Sinai or Oker Harim?

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May 04 2005
The Talmud records a debate as to what type of Torah scholar takes precedence: a “Sinai”, an expert in many halakhot, or an “oker harim”, one who is sharp and analytically capable and thus able to arrive at conclusions through the use of logic. The Talmud appears to favor the Sinai, and the Maharsha reflects that preference in giving an explanation of the terminology that casts a negative light on the Oker Harim. The original Sinai, where the Torah was given, was not the highest of mountains. The appellation “Oker Harim” is to suggest that just as the other, higher mountains thought their size made them preferable to Sinai, when in fact the Torah was completely on Sinai, those individuals with incomplete knowledge who believe they can rely on lofty intellect are equally mistaken.

Some acharonim (as noted in the sefer Avnei Gazit to Hilkhot Sanhedrin, p. 232-233)ask how the preference for a Sinai can be reconciled with other passages in the Talmud, such as the statement (Shabbat 31a) that when one is brought for final judgement, he is asked if he was “m’falpel” in wisdom, suggesting that the main reward comes from analysis of the Torah. The B’er Sheva suggests that the type of analysis that earns reward is that which reflects extensive effort on behalf of the learner, who takes the facts he has learnt and toils to apply them. The Oker Harim refered to as inferior, though, is one who has innate talent in that area more than accomplishment.

The Chok Natan to Horiot takes a different approach and suggests that the reason “pilpul” is the standard for reward, while the resources of the Sinai are more valued, is because the ability to remember information is considered to be in the hands of Heaven (Megilah 6b). Thus, as important as it is, this ability cannot be the criterion for reward.

Some poskim suggest that in modern times, when printed matter is available, the preference switches to Oker harim; others (see Resp. Mahari Kolon, 169, and Resp. Rivash, 271) feel this standard does not change with increasing access to information (see Avnei Gazit, p. 237).


Collections: Rabbi Feldman Mini Shiur (Daf)

References: Berachot: 64a Horayot: 14a  

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