THEOLOGY IN A PANDEMIC: IS IT YOUR TIME TO DIE?

April 12th, 2020

One of the most extraordinary rabbinic leaders of the fifteenth century was Rabbi Shlomo ben Shimon Duran (1400-1467), chief rabbi of the bustling Jewish community in Algiers, North Africa.

Best known by his acronymic name “RaSHBaSH”, Rabbi Duran’s family was originally from Provence, France, and were related by marriage to the renowned Talmudist and philosopher Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (RaLBaG/Gersonides), whose extraordinary rabbinic scholarship and devotion to theological rationalism influenced countless contemporary rabbis, including his kin.

In the mid-fourteenth century, the Duran family moved to Majorca, an island off the coast of Spain, where Rabbi Shlomo Duran’s father Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran (RaSHBaTZ), was born in 1361.

As a young man, Rabbi Shimon studied under Rabbi Ephraim Vidal, the leading rabbi in Majorca, whose teacher had been the celebrated halachic authority Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven Girondi (RaN). During time studying at the yeshiva in Saragossa, on the Spanish mainland, Rabbi Shimon’s teacher was Rabbi Jonah de Maestre, whose daughter he married. But after returning to Majorca, rather than becoming a rabbi, Rabbi Shimon instead became a successful physician, whose patients included both Jews and non-Jews alike, much like his great hero Maimonides.

Unfortunately, matters took an unexpected turn for the worse when soon afterward, Christian-inspired persecutions against the Jews of Spain and Majorca began to increase and ultimately turned violent, resulting in the brutal martyrdom of Rabbi Vidal, among many other Majorcan Jews, in 1391.

Forced to abandon his home and wealth, Rabbi Shimon and the extended Duran family took refuge in Algiers, where he soon found a rabbinic position, and ultimately joined the Bet Din of another persecution refugee, the great Spanish rabbinic leader Rabbi Isaac ben Sheishet (RIBaSH), who had recently been installed as the local chief rabbi despite opposition from Rabbi Shimon.

When Rabbi Isaac retired, Rabbi Shimon replaced him as chief rabbi, beginning centuries of rabbinic dominance by the Duran family in Algiers, as well as a major role in the Jewish life of Sephardic communities in North Africa, Italy and the Middle East. When Rabbi Shimon died in 1444, he was replaced by his son, Rabbi Shlomo, who had already filled in as chief rabbi for several years as his father’s health declined.

In 1438, Rabbi Shlomo wrote, at his father’s request, a polemic called Milhemet Mitzva defending the Talmud against De Judæis Erroribus ex Talmuth, a published attack by the notorious Jewish convert to Christianity, Joshua al-Lorquí, who had changed his name to Jerónimo de Santa Fe. The polemic included a shockingly forthright counterattack against the Christian clergy, whom Rabbi Shlomo accused of immoral conduct far worse than the slanderous nonsense al-Lorquí suggested that the Talmud endorsed, to the extent that their lecherous behavior had become widely known as peccato dei frati – “the sin of the friars.”

Rabbi Shlomo is often cited as an opponent of Kabbalah, based on two of his responsa (#36 and #188) in which he firmly rejected the notion of Jewish mysticism – at least, in the form that it was being studied and popularized in his time – as a worthwhile topic to be involved in, and he also entirely rejected the doctrine of the ten Sefirot.

“Students who have not learnt  enough, and do not want to put any real effort into halachic topics, instead opt [for a less taxing choice] – to glorify themselves with [purported] knowledge of Kabbalah, so that they can appear greater [than they are] in front of women and ignorant folk … someone who takes care of his soul will stay well away from them.”

Far less well-known is Rabbi Shlomo Duran’s approach to a fascinating theological question posed to him in the midst of a dreadful epidemic ravaging Jewish communities in his vicinity. The intriguing dilemma posed to Rabbi Duran by Rabbi Moshe ha-Kohen was this: if it is true to say that everyone’s destiny is determined on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, during the period in the Jewish calendar known as Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), what point would there be for someone to try and evade the effects of an epidemic, and indeed, staying in the same place and doing the same things, would not affect the outcome of any ill effects of the epidemic, even if that place was suffering the effects of an epidemic, if one’s fate was predetermined months earlier?

As we currently struggle to contain the effects of the coronavirus epidemic and try to make sense of the mayhem that has suddenly overtaken our lives, never has this question seemed more relevant and less theoretical than it does right now. Most of us are isolated at home, even as others defiantly flout regulations that demand that they remain out of harm’s way by avoiding crowds – but Rabbi Moshe HaKohen’s question is truly theologically troubling. Why are we getting ourselves so worked up? Surely all our efforts to avoid the coronavirus are pointless if our mortal end, or our guaranteed survival, was predestined some time ago, irrespective of our actions now?

The detailed resolution to a theological conundrum that has such practical implications is presented here for the first time in full translation with extensive footnotes. It should be noted that the scientific knowledge available during the lifetime of Rabbi Shlomo Duran was rudimentary, and often deeply flawed or fanciful, certainly not based on hard facts. This explains some of the rather unusual suggestions contained in the responsum as to the root cause of ill-health (see footnotes), and it is also the backdrop to his insistence on continued communal gatherings at synagogues and the continued study of Torah by schoolchildren, presumably at school.

As is evidently clear from this responsum in particular, and Rabbi Shlomo Duran’s approach in general, had he known of the dangers of contact-induced infectious diseases he would undoubtedly have actively promoted, indeed insisted upon, social distancing and social isolation. For as Rashbash makes explicitly clear, notwithstanding the successful outcome of one’s Rosh Hashana prayers, wherever there is an epidemic raging, everyone’s life is in grave danger.

Responsa Rashbash[1] §195, Honaine[2] — [a] further [responsum] to the scholar R. Moses ha-Kohen, may God protect him[3]

You asked: Is it effective for a person to flee from one place to another when there is an epidemic? If one has been inscribed for death on Rosh Hashanah, what benefit is there in fleeing? And if one has been inscribed for life, staying in the same place should do no harm?

Answer. Every person has an allotted time (ketz katzuv),[4] the number of their days. This is written in the Torah: אֶת מִסְפַּר יָמֶיךָ אֲמַלֵא – “I will fill the number of your days” (Ex. 23:26); repeated in the Prophets: הִנְנִי יוֹסִף עַל יָמֶיךָ – “I am hereby adding onto your days” (Isa. 38:5); and reiterated a third time in the Writings: הוֹדִיעֵנִי ה’ קִצִי [וּמִדַת יָמַי מַה הִיא] – “Lord, inform me of my time [and what is the measure of my days]” (Ps. 39:5). It is in the sayings of our Rabbis in chapter Ein Bein ha-Muddar: כיון שהגיע קיצו של אדם הכל מושלים בו – “When a person’s time arrives [everything has dominion over him].”[5]

There is no doubting or gainsaying this matter, given that it is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and reiterated a third time in the Writings, and it appears in our authentic tradition, and the philosophers assent to it. They explain it as a result of the celestial bodies or of [material] composition—that so long as the inborn moisture and innate heat [are] as they ought to be, man’s years are long, but if they are diminished, or if one or the other increases or decreases, then one’s years are shortened, the years increasing or decreasing according to their increase or diminution,[6] and this is the time[7] set for man that is explicit in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, and in the words of our Rabbis.[8]

The Torah promises to add [time] onto a person’s life as a reward and pledges to reduce it as a punishment. [The reward] is stated outright many times in the Torah: לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְתָּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ – “so that you live and inherit the Land” (Deut. 16:20); וְחָיִיתָ וְרָבִיתָ – “so that you live and increase” (Deut. 30:16); לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם – “so that your days increase” (Deut. 11:21); and the like—all of this is a promise. Punishment includes all instances of excision and death at the hands of Heaven.

Tradition further clarifies that there is a day, on which nations are judged, to increase [one’s] days if one has merit. This is what is written: יִרְאַת ה’ תּוֹסִיף יָמִים – “Fear of the Lord increases days” (Prov. 10:27), about which [the Sages] say: “These are the priests of the First Temple,” who were righteous, and the addition is to the principal.[9] And a person’s days are shortened if a transgression entails it, which is וּשְנוֹת רְשָעִים תִּקְצֹרְנָה – “the years of the wicked are cut short” (ibid.), about which [the Sages] say: “These are the priests of the Second Temple,” who were wicked, for the shortening is of the principal, which is inferred from the first practice.[10]

As such, I assert based on my limited intellect: Whoever has not committed a transgression punishable by death and the reduction of days from the principal, remains with the allotted time, the number of their days. On Rosh Hashanah, one is not judged for life or death but [rather one] remains with the allotted time and dies when it is finished—unless one has [the merit of] a mitzvah that entails the prolonging of life—and this is death without sin.[11] Although [the Sages] said in chapter Ba-Meh Vehemah that “there is no death without sin,”[12] it is not a consensus opinion, as Nahmanides wrote in Sha‘ar ha-Gemul.[13]

The fact that one is not judged for life or death on Rosh Hashanah is why the Torah says פֶּן יָמוּת בַּמִלְחָמָה – “lest he die in battle” (Deut. 20:5), because if one were inscribed for life or death on Rosh Hashanah, then it would not be in the realm of possibility but in the realm of necessity! If one is inscribed to die by the sword, the sword will run him through even inside his house or concealed in a secret place; and if one is inscribed for life, even if he falls on instruments of war he will not be wounded.

This further accounts for their statement:[14] “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him down, or his day will come, or he will descend into battle and perish” (1 Sam. 26:10)—“his day will come” is the allotted time, “the Lord will strike him down” is [referring to] divine death, and “he will descend to battle and perish” is [referring to] accidental death, according to the opinion of some philosophers,[15] and as my father and teacher Rashbatz wrote in chapter five of tractate Avot.[16]

All agree, however, that there is an allotted time. The same is true of [the Sages’] dictum: “If he is deserving, they add to his [days]; if he is undeserving, they complement his [days] etc.” as we find in chapter Ha-Ḥoletz.[17] Everything teaches the same idea: there is an allotted time that can be added to or subtracted from, all according to the judgment.

Although one living on allotted time does not enter life-and-death judgment on Rosh Hashanah, one does enter [judgment] for the rest of human affairs: children, sustenance, sickness and health, and so on. Whoever does not enter [judgment] for life and death on the Day of Judgment remains in the realm of possibility regarding death by plague, war, and the like, or a natural death due to a wretched regimen.[18] This is what the wise man[19] spoke of: וְיֵשׁ נִסְפֶּה בְּלֹא מִשְפָּט – “Some perish without judgment” (Prov. 13:23), and it is like the story in the first chapter of Ḥagigah (4b) about Miriam the hair-braider and Miriam the schoolmistress.[20]

As for those not inscribed on Rosh Hashanah for health, if they are careless about themselves they will become sick, as [the Sages] said on the following mishnah in chapter Mi she-Met: “If brothers are business partners and one is summoned to public service, he is summoned from the middle;[21] [but] if he falls ill and is treated, he is treated from his own [funds].” The Talmud comments: “It was taught only if he fell ill through negligence… What does ‘negligence’ mean? Like Rav Ḥanina said: Everything is in the hands of Heaven except tzinnim paḥim, as it says:

צִנִים פַּחִים בְּדֶרֶךְ עִקֵשׁ – ‘tzinnim paḥim[22] are on the path of the crooked’ (Prov. 22:5).”[23] Along similar lines, [the Sages] said in the first[24] chapter of Shabbat and in Pirka da-Ḥasidei: “A person should never stand in a dangerous place,”[25] and it says in the first chapter of ‘Avodah Zarah, chapter Ein ‘Omedin, the final chapter of Megillah, and the second chapter of Niddah: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven.”[26] Tzinnim paḥim is an illness contracted from spending too much time in the sun or cold. Draw an analogy from this to the three types of death.

With this [theory], the questions that people ask disappear: If young children are fatherless, for whose sins do they die? If a minor on Rosh Hashanah reached majority and died in the middle of the year, when was he judged? Apparently,[27] they died of a wretched regimen, or their [allotted] time was brief due to the constitution of their [material] composition[28] or on account of their natal sign.[29]

The same applies to that which people ask: If children die for the sins of the fathers, why does someone with two children have one die and one survive? According to this [theory], one can say that perhaps the one who died did not do so on account of his father’s sins but because his time had come. And even if he did die for his father’s sins, perhaps his sentence did not decree to kill both children, since his sin was not enormous (and he would be like someone whom the authorities sentenced to have one hand chopped off or one eye blinded, since his offense[30] was not so egregious).

Although on Rosh Hashanah the collective is inscribed for falling to the sword or to a plague, as we say in the teqi‘ata of Rav’s academy: “On [that day] it is declared which countries are [destined] for war[31] and which for peace,”[32] it is possible that some individuals were not inscribed for the sword or plague, since they did not commit a transgression that entails it. Therefore, fleeing and protecting oneself from war is efficacious, because [these individuals] were not inscribed on Rosh Hashanah, and remain within the realm of possibility.

Similarly, a good regimen is effective for preserving one’s health and warding off disease, which is [the meaning] of [the Sages’] dictum in chapter Ha-Ro’eh of Berakhot and chapter Ha-Ḥovel of Bava Kamma: “From here [we deduce] that permission was granted to the physician to heal.”[33] The fact that [King] Hezekiah hid a book of remedies and the Sages approved, as recorded in the first chapter of Berakhot and chapter Makom she-Nahagu,[34] does not contradict this, as already explained by Maimonides in his Commentary on the Mishnah for Pesaḥim.[35] This[36] is also[37] because [a person]was not inscribed for death, and remains within the realm of possibility.

Protecting oneself from the plague and fleeing from it is likewise effective. [The Sages] said in chapter Ha-Kones: “If a pestilence is in the city, gather in your feet […] In a time of plague, Rava hava sakhar kavvei[38]—that is, during a plague he would block up the windows. They said there: “If a pestilence is in the city, a person should not walk in the middle of the road […] If a pestilence is in the city, a person should not go alone to the synagogue”[39]—because one was not inscribed on Rosh Hashanah to die by plague and remains within the realm of possibility.

For if you do not say thus, but rather that everything is decreed upon every single individual on Rosh Hashanah, then nothing belongs to the realm of possibility: whoever is inscribed for life requires no protection, and whoever is inscribed for death sees no benefit from protection; [and] there is no third category. And yet, our greatest Rabbis would flee from it, as we have heard that our master Rabbi Nissim [ben Reuven Gerondi (RaN)] of blessed memory fled from it twice. It must be that the matter [of potential death from the plague] lies in the realm of possibility. Perhaps this person was not inscribed for life or death on Rosh Hashanah and remains with his [allotted] time, but the air underwent a change enabling the increase of innate heat, the cause of pestilence and plague. If one can improvethe air or flee it, the improvement or flight would prove effective for him.

This does not contradict the report of R. Kruspedai that R. Yoḥanan said: “Three books are open on Rosh Hashanah,”[40] for those inscribed for death are those who have committed a capital sin, and those inscribed for life are those whose time has come but possess [the merit of] a mitzvah that entails the prolonging of their life. The third category, [those] whose judgment entails neither the one nor the other, is not discussed by the Sage. This appears correct to me in this matter, and according to my limited intellect, everything is resolved.

Although Rabbi Asher ben Rabbi Saul of Lunel wrote in Sefer ha-Minhagot that those inscribed for life on Rosh Hashanah are those who need additional days and those whose time has not come,[41] with all due respect – his words do not make any sense. If someone has [the merit of] a mitzvah and his time has not come, why would God expend his mitzvot? What kind of payback would that be? It would be revenge to waste his mitzvot on something unnecessary! It is not in His character to reduce the mitzvot of His creations and expend them unnecessarily; rather, He is abundantly kind and acts magnanimously with the undeserving. The matter is clear, [both] according to my limited intellect, [and] to anyone who decides to look with honesty and generosity.

In order to clarify this matter well, I will devise a parable. What can we compare this to? To a king whose province[42] is in revolt: there are some devotees, many in open rebellion, and a few who neither serve[43] nor rebel. The king besieges the province, captures it, and orders the rebels and scofflaws executed, and his loyal servants saved. Some rebels flee and go into hiding, so he commands that they be dragged from their hideaways and executed. He rescues the loyalists. As for those who neither served nor rebelled, if they fled, they escaped, and if they went out during the battle, they died.

It is the same thing here: the loyalists were inscribed for life on Rosh Hashanah, so they have been saved; the rebels were inscribed for death, so if they go into hiding or go to ground, the snake is ordered there to bite them—neither protection nor flight are of use. This is why you find many fleeing a plague, only to die upon reaching their destination or upon their return, because they were already inscribed for death. As for those who did not serve nor rebel, they are the ones who were not inscribed for life or death; their time has not come and they remain in the realm of possibility. If they regulate their regimen or flee, they are saved; if they remain and do not regulate their regimen, they might die.

About them it is said: חֲבִי כִּמְעַט רֶגַע עַד [יַעֲבָר זָעַם]—“Hide for a short while [until the wrath passes]” (Isa. 26:20). This is also [the meaning of the verse]: וְהִכְרַתִּי מִמֵךְ צַדִיק וְרָשָע—“I will cut down from you both righteous and wicked” (Ezek. 21:8)—the “wicked” is the one inscribed for death, and the “righteous” is the one not inscribed for life or death, for his time has not come. This seems correct to me about this matter. May the Lord save us from error, allow us to behold wonders from His Torah, and perform a sign of favor for us.

Given that the discussion has been drawn to this point,[44] I would like to return to clarify what I cited above from chapter Ha-Kones: “In a time of plague, Rabbah[45] would block up windows, as it is written: כִּי עָלָה מָוֶת בְּחַלּוֹנֵינוּ—‘For death has risen into our windows’ (Jer. 9:20).” Meaning, Rabbah was of the same opinion as the doctors on this, that air entering the window is more harmful, because it comes in rarefied and enters the limbs.

As for what [the Sages] also said: “If a pestilence is in the city, a person should not walk in the middle (emtza‘) of the road…If peace is in the city, a person should not walk on the sides of the road,” the intent in this is that when in good health, a person ought to moderate his regimen and adhere to moderation (mitzua‘) in his food and drink, clothing, sleep and waking, evacuation and repletion,[46] bathing, the surrounding air, motion and rest, movements of the soul[47]—that is, joy and melancholy,[48] anger and appeasement—and whatever else is necessary for the human body. One should walk in the middle of them, [tending] neither to excess nor to deficiency.

But in times of plague, one must be vigilant in the extreme in protecting oneself, adding to his regimen the purging of excesses, not eating too much, consuming foods of good quality in limited quantity, eschewing melancholy and increasing joy—all towards one extreme, for moderation alone does not suffice for this. This is [the meaning of] “do not walk in the middle of the road” but at the very edge, and this is all a matter of nature.

As for what [the Sages] said: “If a pestilence is in the city, a person should not go alone to the synagogue, because the Angel of Death leaves his tools there. This is only when young children do not learn the Bible there, and ten [adult men] do not pray there”—this is a matter of Torah. The intent of this dictum is that a synagogue without schoolteachers makes them[49] deserving of punishment, like [the Sages] said in chapter two of Shabbat, that “children die for neglect of Torah study, as it says: לַשָוְא הִכֵּיתִי אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם מוּסָר לֹא לָקָחוּ — ‘In vain have I struck down your children? They would not accept correction’ (Jer. 2:30)”;[50] and in chapter Kol Kitvei ha-Kodesh, that the world endures by the breath of schoolchildren [studying Bible].[51]

Likewise, a synagogue in which ten [adult men] do not pray makes them deserving of punishment, like [the Sages] said in chapter Ha-Sholeaḥ,[52] and in chapter Sheloshah she-Akhalu: “When the Holy One comes to the synagogue and does not find ten [adult men], He is immediately incensed.”[53] This is the meaning of “because the Angel of Death leaves his tools there”; in other words, this entails a death sentence. The solution is not to go alone but with a congregation in order to pray and to repent, for public prayer is heeded, as it says in the first chapter of Keritut: “Since the Merciful One included galbanum in the incense…”­—see there.[54]

May God compassionately take pity on us and His entire people. Amen.

I would like to thank my nephew, Shmuely Dunner, for bringing this Rashbash responsum to my attention; Daniel Tabak for his invaluable help with preparing the translation and footnotes; and Menachem Butler of the The Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at the Harvard Law School for his guidance regarding this article and several others, both those already published and those currently in preparation. The image accompanying this article is a vignette taken from the title page of “Shut HaRashbash”, Livorno (Leghorn), 1742.


[1] The text is translated from Sefer ha-Rashbash: She’elot u-Teshuvot le-Rabbeinu Shelomo ben Rabbeinu Shim‘on bar Tzemaḥ Duran zt”l, ed. Moshe Sobel (Jerusalem: Machon Yerushalayim, 1998), 138–141. The text of this responsum is based on the editio princeps and likely edited according to MS New York—JTS, Rab. 1352, the only manuscript (according to Sobel) that includes this responsum. The text is clearly corrupt in places, but I was not able to consult the manuscript as it has not been digitized.

[2] Ar. Hunayn, a city on the Algerian coast about 28mi (45km) northwest of Tlemcen.

[3] For purposes of reducing clutter, honorifics in Hebrew acronyms (e.g. ז”ל – “of blessed memory”) have been omitted in this translation.

[4] Rashbash does not only use the term ketz in the sense of “end,” “limit,” or “telos,” but in the sense of a finite length or amount of something.“Time” captures both senses in this context.

[5] Nedarim 41a.

[6] Rashbash would have encountered this Galenic theory as mediated via the Arab philosophers, such as Avicenna. For a brief overview see Chris Gilleard, “Ageing and the Galenic Tradition: A Brief Overview,” Ageing & Society 35 (2015): 489–511.

[7] Heb. ha-din katzuv. This reading is strange, and based on the entirety of the responsum the word din is almost certainly a corruption of the word ketz.

[8] From “there is no doubting” until “the words of our Rabbis” is one lengthy sentence in the original, with awkward syntax; the text has therefore been reorganized and punctuated to make it easier to read and understand.

[9] Cf. Yoma 9a.

[10] That is, from how days are added onto the predetermined lifespan of the righteous.

[11] That is, a death not engendered by sin.

[12] Shabbat 55a.

[13] “Torat ha-Adam,” in Kitvei Rabbeinu Moshe ben Naḥman, ed. Charles Chavel (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1964),2:274.

[14] Heb. ma’amaram. Although the pronominal suffix usually refers to an implied, unstated antecedent, namely, the Sages of the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, here it seems to function cataphorically, referring to “some philosophers” and perhaps “Rashbatz” which appear below. It is possible, however, that the text is corrupt here, and might have originally read mah she-ne’emar or something else that would fit better.

[15] Such as Judah Halevi (Kuzari, V:20) and R. David Kimḥi (commentary on 1 Sam. 26:10).

[16] R. Simeon b. Tzemaḥ Duran (Spain and North Africa, 1361–1444), in Magen Avot: Massekhet Avot(Jerusalem: Haktav Institute, 2003), 421 (5.21, s.v. ben shemonim li-gevurah).

[17] Cf. Yevamot 50a. While this version of the baraita does not appear in the printed editions, it does appear in at least one manuscript (MS Vat. ebr. 110–111).

[18] Heb. hanhagah, translated according to a specialized medieval sense of the term. At the end of the responsum, Rashbash elaborates on what the optimal regimen should look like.

[19] King Solomon.

[20] Ḥagigah 4b-5a. “…like this incident of Rav Beivai bar Abaye, who would be frequented by the company of the Angel of Death and would see how people died at the hands of this angel. The Angel of Death said to his agent: Go and bring me [i.e. kill] Miriam the braider of women’s hair. He went, but instead brought him Miriam the raiser of babies. The Angel of Death said to him: I told you to bring Miriam the braider of women’s hair. His agent said to him: If so, return her to life. He said to him: Since you have already brought her, let her be counted toward the number of deceased people. Apparently, this woman died unintentionally. Rav Beivai asked the agent: But as her time to die had not yet arrived, how were you able to kill her? The agent responded that he had the opportunity, as she was holding a shovel in her hand and with it she was lighting and sweeping the oven. She took the fire and set it on her foot; she was scalded, and her luck suffered, which gave me the opportunity, and I killed her. Rav Beivai bar Abaye said to the Angel of Death: Do you have the right to act in this manner, to take someone before his time? The Angel of Death said to him: And is it not written: “But there are those swept away without justice” (Prov. 13:23)? Rav Beivai said to him: And isn’t it written: “One generation passes away, and another generation comes” (Eccl. 1:4), which indicates that there is a predetermined amount of time for the life of every generation? He said to him: I shepherd them, not releasing them until the years of the generation are completed, and then I pass them on to the angel Duma who oversees the souls of the dead. Rav Beivai said to him: Ultimately, what do you do with his extra years, those taken away from this individual? The Angel of Death said to him: If there is a Torah scholar who disregards his personal matters, [namely, who overlooks the insults of those who wrong him], I add those years to him and he becomes the deceased’s replacement for that time.”

[21] That is, everything is shared.

[22] As the continuation makes clear, Rashbash understands this as either two separate conditions, “chills and heatstroke,” or a single condition one might translate as “febrile chills,” occurring during both hypothermia and hyperthermia. Although almost every commentator on the verse, traditional and scholarly, translates paḥim as some form of physical obstacle or trap, R. Samuel b. Meir (RaSHBaM) on the passage in Bava Batra 144b does present “heat” as an alternative interpretation of paḥim, indicating that such an interpretive tradition already existed centuries before Rashbash’s time.

[23] Bava Batra 144b. The verse concludes: “he who takes care of himself distances himself from them.”

[24] Should read “second,” as the dictum appears on Shabbat 32a.

[25] Pirka de-Ḥasidei is the medieval epithet for the third chapter of tractate Ta‘anit. Here the reference is to Ta‘anit 20b.

[26] Moshe Sobel notes (139n24) that this formulation does not appear in ‘Avodah Zarah 3b, but a very similar one does. One Genizah fragment (NLI 4°577.4.38d/a) of that Talmudic folio does contain the dictum cited here, but it is certainly possible that both the copyist of the Talmud and our author’s memory have confused nearly identical dicta. The rest of the citations are from, respectively, Berakhot 33b, Megillah 25a, and Niddah 16b.

[27] The printed edition is corrupt and reads שנ״י כאלו. The translation follows Moshe Sobel’s suggested, although not fully convincing, emendation: שנראה באלו (139n27*).

[28] This could refer to an imbalance between inborn moisture and innate heat, as mentioned above, or the particular mix of humours or principles.

[29] The text here, לפני המזג שנולדו בו, is corrupt. It is likely that the original read מזל and was emended or mistranscribed as mezeg מזג based on context. Rashbash is appealing to (natal) astrology, which he also mentioned briefly at the beginning of the responsum (“the result of the celestial bodies”) alongside the natural-philosophical account of aging that is predominant in the responsum.

[30] Following Moshe Sobel’s emendation (139n27**). The parentheses are in the printed text.

[31] Lit. “the sword,” and so below.

[32] Leviticus Rabbah 29.1, and Palestinian Talmud, Rosh ha-Shanah 1.3.

[33] Berakhot 60a and Bava Kamma 85a.

[34] Berakhot 10b and Pesaḥim 56a.

[35] See Mishnah ‘im Perush Rabbeinu Moshe ben Maimon: Seder Mo‘ed, trans. and ed. Joseph Kafiḥ (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1964),112–113 (Pesaḥim 4.10).

[36] Presumably, that physicians can heal and medicine is effective.

[37] Heb. g”k (gam ken), which in the original seems misplaced, so I have shifted it slightly.

[38] Bava Kamma 60b.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Rosh ha-Shanah 16b.

[41] “Sefer ha-Minhagot,” Sifran shel Rishonim, ed. Simha Assaf (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1935), 147.

[42] Heb. medinah, which can also mean “city.”

[43] Heb. ‘avadu, presumably based on Gen. 14:4. The root ‘-b-d is used in this sense throughout the parable.

[44] That is, until now Rashbash has laid out his theory and answered possible objections, which follows a more or less logical order, each point leading into the next one. He now turns to closer textual analysis.

[45] There is a shift here to Rabbah, whereas previously it was Rava.

[46] בהקרתו ובהעצרו. The first term is more uncertain and may refer to evacuation, while the root of the second term often pertains to constipation and the retentive faculty. In any case, Rashbash is likely referring to one of Galen’s “six unnatural things” that is otherwise unlisted here, and which is usually translated as “evacuation and repletion.”

[47] Heb. tenu‘ot nafshiyyot, which could be emotions of shorter duration or more drawn-out moods.

[48] Heb. anaḥah, lit. “groaning” or “sighing.” The exact emotion or mood is unclear; there are many good candidates.

[49] Presumably the populace living in the synagogue’s environs.

[50] Cf. Shabbat 32b. The translation of the verse follows Rashi’s understanding ad loc.

[51] Shabbat 119b.

[52] Cf. Gittin 38b.

[53] And in chapter Me-Eimatai Korin, Berakhot 6b.

[54] Cf. Keritut 6b. The idea is that the entire congregation, sinners included, must participate in a fast day.

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