Tuesday, May 16, 2006

R. Shim'on ben Shetach saw the trees and the forest

The story in yesterday's New York magazine is making the rounds. One issue that is being discussed is comments attributed to an elderly rosh yeshiva, who I will not name here since I can't be certain he made those comments or what he intended if he did. In any case, the comment was to the effect that child molestation that doesn't involve actual penetration is not actionable in halakhah. Now, the report makes the claim that this "pesaq" was used to intimidate victims into silence. Perhaps the comment was never made. Perhaps it was made in a theoretical sense and then used to silence victims, without this rosh yeshiva's knowledge.

However, that is what I want to comment on. Suppose it was only theoretical. What then?

I'm reminded of the Gemara Yerushalmi Baba Metzia 2:5.

R. Shim'on ben Shetach made a living by selling linen. His students decided to buy a donkey for him to make it easier for him. They purchased a donkey from a bandit and it turned out that there was a precious stone dangling from it. They told him about it and said that he doesn't need to work hard anymore. R. Shimon ben Shetach said: Return it! They said to him, although gezel akum is prohibited, returning an avedah to an akum is not required!

So he said:

!?מה אתון סברין שמעון בן שטח ברברין הוה

Should they say "Shim'on ben Shetach is a barbarian?!"

בעי הוה שמעון בן שטח משמע בריך אלההון דיהודאי מאגר כל הדין עלמא

"Shim'on ben Shetach wants to hear Blessed is the God of the Jews more than anything in the world."

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