Sunday, March 30, 2008

Talking Cow

The Mishna had stated (Daf Yomi: Nazir 10a): If one said, “This cow said, ‘I am hereby a nazir if I stand up,’” or he said, “This door said, ‘I am hereby a nazir if I open’” (the Gemara will explain these cases), Beis Shamai says: He is a nazir. Beis Hillel says: He is not a nazir.

The Gemora asks: Does a cow talk?

The Gemora suggests different interpretations of the Mishna. It is noteworthy that Tosfos cites Rabbeinu Peretz saying that the Mishna is discussing a case where the cow actually did talk!

There are numerous times in Chazal that we find a statement that would seem to indicate that a tree, animal or even an inanimate object was speaking. The Gemora in Sanhedrin (108b) records a conversation that Noach had with the raven. The Gemora Eruvin (18b) relates what the dove told to Noach. The Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin (2:6) discusses the complaint of the letter yud before the Ribbono shel Olam (that he was removed from Saray’s name).

The Maharatz Chiyus in his introduction to the Ein Yaakov states that Chazal do not mean to say that the animal’s or letters were actually talking; rather, they are relating what they could have claimed if they would have been given the power of speech.

However, Reb Boruch Epstien in his notes on the Pardes Yosef (58) cites our Tosfos, which seems to say otherwise.

Reb Yaakov Emden comments that it would appear from our Gemora that if the cow would have been able to talk, the Mishna would be understandable. He asks: What would it accomplish if the cow had the ability to speak in the same manner as Bilam’s donkey? Can a person become a nazir because of the animal’s declaration? Even if another human would declare that his fellow should be a nazir, he wouldn’t be a nazir!


joshwaxman said...

Don't forget the most explicit source. See Bava Kamma 44b, in the mishna,
שור האשה ושור היתומים שור האפוטרופוס שור המדבר שור ההקדש שור הגר
which mentions the "shor hamedaber."