Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rashbash on the Judgment of Rosh Hashanah

(repost of an earlier topic)

An interesting example of the intersection of hashkafah (theology) and halakhah (law) is the rule about avoiding danger. The Rema (Yoreh De'ah 116:5), among a list of specific recommendations of dangerous practices to avoid, writes that you should flee a city in which there is a plague. Commenting on this, the Pischei Teshuvah (no. 8) and Darkhei Teshuvah (no. 95) cite a responsum from the 15th century Algerian Torah scholar, Rashbash (R. Shlomo ben Shimon Duran, son of the Rashbatz).

Click here for moreIn this responsum (Responsa Rashbah, no. 195), the Rashbash responds to a query whether there is any theological purpose to fleeing from a city in which there is a plague. If your death has been decreed by God, then fleeing should not help. And if not, then there is no need to leave. The Rashbash's theological analysis serves as the basis not only of his own ruling but also of the Rema's practical ruling to flee such a city, at least as the Pischei Teshuvah and Darkhei Teshuvah understand it.

Because of this responsum's importance, I would like to summarize its contents:

  1. Every person has an individual, set lifespan (cf. Ex. 23:26; Isa. 38:5; Ps. 39:5).

  2. This lifespan can be lengthened as a reward for doing good and shortened as a punishment for doing bad (cf. Deut. 30:16; Prov. 10:27).

  3. Someone who does not have sins that require shortening his life is not judged on Rosh Hashanah for life or death, but is judged for wealth and other things.

  4. Someone who is not judged for life or death on Rosh Hashanah is subject to premature death (i.e. not at his set time) due to chance, plague, war, etc. during that year (about death through accident or war, Rashbash quotes the Kuzari 5:20; Emunah Ramah p. 97; Magen Avos 5:21; see also Sefer Ha-Ikkarim 4:21).

  5. Since you do not know whether or not you were judged for death/life on Rosh Hashanah, you must avoid dangerous situations and flee from a city in which there is a plague.
There is more to the responsum but this should suffice as a summary. I find it quite significant that the idea that someone can die by chance has halakhic ramifications and is quoted by significant authorities.

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