Friday, November 09, 2007

The Oven of Achnai - A Rational Explanation by Rabbeinu Hananel.

While I am on the topic of the Oven of Achnai, I wanted to just quote an interpretation by one of the early Rishonim/ late Geonim, Rabbeinu Hananel (990-1053) of Kairouan, Tunisia. This can be found in the Shita Mekubetzet Bava Metziah 59b and it comes here with my translation/paraphrase – Ayin Sham for the original text.

The events mentioned in the story, for example the water rivulet [reversing its flow] and the other such events, appear to be signs and omens. [In other words – how are they explained rationally?]… Others say that a certain sage [Chacham], fell asleep in the Beit Midrash and dreamt that the Rabbis [Chachamim] were arguing with R. Eliezer. In the dream, R. Eliezer asked them why they are arguing with him [as he felt he was right and had the correct Kabbalah on this Halacha] and as the story continues used the [strange] events as proof that he was right. He also saw in the dream that R. Yehoshua responded to R. Eliezer and that a Bat Kol was heard [stating the Halacha is like RE everywhere] to which R. Yehoshua responded”[the Law] is not in heaven”. Should one ask why did they [the editors of the Gemara or the Rabbis] not make it clear that all this was a dream? These types of dreams that were close to prophecy were common [with the Rabbis]. Still they did not rely on dreams- dreams are false – and they followed the rule of the majority.

Clearly, Rabbeinu Hananel is uncomfortable with the literal story and tries to explain it rationally. [I skipped the first explanation, as it is unclear (see note of the editor in the Mossad Harav Kook edition)]. Dreams that are close to prophecy are false. A prophet does experience his visions in dreams, however dreams that are “close” to prophecy are false. Rambam in MN 2:38 and other places in Pirkei Nevuah, explains that the way a prophet knows that he has seen a prophecy, is the certainty he feels. He cannot restrain himself from sharing and acting on it as the story of Yonah teaches.(Also see SHUT Chatam Sofer last Teshuvah in Orach Chaim where he discusses the Akedah in a related context).

This post has been edited at the request of Anonymous. I hope it is better now - it was bad before. I thank and appreciate my readers when then bring this to my attention.

Shavua Tov.


  1. Do you mind editing your post? I just ended up confused.

  2. Soory - It is bad - I will fix it.

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