Pesachim 100a relates a dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yossi. According to Rabbi Yehuda, if someone has started a meal on Friday afternoon before the onset of Shabbat, they must cease their meal at nightfall and say Birkat HaMazon. Having done so, they should then recite Kiddush and start a new meal in honour of Shabbat.
However, according to Rabbi Yossi, someone who starts a meal on Friday afternoon may continue to eat their meal even after nightfall; in fact, this meal is actually considered as their Shabbat meal. Then, having said Birkat HaMazon, they should recite Kiddush which is considered to be associated with the meal that they have just completed.
We are then told of an incident involving Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yossi, who were sharing a meal in Akko on a Friday afternoon, and who proceeded with their meal until it was nightfall. At that point, Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel turned to Rabbi Yossi and asked him: “Do you want us to interrupt the meal by reciting Birkat HaMazon out of respect of Rabbi Yehuda’s halachic position?”.
To this, Rabbi Yossi replied to Rabbi Shimon: “Each and every day you cherish my halachic rulings ahead of those of Rabbi Yehuda [and rule in accordance with my opinion], and now you want to cherish the halachic rulings of Rabbi Yehuda before mine? He then quoted the words – uttered by Achashverosh when Haman pushed himself onto Esther after she revealed his plot – ofהֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶת הַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת – Will he overcome the queen while I am in the house?” (Esther 7:8).
Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel then responded to Rabbi Yossi and said, “If this is so, we shall not interrupt the meal, for perhaps students will see us acting in this way and erroneously fix the halacha [in accordance with the position of Rabbi Yehuda] for future generations.” This is what they did, and it was said that they did not move from there until they established the halacha in accordance with Rabbi Yossi.
Since first encountering this Gemara many years ago, I was struck by Rabbi Yossi’s invocation of Esther 7:8. As should be clear from even a basic reading of Megillat Esther, these are not ‘soft’ words of rebuke; they are fierce. Given this, and notwithstanding the disappointment felt by Rabbi Yossi, what was his justification for invoking and directing these words towards Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel?
One explanation, as suggested by the Tosfot Chachmei Anglia (an anonymous work of a Tosfist living in Enland in the 13th or 14th century), is that these words actually allude to the question at hand. This is because Shabbat is compared to a ‘queen’, and thus Rabbi Yossi’s exclamation was expressive of his respect for Shabbat whose honour he felt was being diminished by following the position of Rabbi Yehuda.
Alternatively, Rabbi Yitzchak Guetta (1777-1857) explains (in his ‘Sadeh Yitzchak’ commentary to the Gemara) that the ‘queen’ refers to the divine presence which had previously led Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel to consistently rule in accordance with Rabbi Yossi. Consequently, by exclaiming, “will he even overcome the queen while I am in the house?”, Rabbi Yossi was defending the honour of Heaven – since all prior disagreements had agreed with his view as opposed to that of Rabbi Yehuda.
Beyond our daf itself, it is also of interest that this same verse from Esther 7:8 was cited by one of the greatest halachists of the modern period in response to a situation where he felt that his opinion – and that of his spiritual mentor – had been improperly ignored or disregarded.
To give some background, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013) and Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (1915-2006) were close friends and colleagues on the Jerusalem Beit Din, and over the years they agreed on many topics. But there were also numerous issues on which these halachic giants disagreed, and in general, this occurred where each offered halachic opinions concerning the halachic traditions of the other.
For example, while discussing when a married woman should start covering her hair after the wedding ceremony, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef not only offered his opinion about what Sefardi brides should do, but also, what he thought was the correct behaviour for Ashkenazi brides (see Yechaveh Da’at 5:62).
Similarly, while discussing kashering utensils for Pesach, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled (see Yabia Omer 4 OC 41), in direct contrast to Rabbi Waldenberg (see Tzitz Eliezer 9:26), that Ashkenazim can kasher pyrex for Pesach.
However, it was when Rabbi Waldenberg (see Tzitz Eliezer 9:2) chose to address the topic of women reciting brachot on positive time-bound mitzvot, in which he validated the practice of sefardic women doing so (especially with reference to the mitzvah of lulav), that this stirred the ire of his friend Rabbi Yosef who wrote, without making explicit reference to Rabbi Waldenberg: “which person would come and rule after Maran (i.e. Rabbi Yosef Karo) and in conflict with his rulings [on this issue]? הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶת הַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת – Will he overcome the queen while I am in the house?” (Yabia Omer 1 OC 40.14). In fact, in a later responsum (Yabia Omer 5 OC 43.7) Rabbi Yosef decided to call out his friend directly, while again quoting these same words of Will he overcome the queen while I am in the house?
Here, it is clear that the invocation of Esther 7:8 cannot be understood as per Tosfot Chachmei Anglia as specifically relating to Shabbat. Instead, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef interprets this verse in the spirit of Rabbi Yitzchak Guetta, where – in this case – the ‘queen’ is Rabbi Yosef Karo – whose defender is none other than Rabbi Yosef himself.
Of course, the question remains why Rabbi Ovadia Yosef felt it appropriate to offer his halachic opinion on various Ashkenazic practices while he took such offense to Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg doing the same with reference to Sefardic practice. To this, there are likely a variety of possible answers, but the most obvious seems to be that the principle of “will he even overcome the queen while I am in the house?” is not simply invoked merely when one Torah scholar offers their halachic opinion about the halachic tradition of the other. Instead, it is invoked when, by doing so, greater offense is caused to another spiritual party which – in the case of Pesachim 100a as explained by Rabbi Yitzchak Guetta – is Heaven, and in the case of sefardic women reciting brachot on positive time-bound mitzvot, is Rabbi Yosef Karo.
Applying all this to Pesach, what we learn from here is that we should show great respect for the halachot and minhagim of others, and that while it is permissible for us to examine the halachot and minhagim of halachic traditions other than our own, it is (generally deemed) improper for us to render our halachic judgement on issues relating to other halachic traditions when sufficiently qualified ambassadors of those traditions are living in our midst.