Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 6:10
10. *Talmidei Hakhamim* do not go out by themselves to work with
everyone in building or digging for the municipality (or similar
things) so that they not become degraded in front of the
We do not tax them for building the city wall, repairing the
gates or paying the city guards and so on, nor for gifts to be
given to the king.
We do not obligate them to pay taxes - whether [participating in]
a tax on the populace of the city, or a tax on each person
(head-tax), as it says: "Though they bargain with the nations, I
will now gather them up. They shall soon writhe under the burden
of kings and princes." (Hoshea [Hosea] 8:10).
Similarly, if a *Talmid Hakham* has merchandise, we allow him to
sell first and we do not allow any of the members of the
marketplace to sell until he sells first.
Similarly, if he has a court case and he was standing with other
litigants, we allow him to go first and we have him sit down.
Q1: If manual labor is an honorable thing (as R himself earlier
mentioned - see TT 1:9, 3:11), why is it degrading to participate
with the community in necessary building projects? Isn't this
also "separating from the community" - which is negatively viewed
by our tradition (see Avot 2:4, MT Teshuvah 4:2)?
SB (Steve Berman): Manual labor is
also a learned skill. Even an *Am Ha'aretz* (commoner) has
skills which require practice to build appropriate muscles. For
a Torah scholar to attempt such labor in public could be
embarrassing if the scholar lacked these physical strengths.
*Talmidei Hakhamim* concentrate on building mental and spiritual
skills much more than manual ones. By exempting scholars from
public manual labor, we avoid public exhibition of any potential
weakness that might diminish their honor.
By extension, we exempt them from any monetary taxation that
would substitute for manual labor that contributes to the
function of the municipality. Scholars are in this sense a
special resource to the community, not just ordinary citizens.
YE (Yitz Etshalom): This Halakhah is taken
from the *sugya* in BT Bava Bathra 7b-8a. At the end of the
sugya, we are taught: "Everyone [must contribute] to digging a
well (alt. - clearing a road) - even the scholars (orig. -
"*Rabanan*") - we only say this if the people are not going out
themselves as a work team, but if they are going out as a work
team, the *Rabanan* are not among those who go out as a work
team." It seems that this is a social norm. Rabbenu Gershom,
however, explains that this is due to *K'vod haTorah* - the honor
of the Torah. It would seem that for the scholars to be outside,
digging wells with everyone else is a violation not of their
personal honor, rather of the respect for the Torah which they
represent. This might raise the question - what if it was a
community of scholars (besides the obvious problem of "who would
dig the wells?") - is it dishonorable for them to be doing
manual labor - or to be doing such labor in front of (and
alongside) the commoners? Although the language of the Gemara is
neutral and affords us no insight, R's formulation seems to point
directly to the latter approach; such that doing this work alone
or among fellow scholars would pose no problem.
SC(Shalom Carmy): Hazon Ish in Baba Batra
says that in a community of scholars, there would not be
exemptions. I don't recall whether he specifies communal work or
YE (con't): Regarding the issue of separation from the community
- this seems to be mainly a factor of "not participating in the
pain of the community" (e.g. not fasting during a drought - even
though the individual has enough food for his/her family - see
Ramban, commentary on Sefer haMitzvot, Shoresh #1) - or "not
participating in the *Teshuvah* (spiritual renaissance) of the
community (MT Teshuvah 4:2) - more directly, in MT Teshuvah 3:11,
R defines one who "separates from the ways of the community" as
one who, in spite of his fulfilling all of the Mitzvot, does not
"do Mitzvot with them, does not share their troubles, does not
fast during their fast days..." - this is a far cry from someone
who, due to his position in the community, does not participate
in a work project.
Q2: Why doesn't the *Talmid Hakham* pay taxes for each of the
items mentioned: (a) security of the city; (b) gifts to the king;
(c) head/community tax?
YE: (a) is explained in the Gemara (BT Bava Bathra 7b & 8a) in a
straightforward way: *Rabanan la tzerikhi netiruta* - the
scholars/students need no protection. Significantly, in the
first presentation of this idea, the inference is from this
comparison, based on exegesis: Just as a little sand protects the
land from the larger sea, so the good deeds of these righteous
ones protect (them? others?) from danger. Here, their good deeds
are the "protection" which obviates their own personal need for
standard security measures. However, Rashi (BT Bava Metzia 108a)
explains that their Torah study protects them. Rabbenu Gershom
explains that both their deeds and their Torah study protects
them. The reasoning is clear - since they have no need for this
public utility, they need not contribute to it.
(b) This Halakha is the subject of a dispute among the Rishonim
(early commentaries/codifiers - c. 1000 - 1500). The Gemara
(Bava Bathra 8a) infers from a verse in Ezra (7:24) that they are
exempt from *M'nat haMelekh* (Rashi: community tax); *K'saf
Gulgalta* (head tax) and *Arnona* (Rashi: annual tithes of
produce and animals). This explains the exemption from
head/community tax - question ©. Although Ramban supports
Rashi’s interpretation, RIF and many others interpret *Arnona* as
gifts given to the king when his entourage comes through town -
and that is how R interprets it here. See N'mukei Yosef on Bava
Bathra (5a in RIF pages) for both presentations.
(c)see answer to (b) above.
There are some who have used this Gemara - specifically the
statement "scholars need no protection" - to support their
opposition to the Yeshivot Hesder. [Hesder Yeshivot are Israeli
post-secondary academies which incorporate army duty with Torah
study. Some of these Yeshivot view their arrangement as the
ideal synthesis of community responsibility and Torah study,
while others see it as a "second best" alternative for Israeli
students who are committed to army service.] Rabbi Aharon
Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion, wrote an article in which
he addresses these arguments. It can be found in a 1978 issue
of Tradition magazine. [If there is enough interest in the
Havura and R. Lichtenstein allows it, I will transcribe and send
out the article. Havura members are advised to let me know of any
interest - mod.]
Q3: How does the verse from Hoshea imply that scholars are not
to be taxed?
YE: Ulla explains it as follows (BT Bava Bathra 8a): "This verse
is said [should be understood as if it were said] in Aramaic:
'Though they be *Yit'nu* (Heb. - given over to - or bargain with/
Aramaic: teach) among the nations, ' - i.e. if they are all
learning, 'I will now gather them up. *Vayaheilu m'at* (lit. -
they will writhe a bit)' i.e. and if only a few of them are
learning (*m'at* means a few) - they will be *Vayaheilu* -
excused from (as in *Mechilah*) 'the burden of kings and
Within the *sugya*, there are three verses quoted, each of which
is expounded in such a way to demonstrate that the few scholars
among the people should not be taxed in this way.
Q4: Why do we give a financial advantage to the Talmid Hakham?
YE: The Gemara (BT Sanhedrin 99a, Berakhot 34b) states: "R.
Yohanan said: All of the prophets prophesied [goodness and
comfort - (Rashi)] regarding someone who marries his daughter to
a *Talmid Hakham*, someone who does business with a *Talmid
Hakham* and one who gives a *Talmid Hakham* benefit from his
property… " If our rabbis saw the value of giving benefit to a
scholar in such glowing terms, how much more so should we allow
him first chance in the market. This Halakha does seem limited
to a scholar whose "Torah is his livelihood" - i.e. one who
studies all the time and only does business when necessary to
earn a living. However, one who does business on a regular basis
does not merit this privilege (see Arukh haShulkhan, Yoreh Deah
243:4) Following that qualification, it stands to reason that the
goal here is to minimize the scholar's time wasted from study.
Q5: How can we show preference to the Talmid Hakham in court?
This (seemingly) violates the law of "You shall judge your fellow
righteously" (Vayyiqra [Leviticus] 19:15) - not to have one
[litigant] sitting and the other standing (BT Shavu'ot 30a, MT
YE: The source of this Halakha is the Gemara in Shavu'ot (30b):
"Rabbah bar Rav Huna said: If a scholar and a commoner are
litigants, we seat the scholar and we also say to the commoner:
'Sit' - and if he stands, that is of no concern...Rabbah bar Rav
Huna said: if a scholar and a commoner are litigants, the scholar
should not go ahead and sit down - because it looks as if he has
already presented his case..."
We see from here several qualifiers: 1) the scholar may not take
this "honor" on his own and 2) the commoner must be offered the
The commoner, seeing that the court is acting properly within
Torah law and propriety (by showing honor - but not deference -
to a scholar) should not lose trust/confidence in the honesty and
integrity of the court. See MT Sanhedrin 21:4, where these
qualifiers are presented. The reason R does not present them
here is because this section of Halakha is focused on the honor
of a scholar - one of the examples of which is seating him. In
Sanhedrin, however, R gives the fuller treatment which addresses
the concerns of equity etc. R writes (MT Sanhedrin 21:5) that in
our day, we seat all litigants - see Arukh HaShulkhan Choshen
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