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GEZERAH (pl. Gezerot):

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A rabbinical enactment issued as a guard or preventive measure; also a prohibition or restriction generally; from the root "gazar" (to cut; to decide). The term is especially applied to a negative ordinance ("taḳḳanah" being applied to a positive one) which, the Rabbis instituted as a guard or a fence ("geder") to a Biblical precept. A gezerah was instituted when occasion demanded, either on account of internal laxity with regard to the laws or because of some external danger that threatened neglect in the observance of Biblical injunctions. Thus, on one occasion at a meeting of rabbis eighteen gezerot or restrictions were ordained, some of which aimed at a better observance of the laws of cleanliness, while others had as their aim the restraining of too close a contact with the Gentiles. Among these gezerot were included prohibitions against tasting the bread, oil, or wine of the Gentiles, and against intermarriage or improper relations between Jews and non-Jews (Shab. 17a; 'Ab. Zarah 36a). An individual rabbi with his court sometimes saw fit to institute a gezerah; but such an ordinance was not always universally accepted by the people, and repeated enactments had to be made in order to enforce it (Ḥul. 6a, with regard to the prohibition against the use of the wine of the Kuthites). The Palestinian rabbis, because they wished to make the laws uniform for all Israel ('Ab. Zarah 35a), withheld for twelve months the reasonfor their restrictions, so that the gezerah might first go into force and be commonly observed even by those to whom the reason for its enactment did not apply.

Communal Gezerot.

The Rabbis based their institution of such enactments upon the Biblical passages, "Thou shalt not depart from the sentence," etc. (Deut. xvii. 11), al though at the same time they transgressed another commandment: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command thee, neither shall ye diminish from it" (Deut. iv. 2; Shab. 23a; Ab. R. N. 25b). I. H. Weiss in his "Dor" (part ii., ch. 7, Vienna, 1876) enumerates ten principles by which the Rabbis were guided in enacting the gezerot. It is especially worthy of note that they did not hesitate to enact a gezerah even when it contradicted a Biblical law (Ber. 54a; Sanh. 46a), and that when the reason for the gezerah no more existed, they abolished the gezerah itself. It was a principle, however, that the abolition of a gezerah should be confirmed by a competent court and not by individuals, though such a court need not necessarily be greater in numbers and in wisdom than the one by which the gezerah had been instituted ('Eduy. i. 5; comp. 'Ab. Zarah 36a; Giṭ 36b; also Bloch, "Sha'are Torat ha-Taḳḳanot," introduction to vol. i, Vienna, 1879). Another principle was that no gezerah should be imposed upon a community, unless the majority thereof was able to endure its restrictions. While they forbade the breeding of small cattle in Palestine, the Rabbis refrained from extending the prohibition to large cattle, because they realized the difficulty connected with the importation of such animals (B. Ḳ. 79b). After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Talmud relates, there was a number of Pharisees who in the intensity of their grief wished to forbid the eating of meat and the drinking of wine. R. Joshua prevented them from doing so, for the reason that the majority of people could not exist without these necessary articles of food (B. B. 60b).

Since the gezerah was intended mainly to guard against the infringement of the Biblical law, it was instituted only when such infringement was general and usual, and not in unusual and exceptional cases ('Er. 63b). Nor did the Rabbis establish one gezerah for the purpose of guarding against the infringement of another gezerah which was merely a rabbinical institution ("gezerah li-gezerah"). For judges of gezerot, see Fee; Judge.

Bibliography:
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v. Rabbinismus.
S. S. J. H. G.
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