Monday, June 28, 2010

Do Chazal dispute whether shedim exist?

There is an interesting discussion over at Rationalist Judaism as to whether Rambam interpreted Chazal correctly. The discussion turned to sheidim, and the Rambam's break from Chazal as to their existence. Some suggested that it might have even been a dispute among Chazal themselves, with some believing in their existence and some disbelieving.

Perhaps, or perhaps not, but I think I can debunk the one gemara which was offered as evidence in that thread. It was from Bava Kamma 21a:

אמר רב סחורה אמר רב הונא אמר רב הדר בחצר חבירו שלא מדעתו אין צריך להעלות לו שכר משום שנאמר  (ישעיהו כד, יב) ושאיה יוכת שער אמר מר בר רב אשי לדידי חזי ליה ומנגח כי תורא רב יוסף אמר ביתא מיתבא יתיב מאי בינייהו איכא בינייהו דקא משתמש ביה בציבי ותיבנא

R. Sehorah slated that R. Huna quoting Rab had said: He who occupies his neighbour's premises without having any agreement with him is under no legal obligation to pay him rent, for Scripture says, Through emptiness (Shaya) even the gate gets smitten. Mar, son of R. Ashi, remarked: I myself have seen such a thing and the damage was as great as though done by a goring ox. R. Joseph said: Premises that are inhabited by tenants keep in a better condition. What however is the [practical] difference between them? — There is a difference between them in the case where the owner was using the premises for keeping there wood and straw.
The suggestion was that Rav Yosef must disbelieve in the existence of sheidim. But this is not necessarily so. Rashi writes:
שנאמר ושאיה יוכת שער - שד ששמו שאיה מכתת שער בית שאין בני אדם דרין בו והלכך זה שעמד בו ההנהו. לישנא אחרינא בית שהוא שאוי ויחיד מאין אדם יוכת שער מזיקין מכתתין אותו:
That is, it is a particular demon. Demonology is a complex subject, and it could be that Rav Yosef did not believe in this particular sheid, or that it has this particular effect -- or else had heard a tradition as to the true reason for the introduction of this law.

I will elaborate why I doubt that Rav Yosef would disbelieve in the reality of sheidim in general. If we look in Pesachim 110a:
אמר רב יוסף אמר לי יוסף שידא אשמדאי מלכא דשידי ממונה הוא אכולהו זוגי ומלכא לא איקרי מזיק איכא דאמרי לה להאי גיסא אדרבה מלכא [רתחנא הוא] מאי דבעי עביד שהמלך פורץ גדר לעשות לו דרך ואין מוחין בידו  אמר רב פפא אמר לי יוסף שידא בתרי קטלינן בארבעה לא קטלינן בארבעה מזקינן בתרי בין בשוגג בין במזיד בארבעה במזיד אין בשוגג לא 
I am going to cite Point by Point summary rather than giving my own translation:
Rav Yosef: Yosef the Shed told me that Ashmedai, the king of the Shedim, is appointed over all Zugos;
1. Version #1: A king does not normally damage (we need not be so concerned for Zugos; the Beraisos warn against it on account of witchcraft).
2. Version #2: A king does whatever he wants - he may breach a fence to make a path for himself, and people cannot protest (we must be very concerned for Zugos).
Rav Papa: Yosef the Shed told me that Shedim kill on account of two (e.g. cups); they damage on account of four, but they do not kill;
1. They strike on account of two whether it was Shogeg or Mezid; they damage on account of four only if it was Mezid.
Most translations I have seen give this as Yosef the Shed, that is Yosef the demon. Could someone who has conversed with a demon really disbelieve in demons. (We also see, according to the second version, that one who believes in demons could still believe that they would not accomplish some particular action.)

Now, in William G. Braude's The Book of Legends, I have seen "Yosef Sheda" translated as "Yosef, the expert on demons." That is, "Sheda" is a profession or expertise in demonology, and he is informing these Amoraim about the rules governing demons. Still, that they cite him in any meaningful way indicates that they believe in the reality of demons. (Unless we suggest that Rav Yosef here cites him according to version #2, in order to undermine belief in zugot because he does not believe in their reality.)

Depending on whether מר when used by Abaye refers to Rabbah or Rav Yosef, we may have an explicit example of Rav Yosef saying that something was caused by demons, on Chullin 105b.

I would like to reconsider the gemara in Eruvin about Eliyahu Hanavi or Yosef Sheida. But first, a paraphrase of something from the end of Yerushalmi Terumot:

Thus, sheidim have the ability to transport people from one location to another more or less instantaneously. This is either teleportation or really fast travel. Now, let us turn back to Eruvin 43a:
תא שמע הני שב שמעתא דאיתאמרן בצפר' בשבתא קמיה דרב חסדא בסורא בהדי פניא בשבתא קמיה דרבא בפומבדיתא מאן אמרינהו לאו אליהו אמרינהו אלמא אין תחומין למעלה מעשרה לא דלמא יוסף שידא אמרינהו
Or, from the Point by Point Summary:
(f) Answer #3: Seven teachings were said Shabbos morning in front of Rav Chisda in Sura, and Shabbos afternoon in front of Rabah in Pumbadisa [which is outside the Techum of Sura; surely, the same person said them]!
1. Suggestion: Eliyahu said them (he flew above 10 from Sura to Pumbadisa) - this shows that Techumim does not apply above 10!Me'iri, Chasam Sofer 6:98
(g) Rejection: Perhaps they were said by a certain Shed [that does not observe Shabbos]. 
I would emend this to not just "a certain Shed" by Yosef the Shed, the same one who spoke to Rav Yosef and Rav Papa elsewhere.

Thus, first the assumption is that only Eliyahu Hanavi could travel that quickly. He would not violate Shabbos by traveling past the techum, so he must have used his other miraculous power and traveled in the air, higher than 10 tefachim. Thus, techum does not apply over ten hand-breadths.

The gemara rejects this because maybe it was Yosef Sheida. That is, Yosef the demon. We see elsewhere that this demon conversed with Amoraim, and could do so here. And demons are not required to keep Shabbos, even if they have the name Yosef! As Rashi writes:

יוסף שידא - דלא מינטר שבתא:

Yosef the Sheid, who does not keep Shabbos. And as we saw from the aforementioned story in Yerushalmi, demons can travel really fast.

Alternatively, if we understand Yosef Sheida as the human expert on demons, then the gemara is suggesting that this human expert was able to harness the power of demons to travel this great distance on Shabbos. And there is no evidence that Yosef the demon expert was a religious man. He didn't keep Shabbos, but still traveled to Pumpedisa and related the seven rulings.

Alternatively, Yosef Sheida is still this human expert, but unlike Rashi's suggestion, he did keep the Shabbos. But travel via demon is instantaneous teleportation, which does not involve travel on the ground or above it.

In any case, the gemara is trying to establish halacha, and relies on the reality of Eliyahu Hanavi moving around among us, and then on the existence and power of demons. This indicates to me that whoever wrote this indeed believed in the existence and power of demons, and was not using it in some metaphorical sense.


Nosson Gestetner said...

Just wondering, fast travel would certainly be a violation of techum, a boundary one moves past, but why would teleportation?

E-Man said...

There are several things about these Gemorahs that I want to research first. But just to throw this out there, is this the same Rav Yosef? Aren't there a few Amoraim that go by the name Yosef? I am pretty sure there are at least two, one being blind and one not being blind.

joshwaxman said...

"but why would teleportation?"
right. it wouldn't, and therefore, we would not have to say like Rashi that this Yosef Sheda, be it man or demon, was violating Shabbos. rather, it was another mechanism of avoiding the techum, and we cannot learn anything about techum over 10 tefachim.

"Aren't there a few Amoraim that go by the name Yosef?"
i'm not positive. certainly there is a rabbi yossi / yasa in Yerushalmi. but i think "stam rav yosef" is rav yosef bar chiya, who was blind, and was Abaye's rebbe.


joshwaxman said...

also, i'd have to see which gemara has the non-blind Rav Yosef, but Rav Yosef was not born blind. he became blind as a result of an illness, and also lost his memory. subsequently his student Abaye reminded him of various things he had said.

if so, a gemara with a non-blind Rav Yosef may simply be Rav Yosef before his illness.

kol tuv,

E-Man said...

Josh, there are several ways to ask a kasha on this gemora as "proof" to the various opinions. Other rishonim do not hold like rashi and say this gemorah is not talking about shaidim. However, I think u brought out a kasha and not necessarily a full "debunking." It is true, rav yosef may believe in other shaidim, but why would he deny the existence of this specific shade?

Also, I think, even if we are to say this Rav Yosef in Eiruvin is the same rav yosef, that gemorah can be explained away. Hopefully, I will be able to explain myself soon.

joshwaxman said...

certainly possible, and i surely don't know how all the various meforshim explain this gemara.

and metaphor / allegory is almost always available to explain away any gemara.

however, i would suspect that those who would say allegory regarding rav yosef's statement about Ashmodai and zugos would also say allegory regarding the gemara in bava kamma. once we are claiming it is allegory, can we really then use it selectively to establish a machlokes among Chazal as to whether sheidim are real? it seems like it is standing on shaky ground.

"It is true, rav yosef may believe in other shaidim, but why would he deny the existence of this specific shade?"
because he heard a tradition for a different reason for this halacha, such that it was not established because of sheidim. hey, i believe in the reality of rainfall, but only some things do i blame on the rain. :)


joshwaxman said...

also, as rashi explains the ikka beinayhu:
דקמשתמש בו - בעל הבית בציבי ותיבנא שהיו עציו ותבנו בתוכו וזה הלך ודר בו משום שאיה ליכא הואיל ומשתמשין בו משום ביתא מיתבא איכא דאין זה ישוב וזה שדר בו יפה עשה וההנהו:

rav yosef exempts the tenant without permission in more cases. so we can simply say that yes, he agrees to the existence of the sheid, but thinks that a tenant would keep it in better condition even where the sheid reason would not apply, so the tenant is exempt in a wider swath of cases.


E-Man said...

Ok, I think I can offer "rebuttals" to your proofs against my idea you bring up here.

First, let me just respond to your comment. It is possible that Rav Yosef is just adding on a more lenient opinion and does believe in this sheid. However, I would tend to disagree for the following reasons: A) It seems like he is arguing and not adding on from the simple reading of the Gemorah. That is why it says Rav Yosef Amar and also does not say Rav Yosef goes further or any other type of language that would be adding on instead of arguing with. B) Many Rishonim argue on Rashi and learn that Rav Yosef is being stricter. They learn the opposite of Rashi here. Either way, your idea is possible.

Now, I contend with almost every point you make here.

First, Rav Yosef with Yosef "the Sheid" does not seem to make such a strong case for Rav Yosef believing in Sheidim in the Gemorah in Pesachim for the following reasons: A) Rav Yosef says, I think, that Yosef the Sheid told him two things, no? These teachings contradicted one another. So, in my mind, if you want to disprove a myth, the best way is to talk to an expert who tells you that that myth contradicts itself.

"R. Joseph said: The demon Joseph told me [that] Ashmedai the king of the demons is appointed
over all pairs.’16 and a king is not designated a harmful spirit.17 Others explain it in the opposite
sense: On the contrary, a king is quick-tempered [and] does whatever he wishes, for a king can break
through a wall to make a pathway for himself and none may stay him.18"

So the expert is telling us that either AShmedai does, or he does not, we have conflicting reports. Kinda tells me that Rav Yosef was trying to show how this idea can not be used for any significance. Not that he believed in Sheidim.

And to your other point, that he must believe in Sheidim since he spoke to a Sheid. I only want to present the opinion that Yosef the Sheid was in fact human and not say maybe Yosef was a real Sheid.

Why would I say he is a human expert if you brought this other Gemorah that seems to prove that he did miraculous events? I think, although you are smarter than I am, you might have made a mistake in this Gemorah.

"Come and hear: Who was it that delivered the seven traditional rulings on a Sabbath morning to R.
Hisda at Sura and on the same Sabbath evening to Rabbah at Pumbeditha? Was it not Elijah who
delivered them, which proves, does it not, that the law of Sabbath limits is inapplicable above ten
handbreadths from the ground? — It is possible that the demon Joseph delivered them."

The Gemorah is trying to bring a proof that if you can fly, shabbos does not apply to you. Eliyahu was known to be able to fly. The only way he would not be subject to the laws of shabbos would to be able to fly. However, when the Gemorah says that Joseph the demon delivered them, it does not mean teleportation or anything else miraculous. Sura and Pumbedisa were close enough that a person who does not keep shabbos could have ridden a horse from Pumbedisa to Sura in a day. So Joseph the demon was a regular man that was a shabbos goy or an irreligious Jew.

Also, the Gemorah in Yerushalmi, ignoring the other parts for now, could simply be saying that Anginitin knew of a secret passage way to enter the city or was able to sneak Rebbe Yehuda in a different way, why must it be teleportation? And traveling from Tiberias to Banyans was not far, Banyas was in the northern part of Israel and so was tiberias. So, teleportation was not necessary in this case either. So maybe Anginitin was just an Irreligious Jew or not Jewish also.

Just something to think about.

joshwaxman said...

if i were to analyze this gemara from scratch, i wouldn't even necessarily say it is referring to shedim. we have rav, the earliest, and rav yosef, later, both saying that *emptiness* can cause damage. the stama makes a point of practical distinction which may or may not hold. it could simply be that rav used a pasuk as prooftext and rav yosef used a common contemporary expression as proof. and mar bar rav ashi, the latest, testified that sitting empty does indeed cause damage. if so, nothing about the text indicates presence or absence of a demon.

that in terms of this gemara in bava kamma. pesachim in the next comment.

joshwaxman said...

in terms of pesachim, that is not what i maintain איכא דאמרי לה means, based on an examination of ika de'amrei in the general case. rav yosef does not make two statements.

rather, rav yosef made a single statement: מר לי יוסף שידא אשמדאי מלכא דשידי ממונה הוא אכולהו זוגי

the setama then interpreted this cryptic statement in two different ways. or rather, two stamaim, and they bring both interpretations down. the first is: ומלכא לא איקרי מזיק. the second is: מלכא [רתחנא הוא] מאי דבעי עביד שהמלך פורץ גדר לעשות לו דרך ואין מוחין בידו

i wouldn't use the two versions of the statement in different directions as an attempt to undermine any more than i would say this about any lishna basra which reverses the meaning.

in terms of eruvin:
Yosef Sheda using a horse rather than demons, or him being a demon, this strikes me as unlikely. first, he makes multiple statements about demons, and so is associated with demons in this manner. second, why specifically this fellow, over any other non-religious fellow in the universe. especially in context of miraculous travel by eliyahu hanavi. this interpretation seems exceptionally unlikely to me. that one could travel by horse if irreligious, if true, is a question on the setama which suggested it, but would not cause me to interpret the gemara so against its simple implication.

in terms of the Yerushalmi:
the setup was Diocletian asking Rabbi Yehuda to appear before him on Sunday, but not to deliver the message until late Friday afternoon. His evident plan in this was to force Rabbi Yehuda to travel on Shabbos, either by foot or by horse. if it were possible to travel by horse after Shabbos and arrive on time, then this would not have been a miracle.

the text from midrash rabba, by the way, is:
דקלייטינוס מלכא, הוה רעי חזירין בהדא טבריה, וכיון דהוה מטי סדריה דרבי, הווי מינוקא נפקין ומחיין ליה. לבתר יומין איתעביד מלך, נחת ויתיב ליה בהדא פנייס [נ"א פמייס] ושלח כתבים לטבריא, מפני רמשא דערובתה.
אמר: אנא יהיב קילוון, דיהוון רברבני דיהודאי קיימין קודמי בצפרא דחד בשבא!
פקדיה לשליחא אמר ליה: לא תתן יתהון להון, אלא עם מטעמי יומא דערובתא.

נחת רבי שמואל בר נחמן למיסחי, חמתי לרבי,
דהוה קאים קומי סדרא רבה, ראה פניו חולניות.
אמר לו: למה פניך חולניות?
אמר: כן וכן אשתדר לי כתבין מן מלכותא.
אמר ליה: איתא סחי, דברייך עביד לנא נסין. עלון למסחי ואתא הדין ארגיניטון מגחיך ומרקד קדמיהון. בעא רבי דיזעוף ביה.

אמר ליה רבי שמואל בר נחמן:
רבי! שבקיה דזמנין על נסין הוא מתחמא.
אמר ליה: מריך בעקא ואת קאים גחיך ומרקד?!
אמר להון: אזלון ואכלון ושתון ועבדון שבא טבא, דמריכון עביד לכון נסין, ואנא מקים לכון קודמוי בצפרא דחד בשבתא. באפוקי שבתא בתר סידרא, נסבון ואקימון קדם פיילי דפנייס עלון.
ואמרין ליה: הא קיימין קדם פיילי!
אמר: סגרון פיילי!
נסבוהון ועקמון על מטכסא דמדינתא.
עלון ואמרין ליה.
אמר: אנא, קלוון אנא, דיתזון בי בני תלתא יומי, ויעלון ויסחון ויאתין לגבאי.
אזלון ואתזון בי בני תלתא יומין, ואעל חד ארגיניטון ומוזגה קדמיהון, ועלו וסחון ואתון לגביה!
אמר להון: בגין דאתון ידעין דאלהיכון עביד לכון נסין, אתון מקילין למלכא?!
אמרין ליה: לדיקליטיינוס רעי חזירין אקילינן, ברם לדיקליטיינוס מלכא אנן משועבדים. אמר להון: אפילו כן, לא תבזון, לא ברומי זעיר ולא בגולייר זעיר.

the clear meaning of the entire passage is that there are miracles being performed, something unlikely by an irreligious Jew.

kol tuv,

E-Man said...

The Gemorah in Baba Kama seems more likely it is talking about sheidim than not. True, there are some Rishonim that seem to deny the idea that it is talking about Sheidim, but Mar Bar rav ashi's statement that he saw it goring like an ox makes it more likely that he was talking about a Sheid doesn't it. I mean, I know there are rishonim that explain that statement away by saying that really mar bar rav ashi meant he saw the damage that was done and it was like a goring ox. However, he said he SAW it goring like an ox. Doesn't that make the simple explanation that he SAW something goring like an ox?

Gemorah in Pesachim: You are right, Ika Deamri usually comes to teach two separate things that could have happened or been the way something was learned. It is not one person saying two things. What I was trying to convey was that this statement that Rav Yosef made in the name of Yosef the demon was ambiguous, as the Gemorah attests by saying it could mean one of two things. So what was Rav Yosef trying to do by telling us a statement that could be understood in two different ways in the name of Yosef the demon? Didn't Rav Yosef know that this statement he quoted from Yosef the demon was ambiguous and could mean two different things? That is what I was trying to say, sorry for not being clear. So, it seems to me that this Gemorah could just be saying that Rav Yosef talked to an expert at demonology and all he could get was an unclear and useless answer.
This is why Rav Papa comes along and says, wait a second, Yosef the demon told me clearly that this is how demons work and he was not ambiguous.

Gemorah in Eruvin:

Yosef the demon is associated with demons, because he was supposedly the expert in demons. Isn;t that why he is quoted by Amoraim as to how demons work? Anyway, the reason the Gemorah said Eliyahu hanavi traveled and taught the halacha is because, what non-Jews can teach halacha? Also, how can a Jew travel outside the techum on shabbos? So the gemorah says it must have been eliyahu hanavi who can fly. The reason this is brought up is to show that shabbos laws do not apply above 10 tefachim. This is disproven by saying, no it was yosef the sheid. Yosef the sheid was well known by amoraim as a non-Jew who knew a lot about Judaism. If there was some other non-Jew that knew a lot about Judaism they could have used his name as well, but yosef the demon was a well known figure in the gemorah, that is why they used him. The point of the Gemorah is to show how being ten tefachim off the ground makes shabbos no longer apply and that is disproven. Not sure what is compelling you to say the non-Jew needed to fly as well, that detail is worthless to the discussion. I will ask you this, Josh, if it was just talking about flying, why specify Yosef the sheid, the Gemorah should have said ANY sheid or angel.

The midrash and gemorah in Yerushalmi could be as you learn it. However, remember, the Rambam explains a lot of miracles in a naturalistic way. So it is a miracle that a non-Jew would help him ride on a really fast horse and then help him sneak in. I would say that is a miracle. But you could be right that this midrash and gemorah yerushalmi was completely supernatural. I don;t know, but it could just be a miracle in the Rambam's understanding of the word.

Just some stuff that was on my mind. Have a good day.


E-Man said...

Last night I wrote a whole long post on this subject found here

joshwaxman said...



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