The Gemara on today’s daf relates that in the course of discussion a question was raised in the study hall that led Rav Yosef to declare that a line of a given baraita could not be explained and should be erased. Later, when Rav Dimi visited Israel, he heard a satisfactory explanation and declared his intention to have a letter written to Rav Yosef in Babylonia clarifying why the baraita should not be emended.
The suggestion that a letter be written raised a tumult in the study hall, where a number of traditions were quoted indicating that sending such a letter should be forbidden:
- Rabbi Abba the son of Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba quoted Rabbi Yoḥanan as saying that “Those who write down the oral teachings are punished like those who burn the Torah, and he who learns from such writings receives no reward.”
- Rabbi Yehuda bar Naḥmani the meturgeman (disseminator) of Reish Lakish taught (based on 34:27) that matters received as oral traditions you are not permitted to recite from writing and that written things, i.e. Biblical passages, you are not permitted to recite from memory.
- The Tanna of the School of Rabbi Yishmael taught: Scripture says, ‘Write thou these words’ (see Shemot 34:27), implying that ‘these’ words – the words of the written Torah – you may write but you may not write oral laws.
In response the Gemara explains that a new teaching that may not be remembered can be written down, pointing to the practice of Rabbi Yoḥanan and Reish Lakish who studied written works of aggadic literature – an area of Torah study with which they were unfamiliar – on Shabbat. They explained their behavior based on the passage in Sefer Tehillim (119:126) “It is time to work for the Lord, they have made void your law,” which should be understood as teaching that it is better that a commandment of the Torah (i.e. the prohibition of writing down the oral law) should be uprooted, than that the whole Torah should be forgotten.