Bo: Why Do Rabbis Make Rules?


Throughout Jewish history, the rabbis have enacted takanot, or Rabbinic ordinances, to safeguard Jewish observance. Shabbat begins at sundown? The sages extend it by eighteen minutes. The evening Shema must be recited by sunrise? The rabbis said midnight. Where did they learn this behavior? Why are the Torah’s commands not enough?

Does Torah Establish Safeguards?

Halachic authorities in recent generations discuss whether ‘safeguards’ are only enacted by the sages, or whether some of the actual prohibitions in Torah can be defined as ‘safeguards’ as well.

At first glance, the very concept of ‘safeguards’ seems to be formulated by the sages. Although a given action is permitted in Torah law, they forbid the action to safeguard you from—G-d forbid—transgressing an actual Torah law, as our sages state in Ethics of Our Fathers, “Establish a boundary around the Torah.” [We also know that these safeguards were primarily enacted in the Second Temple Era, due to weakened Jewish observance]. But the actual commandments in Torah belong to a different category. They are the self-standing prohibitions; Torah does not create prohibitions to protect you from different ones.

The Pre-Passover Prohibition

Maimonides writes: “Torah commands us to destroy chametz before the time it becomes forbidden to eat, as the verse states: ‘On the first day, destroy leaven from your homes.’ The oral tradition teaches that ‘the first day’ refers to the fourteenth of the month [the day before the onset of Passover.] Proof of the matter is from the verse: ‘Do not slaughter the Passover sacrifice with leaven in your possession,’ and the slaughter of the Pesach offering is on the fourteenth after midday.”

Likewise, in an earlier chapter, Maimonides writes: “It is forbidden to eat chametz on the day of the fourteenth [of Nisan] from noon onward—i.e., from the beginning of the seventh hour of the day. One who eats chametz during this time is liable for lashes according to Torah law, as the verse states: ‘Do not eat any leaven with it’; i.e., together with the Pesach offering. The oral tradition explains that this statement means: Do not eat any chametz after the time of the Passover offering’s slaughter, that being the afternoon—i.e., after midday.”

This law seems to demonstrate that Torah itself sets up safeguards for its commandments: Here, Torah forbids the consumption of chametz from midday on the fourteenth of Nissan and commands that it be destroyed. The reason is, presumably, to safeguard you from the prohibition of chametz with the onset of Passover at night.

However, a closer examination of the text reveals that the chametz prohibition on the fourteenth is not a safeguard for a later prohibition. Rather, it is its own principal commandment: the Torah says that the Passover offering cannot be sacrificed with chametz in your possession.

The Safeguard Against Chametz Consumption

The proof that Torah establishes safeguards is from the commandment that no chametz whatsoever may be seen or found in your possession on Passover. 

In no other instance does Torah forbid a person from owning forbidden matter—even if located at the other end of the world.

A Jew is forbidden to derive any benefit from idol worship, and this prohibition applies even to the minutest amount of the forbidden matter. But it is still not as severe as the prohibition to own chametz even for a single moment on Passover. 

The reason for Torah’s stringency regarding chametz is explained by Rabbeinu Nissim: “This prohibition is more extreme than other commandments, because people are not accustomed to abstaining from chametz all year round…Torah commands us to remove it from our possessions entirely.” Meaning: Idol worship is not something we are accustomed to; quite to the contrary. Therefore, there is no reason to radically prohibit it. But since we are accustomed to eating chametz all year round, a more significant prohibition is necessary to ensure that we don’t accidentally transgress it. Therefore, Torah forbids even its possession.

Clearly, Torah does create safeguards. The prohibition to own chametz on Pesach—a clear prohibition in the Torah—is a safeguard against mistakenly eating chametz on Passover, G-d forbid, because we are so accustomed to eating it all year round.

This Is the Source for All Future Rabbinic Ordinances

We can say further: Our sages enacted safeguards only based on the precedent of those established by Torah. The Talmud states that all ordinances of our sages must resemble Torah law, so here too, the very basis for all ordinances of the sages are these very safeguards, created by the Torah.

Shabbat Vayikra 5747
(Toras Menachem 5747 vol. 2 pg. 762)

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  • Great classes my BB are really enjoying

    an editorial note one of my BB offered during today class
    In the future, it might be a good idea have the editor use only one way of describing a single event
    It’s either “Passover, Paschal offering etc “ or Pesach, Pesach offering”

    Again thanks


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