Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 3:2
2: The sages said (Horayot 3:8) A bastard who is a *Talmid Hakham*
(scholar) takes precedence over a High Priest who is an *Am Ha'Aretz*
(possibly "ignoramus" - but this term needs to be explored) as it says
(Pr. 3:15) *Yeqara hi mip'ninim* - (she - Torah - is more dear than
jewels; the Midrash which follows is a play on the word *p'ninim* which
is linked to the *lifnim* - inside) - meaning, [dearer] than the High
Priest who enters *lifnai velifnim* - (to the innermost sanctum, i.e. the
Holy of Holies on Yom haKippurim).
Q1: What is the impact/ramification of this "precedence"?
YE: R quotes the entire sequence from Horayot in Matn'not Ani'im
(8:17-18) in the context of redeeming captives. The list in Horayot is
then used in the case where there is not enough money to redeem all of
the captives. If they are all are equal in wisdom, we use the scale
(Kohen, Levi etc.) to decide who takes preference. However, wisdom (we
will assume Torah wisdom here) is THE deciding factor. R extends the
Halakha, such that the High Priest need not be an *Am haAretz* to take a
back seat to the scholarly bastard - as long as one is greater in wisdom
than his fellow, he is redeemed first.
Q2: If this is a practical matter, how much knowledge makes someone a
YE: See the sugya in Shabbat 114a, where several formulations are
presented. There are several Halakhot which apply to a *Talmid Hakham* -
and the definition changes from area to area, as is seen there. The
"R. Yohanan said: what is a *Talmid Hakham*? anyone who, when asked about
a Halakha in any area, can answer it..." Significantly, R does not codify
the definition of either a *Talmid Hakham* OR an *Am Ha'Aretz*.
Q3: What is the definition of an *Am Ha'Aretz*?
YE: The sugya in Berakhot 47b, Sotah 22a and Gittin 61a cites several
opinions as to the definition of the term *Am haAretz*. Tosafot in Gittin
(ibid. s.v. Eizehu) distinguishes between defining someone as an *Am
HaAretz* for different cases. The upshot from Tosafot is that there is
no single definition; depending on which area of law, in which the Am
HaAretz has a distinct role and status, the definition may change.
It seems clear from the general usage in the Gemara that, during the
first couple of centuries of the common era, (when the Mishna was being
formulated and ultimately edited and published), the Rabbis saw
themselves as "Haverim" (see especially Mishna D'mai, 2:2-3) and anyone
who was not a *Haver* is an Am HaAretz. In order to be a Haver, one's
ritual behavior had to conform to certain norms. In that context, the
ritual behavior had to do with ritual purity regarding eating; in the
above-mentioned sugya, it deals more with general religious comportment -
e.g. not wearing Tefillin, not having Tzitzit on his clothes, not reading
the Shema evening and morning etc.
Nevertheless, there is an added component in the above-mentioned sugyot -
that of levels of study. The Gemara decides in favor of Aherim (aka R.
Meir), who states that even if someone studies Scripture and the Oral
Law, but does not "serve the Hakhamim" (which may mean studying Gemara,
or may mean apprenticing a scholar and learning from his behavior) - is
still an *Am HaAretz*. Although there are certain areas of Halakha where
the definition of *Am HaAretz* has practical application - and therefore
needs a tight definition, this section of R is not one of them. The
intent of the statement is that Torah scholarship - with its various
components in the areas of knowledge, personal character and ethical
behavior - is the one true and final measure of greatness; that all
other "status" issues, no matter how holy they may be (such as being the
High Priest), pale in significance and take a back seat to the greatness
earned by the Torah scholar.
By the way, *Am HaAretz* shows up in the *Tnakh* (Scripture) over 40
times, and usually means "the common people" or "everybody else" ( as
opposed to the King, High Priest etc.). The one clearly negative usage
is in Ezra 4:4 where the *Am HaAretz* try to prevent the rebuilding of
the *Beit Hamiqdash* (Temple) - and are consistent trouble for the
revived settlement in Judea - and they are associated with the threat
against the Jewish people during the reign of Ahashverosh! However, it is
clear from context that these *Am HaAretz* are not Jews.
See also the sugya in Pesahim 49 to sense the tremendous enmity between
scholars and *Amei HaAretz* (plural) - see especially R. Akiva's comment
on his former attitude, when he was an *Am HaAretz* - towards scholars.
If memory serves me right, Zeitlin did a study on the term; the title of
his book is, appropriately, The Am HaAretz. I never read it and cannot
testify to historical accuracy or the scholarship.
Q4: A semantic note: Why is a scholar known as a *Talmid Hakham*
(literally, "student of a wise person")? Is it better to be a *Talmid
Hakham* or *Talmid Hakhamim* (student of wise people)?
EF: Perhaps the best way to translate Talmid Chacham is as "A student
who is wise", where Chacham is an adjective describing Talmid. If this
is correct, using Chachamim instead of Chacham would be bad grammar.
YE: Conversely, in a few places in MT, R uses the term *Talmid Hakhamim*
- Yom Tov 6:22, Ishut 14:2, Gezela 14:12, Hovel uMaziq 3:5 (there seem
to be variant manuscripts on this - if anyone out there has the Shabse
Frankel or Mosad Harav Kuk MT, please check the mss.). In addition, in
Kafach's translation of R's Commentary on the Mishna, that same phrase
shows up quite a bit (e.g. Avot 1:13 - in Kafach's expanded version,
including the Arabic original, the phrase *Talmid Hakhamim* shows up in
the Arabic, as if that were a technical phrase not to be translated into
Arabic.) Significantly, all but one of those sources in MT seem to
reflect components of *Kavod* (respect, honor) of the scholar.
Perhaps there are two meanings to the phrase *Talmid Hakham* -
1) a wise student (as Ezra suggests) - in which case the plural should be
*Talmidim Hakhamim* (unheard of, which indicates that this meaning is
never used as a plural, if it exists at all) and
2) the student of a wise person - in which case the plural should be
*Talmidei Hakahmim* (the normal usage) - in that case, one person who has
studied with several scholars is correctly called *Talmid Hakhamim*.
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