QUESTION: The Gemara discusses how David, who was descended from Ruth, a
Moavite convert, became permitted to marry into the Jewish people. In a
Halachic debate initiated by Shaul ha'Melech, Doeg asserted that the Torah's
prohibition against accepting a convert from Moav applies equally to
accepting female converts. His logic was that the reason the Torah gives for
not accepting male converts from Moav is because the men did not offer food
to the Jews during their sojourn in the wilderness. Although it is not the
manner for women to offer food to men, the Moavite women should have offered
food to the Jewish women. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Moavite
women are also not to be accepted into the Jewish people.
The Beis Din was ready to announce that David, as a descendant of a female
Moavite convert, was prohibited from marrying a Jewish woman, when Amasa
spoke up and declared that he heard from the Beis Din of Shmuel ha'Navi that
a Moavite woman is permitted to join the Jewish people. "If anyone does not
accept this as Halachah," he continued, "I will smite him dead with this
What kind of way is that to win an argument? The Halachah is that one Beis
Din may override another Beis Din's ruling if they have a proof for their
argument that disqualifies the other Beis Din's ruling. Here, Doeg had a
valid argument. How could Amasa insist on upholding the other ruling without
refuting Doeg's proof?
ANSWER: The BRISKER RAV (Megilas Ruth) presents the following explanation
based on the words of the RAMBAM. The Rambam (Hilchos Mamrim 2:1) writes
that if a Beis Din issues a ruling based on the thirteen Midos she'ha'Torah
Nidreshes ba'Hen -- the thirteen exegetical principles of expounding Torah
law -- a subsequent Beis Din may rescind the earlier ruling if that later
Beis Din determines that the thirteen principles should be applied
differently to reach a different conclusion. This is based on the verse that
teaches that we are bidden to follow the rulings of the Beis Din "in our own
generation" (Rosh Hashanah 25b).
The Rambam earlier (Hilchos Mamrim 1:3) writes that there can be no
Machlokes regarding a law that is a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai. In his
Introduction to Perush ha'Mishnayos, the Rambam adds that if the Tana'im are
arguing and one of them cites as proof a tradition received through a
Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai, everyone must accept it and the argument is over.
The Rambam also writes (Hilchos Mamrim 3:2) that one who denies any part of
the oral tradition (Mesorah sh'Ba'al Peh) is considered an Apikorus and we
have permission to execute him ("whoever kills him has done a great Mitzvah
(Asah Mitzvah Gedolah)").
Finally, the Rambam elsewhere (Hilchos Isurei Bi'ah 12:18) writes that the
Halachah that a Moavite woman is permitted to join the Jewish people is a
Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai.
We can now understand what happened in the debate recorded in our Gemara.
At first, the Chachamim were not aware that there was a Halachah l'Moshe
mi'Sinai that permitted a Moavite woman to convert. They thought that Shmuel
had issued that lenient ruling by applying the thirteen principles. Doeg,
therefore, took the liberty to dispute the ruling, based on his
understanding of the thirteen principles. Amasa argued that no one has the
right to argue with Shmuel's ruling, because it is not based on his own
reasoning and application of the thirteen principles. It is a tradition that
has been received as a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai.
This is why Amasa declared that "anyone who does not accept this as Halachah
will killed by the sword." A person who rejects a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai,
which is part of the Mesorah sh'Ba'al Peh, is an Apikores and is liable to
be killed, as the Rambam writes! (Although the Gemara afterwards discusses
what the refutation to Doeg's proof was -- why the Moavite women were not
expected to greet the Jewish women -- it does so only to explain why the
verse does not contradict the Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai. It is not
explaining the basis for *why* we accept Moavite women today; that is indeed
a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai.)
The Brisker Rav adds that in Megilas Ruth we find that the "Go'el" did not
want to marry Ruth because "perhaps I will destroy my descendants." Rashi
says they he was worried that his descendants would become prohibited
because of the Isur of accepting a Moavite woman into the Jewish nation.
However, if he held that a Moavite may not marry into the Jewish nation, why
was he worried only about his descendants? He should have said that he did
not want to marry Ruth because perhaps *he* might be doing an Isur!
The Brisker Rav answers that the "Go'el" thought that the Heter to accept a
Moavite woman was based on the thirteen principles. Consequently, he thought
that even though Beis Din has decided that a Moavite woman is permitted,
perhaps a later Beis Din will find an argument to refute this ruling, and
that later Beis Din will rule that a Moavite woman is *Asur* to join the
Jewish people. As a result, his descendants will become invalidated from
joining the Jewish people retroactively. That is why he said, "Perhaps I
will destroy my descendants."
Boaz, in contrast, realized that the Heter was a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai
(indeed, Boaz is counted in the chain of trustees of the Oral Tradition, as
mentioned by the Rambam in his Introduction to Mishneh Torah). As such it
can never be revoked.
RAV YEHUDAH LANDY suggests that Boaz, also, did not realize at the time that
the permissive ruling was based on a Halachah l'Moshe mi'Sinai. He had
another reason for feeling confident that no later Beis Din might revoke the
ruling and prohibit a Moavite woman.
The only reason to revoke the ruling would be Doeg's argument, that the
Moavite women were expected to greet the Jewish women and since they did not
go out to greet them, they may not join the Jewish nation. The Gemara's
answer to that argument is that women are not supposed to go out to greet
even women, because they must conduct themselves with Tzeni'us and stay in
It is reasonable to assume that Doeg did not accept that argument because
Tzeni'us had no place in the Moavite nation. (Promiscuity was the foundation
of the Moavite nation, as Lot's daughter conceived her son, Moav, through
her father and unabashedly publicized that fact in her child's name; cf.
Bereishis 19:37). Boaz, however, saw that Ruth excelled in the Midah of
Tzeni'us (Rashi to Ruth 2:5, based on the Gemara in Shabbos 113b). He had
firsthand proof to the veracity of the Gemara's response to Doeg's argument.
He realized that the Moavite women could justify not going to greet the Jewi
sh women, since they did have the potential even for the Midah of Tzeni'us.
That is why he felt comfortable marrying Ruth.
(This explains the Midrash in the Yerushalmi Yevamos 8:3, that says that
Boaz told Ruth, "Had you come two or three days earlier, you would not have
been able to marry a Jew, for it is only now that we canonized the Halachah
that a Moavite woman is permitted to marry a Jew." It was only because of
the Tzeni'us that Ruth displayed, that the courts ruled to allow Moavite
women to join the Jewish people.)