R. Ishmael b. Elisha

These rules are rules of Rabbi Ishmael b. Elisha. Their point of interest is…

  1. Interpretation of Scripture
  2. Establishment of halakhah

By applying these rules to our Hermeneutic process we can better understand the Tanakh and the Nazarean Codicil.

Thirteen rules compiled by Rabbi Ishmael b. Elisha: for the elucidation of the Torah and for making halakic deductions from it. They are, strictly speaking, mere amplifications of the seven Rules of Hillel, and are collected in the Baraita of R. Ishmael, forming the introduction to the Sifra and reading a follows:

13 Rules of R. Ishmael b. Elisha

(1) Kal va-ḥomer (more accurately kol va-ḥomer): an argument from the minor premise (kal) to the major (ḥomer). The Midrash (Gen. R. 92:7) traces its use to the Bible (cf. Gen. 44:8; Ex. 6:12; Num. 12:14 – not explicit but see BK 25a; Deut. 31:27; I Sam. 23:3; Jer. 12:5; Ezek. 15:5; Prov. 11:31; Esth. 9:12). The following two examples may be given: (a) It is stated in Deuteronomy 21:23 that the corpse of a criminal executed by the court must not be left on the gallows overnight, which R. Meir takes to mean that God is distressed by the criminal’s death. Hence, R. Meir argues: “If God is troubled at the shedding of the blood of the ungodly, how much more [kal va-ḥomer] at the blood of the righteous!” (Sanh. 6:5). (b) “If priests, who are not disqualified for service in the Temple by age, are disqualified by bodily blemishes (Lev. 21:16–21) then levites, who are disqualified by age (Num. 8:24–25), should certainly be disqualified by bodily blemishes” (Ḥul. 24a). Example (a), where the “minor” and “major” are readily apparent, might be termed a simple kal va-ḥomer. Example (b) might be termed a complex kal va-ḥomer. Here an extraneous element (disqualification by age) has to be adduced to indicate which is the “minor” and which the “major.” Symbolically the two types can be represented as SIMPLE: If A has X, then B certainly has X. COMPLEX: If A, which lacks Y, has X, then B, which has Y, certainly has X. Schwarz (see bibliography) erroneously identifies the Aristotelean syllogism with the kal va-ḥomer. First, the element of “how much more” is lacking in the syllogism. Second, the syllogism inference concerns genus and species:

  • All men are mortal.
  • Socrates is a man.
  • Therefore Socrates is mortal.

(2) Gezerah shavah: comparison of similar expressions. It is probable that etymologically the word gezerah means “law” – as in Daniel 4:4, 14 – so that gezerah shavah would mean a comparison of two similar laws (Beẓah 1:6; see however S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, 193ff.); if the same word occurs in two Pentateuchal passages, then the law applying in the one should be applied to the other. Bergman argues (Sinai 71, 1972) that a gezerah shavah is the application of the laws in one instance to a second instance to achieve a unified legal principle, irrespective of the differences between the cases, more often than not by finding a word that appears in both instances. For example, the word be-mo’ado (“in its appointed time”) is used both in regard to the Paschal lamb (Num. 9:2) and to the tamid, the daily offering (Num. 28:2), which is offered on the Sabbath as well. Thus it can be inferred that the term be-mo’ado includes the Sabbath and hence the Paschal lamb may be offered even on the Sabbath, although work normally forbidden on the Sabbath is entailed (Pes. 66a). The gezerah shavah, as may be seen from the above example, was originally a purely logical principle. It is reasonable to suppose that a law clearly stated in one passage can shed light on a similar law in a different passage. In the schools, however, the gezerah shavah threatened to become a formal principle whereby a mere similarity in words was sufficient warrant for positing similar laws in the respective passages. To prevent the abuse of this method, rules were laid down to qualify its use. A man cannot advance a gezerah shavah independently, but must receive it by tradition from his teachers (Pes. 66a); both passages must be from the Pentateuch (BK 2b); the words of the gezerah shavah must not only be similar but also superfluous (mufneh, “free”) in the context in which they appear, so that it can be argued that they were placed there for the express purpose of the gezerah shavah (Shab. 64a). It would appear that the school of R. Akiva disagrees with that of R. Ishmael and does not require mufneh (TJ, Yoma 8:3, 45a).

Similar to the gezerah shavah but not identical with it are the rules of hekkesh (“comparison”) and semukhim (“juxtaposition”). Hekkesh refers to the presence of two laws in the same verse, from which it may be inferred that whatever is true of one is true of the other. For example, “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith” (Deut. 16:3). Although women are exempt from carrying out positive precepts associated with given time, they are nevertheless obliged to eat unleavened bread on Passover since the verse, by combining the two laws compared the duty to eat unleavened bread with the prohibition against eating leaven, which, being a negative precept, is binding on women (Pes. 43b). Semukhim refers to the juxtaposition of two laws in two adjacent verses. For example, “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live; Whosoever lieth with a beast shall be put to death” (Ex. 22:17, 18). Just as one who lies with a beast is put to death by stoning, so, too, a sorceress is put to death by stoning (Ber. 21b). R. Judah, however, rejects the universal application of the semukhim rule: “Just because the two statements are juxtaposed, are we to take this one out to be stoned?” (ibid). The semukhim rule, according to R. Judah, is to be applied only in Deuteronomy (ibid).

(3) Binyan av mi-katuv eḥad and binyan av mi-shenei khetuvim: an inference from a single verse, and an inference from two verses. (A construction – binyan – in which the premise acts as a “father” – av – to the conclusions drawn from it.) Examples: (a) “He shall pour out the blood thereof and cover it with dust” (Lev. 17:13) – just as the pouring out of the blood (the act of slaughter) is performed with the hand, so must the covering be done with the hand, not with the foot (hekkesh). R. Joseph derives from this that no precept may be treated disrespectfully. He observes: “The father of all of them is blood,” i.e., from the law that the precept of covering the blood must be carried out in a respectful manner it is learnt that all precepts must be so carried out (Shab. 22a). (b) According to the rabbinic interpretation of Deuteronomy 23:25f., a farm laborer, when working in the field, may eat of his employer’s grapes and standing corn. May he likewise eat of other things growing in the field? This cannot be derived from the case of the vineyard, for the owner of a vineyard is obliged to leave the gleanings to the poor (Lev. 19:10), and it may be that since the owner has this obligation, he also has the other. Nor can it be derived from the case of standing corn, for the owner of standing corn is obliged to give ḥallah, the priest’s portion of the dough (Num. 15:17–21). Taking the two cases together, however, others can be derived from them. For the decisive factor in the case of the vineyard cannot be the gleanings, since the law of gleanings does not apply to standing corn. Nor can the decisive factor in the case of standing corn be ḥallah since ḥallah does not apply to a vineyard. The factor common to both vines and standing corn is that they are plants, from which it may be inferred that the law applies to all plants (BM 87b). The peculiarities of each case cannot be decisive since they are different from each other; the common factor is decisive.

(4) Kelal u-ferat; general and particular. If a law is stated in general terms and followed by particular instances, only those instances are covered by the law. Example: “Ye shall bring an offering of the cattle, even of the herd and the flock” (Lev. 1:2). Even though the term “cattle” normally embraces the “beast” (i.e., non-domesticated cattle), the latter is excluded by the particular limitation, “the herd and the flock” (Sifra, introd. 7).

(5) Perat u-khelal: particular and general. If the particular instances are stated first and are followed by the general category, instances other than the particular ones mentioned are included. Example: “If a man deliver unto his neighbor an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast” (Ex. 22:9) – beasts other than those specifically mentioned are included (Sifra, introd. 8).

(6) Kelal u-ferat u-khelal i attah dan ella ke-ein ha-perat: general, particular, general – you may derive only things similar to those specified. Example: “Thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth [kelal] for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink [perat] or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee [kelal]” (Deut. 14:26). Other things than those specified may be purchased, but only if they are food or drink like those specified (Sifra, introd. 8).

(7) Kelal she-hu ẓarikh li-ferat u-ferat she-hu ẓarikh li-khelal: the general requires the particular and the particular the general. Specification is provided by taking the general and the particular together, each “requiring” the other. An example is, “Sanctify unto Me all the first-born” (i.e., males – Deut. 15:19), “whatsoever openeth the womb” (Ex. 13:2). A first-born male would have been understood as included in the term “all the first-born” even if a female had previously been born to that mother. Hence, the particular limiting expression “whatsoever openeth the womb” is stated. But this term would not have excluded one born after a previous Caesarian birth, hence the general term “all the first-born” (Bek. 19a).

(8) Davar she-hayah bi-khelal ve-yaẓa min ha-kelal lelammed lo le-lammed al aẓmo yaẓa ella le-lammed al ha-kelal kullo yaẓa: if a particular instance of a general rule is singled out for special treatment, whatever is postulated of this instance is to be applied to all the instances embraced by the general rule. For example, “A man, also, or a woman that divineth that by a ghost or a familiar spirit, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones” (Lev. 20:27). Divination by a ghost or familiar spirit is included in the general rule against witchcraft (Deut. 18:10f.). Since the penalty of stoning is applied to these instances, it may be inferred that the same penalty applies to all the other instances embraced by the general rule (Sanh. 67b).

(9) Davar she-hayah bi-khelal ve-yaẓa liton to’an eḥad she-hu khe-inyano yaẓa lehakel ve-lo lehaẓmir: when particular instances of a general rule are treated specifically, in details similar to those included in the general rule, then only the relaxations of the general rule and not its restrictions are to be applied in those instances. For example, the laws of the boil (Lev. 13:18–21) and the burn (Lev. 13:24–28) are treated specifically even though these are particular instances of the general rule regarding plague-spots (Lev. 13:1–17). The general restrictions regarding the law of the second week (Lev. 13:5) and the quick raw flesh (Lev. 13:10) are, therefore, not be applied to them (Sifra 1:2).

(10) Davar she-hayah bi-khelal ve-yaẓa liton to’an aḥer she-lo khe-inyano yaẓa lehakel-lehaḥmir: when particular instances of a general rule are treated specifically in details dissimilar from those included in the general rule, then both relaxations and restrictions are to be applied in those instances. For example, the details of the laws of plague in the hair or beard (Lev. 13:29–37) are dissimilar from those in the general rule of plague spots. Hence, both the relaxation regarding the white hair mentioned in the general rule (ibid., 13:4) and the restriction of the yellow hair mentioned in the particular instance (ibid. 13:30) are to be applied (Sifra 1:3).

(11) Davar she-hayah bi-khelal ve-yaẓa lidon ba-davar heḥadash i attah yakhol lehaḥaziro li-khelalo ad she-yaḥazirennu ha-katuv li-khelalo be-ferush: when a particular instance of a general rule is singled out for completely fresh treatment, the details of the general rule must not be applied to this instance unless Scripture does so specifically. For example, the guilt offering of the leper requires the placing of the blood on the ear, thumb, and toe (Lev. 14:14). Consequently, the laws of the general guilt offering, such as the sprinkling of the blood on the altar (Lev. 7:2) would not have applied, were it not for Scripture’s stating: “For as the sin offering is the priest’s, so is the guilt offering” (Lev. 14:13), i.e., that this is like other guilt offerings (Yev. 7a–b).

(12) Davar ha-lamed me-inyano ve-davar ha-lamed misofo: the meaning of a passage may be deduced: (a) from its context (mi-inyano), (b) from a later reference in the same passage (mi-sofo). As an example of (a), “Thou shalt not steal” in the Decalogue (Ex. 20:13) must refer to the capital offense of kidnapping, since the two other offenses mentioned in the same verse, “Thou shalt not murder” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” are both capital offenses (Mekh., Ba-Ḥodesh, 8, 5). In example of (b), “I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession” (Lev. 14:34), refers only to a house built with stones, timber, and mortar, since these materials are mentioned later in verse 45 (Sifra, introd. 1:6).

(13) Shenei khetuvim ha-makhḥishim zeh et zeh ad sheyavo ha-katuv ha-shelishi ve-yakhri’a beineihem: two verses contradict one another until a third verse reconciles them. For example, one verse states that God came down to the top of the mountain (Ex. 19:20), another that His voice was heard from heaven (Deut. 4:36). A third verse (Ex. 20:19) provides the reconciliation. He brought the heavens down to the mount and spoke (Sifra 1:7).

Note: Some of these rules and information is found in the Jewish Virtual Library, Wikipedia, Jewish Encyclopedia Encyclopedia Judaica and the following resources.
Lopes Cardozo, Nathan T. The Written and Oral Torah: A Comprehensive Introduction. Northvale, N.J: Jason Aronson Inc, 1997.
Schiffman, Lawrence H. From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Hoboken, N.J: Ktav Pub. House, 1991.
Strack, Hermann Leberecht, and Günter Stemberger. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.