On Yerushalmi-Centric, Yerushalmi-Supremacy Judaism

On the fringes of mainstream Aggadeta, we continually hear the following claim:

The sages of Talmud Yerushalmi were more attuned to true Torah than the sages of Talmud Bavli. Therefore, although in Halacha we follow (at least for now) the Bavli (though even this rule is not as firm as it is thought – Rabbi David bar Chaim), in Aggadeta we ought to prefer Yerushalmi, which is more fill-in-the-blank (Zionist, feminist, anarchist, intuitive, applicable to our pre-Redemption generation, mystical, etc.) Chazal explicitly praised Israeli Chazal and their Talmud in comparison to Diaspora Chazal.

Since this site and myself travel on the fringes of many topics (and I naturally include some of these claims), I wish to make clear my opinion on the above:

Since many of the sages would travel back and forth between the countries, differentiating between personalities is not so plausible. Rabbi Yochanan was the true leader of both schools. Also, Halacha is the real “meat” of Judaism, so why would the Halacha follow Bavli in disputes between the Talmuds, if it was inferior in even Aggadeta? (By the way, I am not yet convinced in the slightest by the aforementioned Rabbi Bar Chaim). And just because the Bavli sages may have been personally worse in some behavior (e.g., vicious debates, whatever that means), it does not follow their Talmud reflects their lackings, to the extent studying Bavli will make you a worse person than studying Yerushalmi.

It may very well be one can find certain points made in Yerushalmi which are more relevant to us, seeing as the Yerushalmi was written during and where WXYZ. But from that claim to the claim that the Bavli would also wrongly disagree with those insights, the distance is far. Indeed, in Halacha, we say the opposite: Everyone then knew and /or agreed with the stricture against Pilegesh, for instance.

That is, the Yerushalmi may happen to make explicit a conclusion the Bavli omits, but a sufficiently wise scholar could deduce the same detail on his own. Or it may give factual data the Bavli deems less important. We interpret Bavli using Yerushalmi.

In general, even if many of the “Yerushalmi is better” crowd’s claims might be – even are – correct, it is my impression they have hardly begun to prove their case. And prove it they must. Many/most Yerushalmi enthusiasts explicitly rejected these ideas, including (to my memory) Radbaz, Ohr Same’ach, the Rogotchover, Gur, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, etc. Quoting Rabbi Kook once or twice doesn’t suffice. (And I don’t see his Teshuvos’ method differing (much) from classical Bavli Halacha, either.)

And when I say Yerushalmi-supremacists haven’t made their case, I am being very polite…

There’s a test, y’know: If I presented any Machlokes Bavli Yerushalmi in the opposite form, they would still say: Ah, we again see how Yerushalmi is “so much more WXYZ!” Try this for example (unless you remember the facts):

אבנט מכפר על הרהור הלב\אבנט מכפר על הגנבים…

Can you take an oath as to which opinion above was the Yerushalmi’s? I didn’t think so…

Find the answer at the end of this link.

(I delayed making this point for the longest time, hoping to make it perfect, but, spurred by a private letter, I type this up now, since something is better than nothing.)

P.S. Rabbi Maimon (father of Maimonides), quoted in Ritva Yoma 57a says Israeli sages weren’t always better, see HebrewBooks here:

משום דדיירי בארעא דחשוכה אמרי שמעתתא דחשיכן. פי’ הרמב”ם ז”ל בתשו’ שאלה דר’ ירמי’ לטעמי’ דאמר במחשכים הושיבני כמתי עולם זה תלמוד בבלי וטעמא משום דלא נהירי להון טעמי דמתנייתא כהלכה כמה דנהירי לרבנן דא”י. ור’ זירא נמי בעי דלשתכח לי’ טעמיה דבבלאי משום דלא נהירן לי’ בתר דשמע טעמא דמערבאי דמנהגא דעלמא דמדכר איניש טפי מאי דגמר ברישא. מיהו לאו בכל הדורות היו כן אלא בימי רבה ורב יוסף ואביי ורבא דהוו להו שמדות כדאיתא בהשוכר את הפועלים. ואמרי’ נמי בפרק אלו טריפות ערקו רבה ורב יוסף ור’ זירא אמר להו ערוקאי שהיו בורחין מחמת השמדות ואמר להו ר’ זירא שעם כל זאת לא ישכחו דברי התורה ואמרינן בפרק המנחות והנסכים והיו חייך תלואים לך מנגד זה הלוקח תבואה משנה לשנה ואם כך ללוקח תבואה משנה לשנה כ”ש לשמדות שיש בו סכנת נפשות וזהו טעמן של ר’ זירא ור’ ירמי’. אבל אח”כ נתגברה התורה בבבל כ”ש בימי רב אשי דאמרי’ מימות רבי ועד רב אשי לא מצינו תורה וגדולה במקום אחד ע”כ דברי רבינו ז”ל וחיים הם למוצאיהם.

So claiming his own son, the Rambam, forged a new pro-Yerushalmi Halachic method, as Rabbi Bar Chaim says, to explain various puzzling Rambams (while no one else considered this simple explanation, by the way) is now a tiny bit even less likely.

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