Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Brachos 7a: Is it not good to punish a Sadducee?

Brachos 7a:
ואימת רתח אמר אביי בהנך תלת שעי קמייתא כי חיורא כרבלתא דתרנגולא וקאי אחד כרעא כל שעתא ושעתא נמי קאי הכי כל שעתא אית ביה שורייקי סומקי בההיא שעתא לית ביה שורייקי סומקי.
ההוא צדוקי דהוה בשבבותיה דר' יהושע בן לוי הוה קא מצער ליה טובא בקראי יומא חד שקל תרנגולא ואוקמיה בין כרעי' דערסא ועיין ביה סבר כי מטא ההיא שעתא אלטייה כי מטא ההיא שעתא ניים אמר ש"מ לאו אורח ארעא למעבד הכי (תהלים קמה, ט) ורחמיו על כל מעשיו כתיב וכתיב (משלי יז, כו) גם ענוש לצדיק לא טוב תנא משמיה דר' מאיר בשעה שהחמה זורחת וכל מלכי מזרח ומערב מניחים כתריהם בראשיהם ומשתחוים לחמה מיד כועס הקב"ה:
Or, in English:
And when is He angry? — Abaye says: In [one moment of] those first three hours of the day, when the comb of the cock is white and it stands on one foot. Why, in each hour it stands thus [on one foot]?14  — In each other hour it has red streaks, but in this moment it has no red streaks at all.
In the neighbourhood of R. Joshua b. Levi there was a Sadducee15  who used to annoy him very much with [his interpretations of] texts. One day the Rabbi took a cock, placed it between the legs of his bed and watched it. He thought: When this moment arrives I shall curse him. When the moment arrived he was dozing [On waking up]16  he said: We learn from this that it is not proper to act in such a way. It is written: And His tender mercies are over all His works.17  And it is further written: Neither is it good for the righteous to punish.18  It was taught in the name of R. Meir: At the time when the sun rises and all the kings of the East and West put their crowns upon their heads and bow down to the sun, the Holy One, blessed be He, becomes at once angry.
I'd like to focus on the prooftext, from Mishlei 17:26:

כו  גַּם עֲנוֹשׁ לַצַּדִּיק לֹא-טוֹב--    לְהַכּוֹת נְדִיבִים עַל-יֹשֶׁר.26 To punish also the righteous is not good, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.

Pashut peshat in this pasuk is that the tzaddik is the one being punished, not the one doing the punishing. But, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is reinterpreting the pasuk so that the tzaddik is the punisher.

So it seems says Rashi:

לצדיק לא טוב - לענוש את הבריות:

"For a tzaddik it is not good -- to punish the creations."

Note the word את, which is the Hebrew object marker. Rashi is taking pains to show the actor and the one who is being acted upon.

An alternative is that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is not reversing the role of the tzaddik in this pasuk. Rather, as the text states, he is dealing with a Sadducee, a Tzeduki. And thus,

"גַּם עֲנוֹשׁ לַצַּדִּיק לֹא-טוֹב == To punish also a Tzeduki is not good."

Like this, he is also not calling himself a tzaddik.

The problem with this is that it is seems unlikely that the word should really be צדוקי in this gemara. According to the footnote in Soncino,  Var. lec. Min. And Artscroll seems to really endorse this variant. Maybe it could state min while also meaning tzeduki.

To point out: R' Yehoshua ben Levi was a third century Amora, while the Tzedukim seem to have stopped at around the time of the churban, 70n CE. And it seems that there were a lot of Christian and pagan residents of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi's neighborhood.

Too bad, because the derasha, based on it being a Tzeduki, was so good. See also this post.

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