that it is a mitsvah to marry one's niece, specifically to oppose the sectarians who claimed it was forbidden.

[i] This is also clear from Rashi on a similar passage (Shabbat 104a) in which he makes clear that the Talmud designs the questions to answer them as part of dialectical technique:

ואין זו קושיא, שכן דרך התלמוד, המקשן מהפך הסברא כאן כדי שיקשה, ובמקום אחר מהפכו לפי הקושיא

Note also Rashi Yoma (13a) s.v. Al M'nat.

Similarly this seems to clearly be R. Yosef Ibn Verga's understanding of Rashi, in Sh'erit Yosef here.

[ii] Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law, pp. 87-8, 91.

  • IIRC Ritva writes similarly to Rashi in Sukkah, and maybe elsewhere.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 23:45
  • I don't see Rashi (in your quotation) as explaining differently from (or the same as) Rabbi Kasher. That is, Rashi doesn't offer any reason at all, merely saying that that's what the g'mara does. It may be to refute the sectarian view, and it may not.
    – msh210
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 16:55
  • @msg עד דטרח ומעמידה על בורייה, indicates that the purpose is pedagogical not polemical. I will edit to clarify this.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 18:14
  • I appreciate the sources. I'd like a more direct example of an approach different than Rav Kasher.
    – robev
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 3:15

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