Friday, March 27, 2009

The Idea Behind The Majority Rule - Rove.

I am learning Hilchot Chametz Umatzah and dealing with the halachot about Chametz that goes astray after Bedikat Chametz in Rambam Chapter 2. Some of the cases involve the Halacha of “Rove” – majority rule. Here is an interesting explanation of the rule suggested by Rav Gedalia Nadel A”H that I would like to share. It is an example of how technical Halachik thinking is consistent with and supported by theology.

There is a Halachik rule that we follow the majority. This rule applies in different situations. The primary case is that when a Sanhedrin debates an issue, the final ruling is based on the opinion of the majority. It is based on Shemot 23:2 – אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים—לְהַטֹּת – which is used by the Rabbis exegetically as meaning that the opinion of the majority of a Beit Din prevails (see the first Mishna in Sanhedrin).

The same rule applies, with a variation, in the famous two cases of the nine stores in Pessachim 9b. There are nine stores in town selling kosher meat and one non-kosher. A person purchased meat from one of them but cannot remember from which of the ten. In this situation, the meat is forbidden because we do not rely on the majority. We assume that there is a 50% chance that it is non-kosher. The reasoning is that - כל קבוע כמחצה על מחצה - when the doubt is on something fixed we consider it as even (literally half-and-half). However if in the same town a piece of meat is found in the street it is permitted to eat it as the majority of the stores from which this meat could have come from are kosher. What is the rationale for this difference between the two cases? What makes the “fixed” doubt stronger? The difference between the two cases is based on a deduction from a Torah ruling in a capital case, a Gezeirat Hakatuv. Does that preclude us from understanding it logically?

Rav Gedalia Nadel has an interesting take on this issue of “Rove” – majority rule. Clearly, the rule cannot be based on probability, as there is no mathematical difference between the two cases. There are other peculiarities about the rule such as Ruba De’Leissa Kaman, which further demonstrate that the mathematical probability explanation cannot be the reason, but for simplicity, I will not discuss those proofs here. (For the original article of RGN as transmitted by Rav Sheilat, go here at page 43.)

Before suggesting a logical reason, RGN explains that Gezeirat Hakatuv does not mean that there is no logical basis for a ruling. On the contrary, there are strong logical reasons for two opposite rulings which put the legislator in a bind. The Torah breaks the deadlock. It is therefore incumbent on us to find the underlying opposing arguments so that we apply the Gezeirat Hakatuv correctly in each particular case that is presented.

RGN then proceeds to propose that the rule of Rove is based on human perception. For example, a rice dish that contains vegetables will be referred to as rice as long as the rice makes up the majority of the dish. It does not mean that the vegetables are considered as if they are not there but rice is the dominant feature of the dish. There is therefore a good argument to be made either way; see it as a rice dish or see it as a mixed vegetable-rice dish.

In the case of Sanhedrin where 36 rule one way leaving the rest in a minority, a strong argument can be made that truth, which is the objective of a Beit Din, is not majority dependent. The outcome would therefore be similar to a hung jury and no definite ruling should be made relying on the rules of Safek (see Hil Mamrim 1:5). Gezeirat Hakatuv, אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים—לְהַטֹּת tells us that the Torah wants us to come out with a definite ruling and follow our perception that the majority prevails and is representative of the Beit Din position. It may not be the objective truth as in most cases, a subsequent Sanhedrin, whose majority adopts the opposite ruling, will change the law but the Torah, for societal reasons wants us to be decisive.

Similarly, a piece of meat that was found in a city, where the majority of the butchers are kosher, we say that all unidentified meat is kosher. Just as with the Sanhedrin there no longer is a Safek – a doubt – so too here we say that undoubtedly this meat is kosher based on our perception. That works for meat that is found outside the stores because we can look at the stores and perceive them as one kosher entity just as the Sanhedrin that ruled can be seen as a unified entity. However, when the meat is still in one store and the question arises into which store the person entered to take it, we are breaking up the unified perception. We are questioning “which” store was frequented. We no longer perceive all the stores as one unit. The perception of unity has been shattered. We cannot therefore apply the Gezeirat Hakatuv that tells us to follow our perception and decide accordingly. Doubt lingers in the mind of the questioner whether he entered the non-kosher store and the rules of Safek are applied. RGN adds a psychological insight. In a town where there is one non-kosher store, everybody is aware of it and has a built in caution not to go there. The fact that one can have a doubt that he may have gone there shows a breakdown of that built in caution which is the basis for lingering doubt. (Of course, this would apply only if the non-kosher store was known as such at the time he took the meat while the rule applies when it was not known at the time. Now that I mention it, I am no longer 100% sure that it is the case, but am too lazy to verify.)

The idea that human perception is the basis for Halachik reasoning is used by RGN in many other instances. Rav Sheilat reports that he once asked him whether he was basing his thinking on Kantian thought. He replied that without Kant, we have to look at the Torah as a tool to perfect us. It therefore is finely attuned to human nature.

For the full article, go here. It is very worthwhile.

Shabbat Shalom.


  1. Rove here is like Yedi'ah uBechira on Divrei Chaim. Anyway, Reb Shimon Shkop in his Shaarei Yosher says a similar svara, not on the basis of perception, but on the basis that there is no ta'aroves. He compares it to six women in a bed, and dahm is found, that unless we can definitively tie it to one individual, they are all tamei, since each person might be the source of the dahm, or rather, since each person has an independent chashash of being a niddah.

    The problem with using svaros in rove is that one has to accept that they are of no practical application, they are not dispositive; we don't hold like Reb Shimon's ta'ama de'kra. On the other hand, Darkei No'am is used in Yevamos even though there are plenty of cases where Yibum is anything but na'im.

  2. Amazing. Thank you so much for the link to "B'Torato Shel Rav Gedalia"! I have been wanting to read it for a long time.

  3. Torah is a real gift to all jewish

  4. Barukh shekivanti! I am in the middle of a series about halakhah and perception.

    Part I was about things you can't perceive (microscopic bugs) and things that are part of common perception but don't actually objectively exist (ta'am giving a milchig/fleishig/treif taint to pots and the tequfah for birkhas hachamah).

    Part II will be on this very subject. (This link may work someday soon, if I have the time to finish it before April.)

    And last will be how the notion that halakhah depends on perception rather than an objective notion of reality doesn't contradict the idea that mitzvos have cosmic consequences involving metaphysical forces.

  5. >doesn't contradict the idea that mitzvos have cosmic consequences involving metaphysical forces.

    As you know I disagree with that completely but hadevarim Atikim.

    R. Micha Chag Kasher Vesameach.

  6. RDG: Wait until you read my post!

    In short, I argue that the only metaphysical forces are the impact on people. By changing the person, Hashem now responds to them differently, and therefore the world around them is different. I then will try to show that the Nefesh haChaim's qabbalistic terminology ends up saying the same thing.

    Or the presentation will come out differently. But that's the basic notion.

    A rationalist's qabbalah.


  7. Oy, my computer programmer techno-geekness is showing. I forgot basic mentchlachkeit!

    I wish you too a cheg kasher vesameiach, and a second berakhah that the first one not need to be belashon lo zu af zu.


  8. R. Micha I have a friend who argues that Kaballah is just an esoteric language for a rationalist approach.I do not know enough to be able to argue when it comes to the Rishonim though I suspect that Ramban's concept of shefa differs from Rambam's. But I am convinced that the later mekubalim, especially from the Arizal on were talking about a totally different concept of Metziut. And the "mekubalei Doreinu" are completely in another dimension probably not very far from kefirah and if not over the line. I of course am not referring to Tzadikei Olam like Rav Kook et al.