Rabbi Meir is one of the great sages of the Mishnah. In fact, rabbinic tradition holds that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi relied upon Rabbi Meir’s work as he compiled the Mishnah to such an extent that any anonymous statements contained therein are understood to be his. But not everyone was enamored by Rabbi Meir and his legacy, as we learn on today’s daf:
The sages taught: After the death of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda said to his students: Do not let the students of Rabbi Meir enter here, because they are vexatious. And they do not come to study Torah, but rather they come to overwhelm me with halakhot.
Bereft of their teacher, Rabbi Meir’s students sought a new study hall in which to learn. But Rabbi Yehuda wants no part of them because they aren’t really focused on learning new things, but only in sharing the laws they learned from their teacher.
Sure enough, Rabbi Yehuda knows what he is talking about as the Gemara next relates that Sumakhos, a student of Rabbi Meir, pushes his way into Rabbi Yehuda’s beit midrash and announces:
This is what Rabbi Meir taught me: A priest who betroths a woman with his portion (of the offerings), whether with offerings of the most sacred order or whether offerings of lesser sanctity, he has not betrothed her.
Just as predicted, a student of Rabbi Meir intrudes on the study hall simply to report a law in the name of his teacher. Rabbi Yehuda is not happy about this and he scolds his students for their laxness in guarding the doors. But even as he considers Sumakhos’ contribution to be a waste of time, he takes the trouble to explain precisely why his comment isn’t helpful:
From where would a woman appear in the Temple courtyard?
Rabbi Meir’s teaching informed us that a priest can betroth a woman with sanctified food that he has received while working in the Temple. Sanctified food has to be eaten on Temple grounds, so in order to be betrothed by it, a woman would have to be present there. But that’s not a likely occurrence, as Rabbi Yehuda suggests. So why disrupt the learning with a superfluous halakhah?
The rabbis of the Talmud, as we know, considered a wide range of implausible scenarios, so this hardly seems like a viable objection, which may have been on Rabbi Yosei’s mind as he witnessed this exchange. The Gemara reports next on his response:
Rabbi Yosei said: They will say: Meir died, Yehuda grew angry, and Yosei remained silent; what will become of the words of Torah?
And so, Rabbi Yosei summons the courage to speak up:
But isn’t it common for a man to accept betrothal for his daughter in the Temple courtyard? And isn’t it common for a woman to designate an agent for herself to accept her betrothal in the courtyard?
As we’ve seen throughout Kiddushin, a woman does not have to be present to become betrothed — her father or her agent can accept on her behalf. So in fact, the law said in Rabbi Meir’s name is not so irrelevant after all. It could be her father or her agent who accepts the priest’s betrothal offer in the Temple courtyard. But Rabbi Yosei’s final point is the real kicker:
What would be the halakhah if the woman pushed and entered?
Just as Sumakhos pushed and entered the beit midrash, so too the woman could have pushed and entered the Temple courtyard. (The Gemara uses the same two verbs in both cases to make this connection unmissable.) And since this is indeed a possibility, it should be discussed whether Rabbi Yehuda wants to or not. Or at least, that’s the argument of Rabbi Yosei, who came not to be vexatious, but to stand up for the words of Torah.