Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Perplexing Question

I wonder why it is that people like to quote over the famous Talmudic dictum of

כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאולה לעולם

("Anyone who says something over in the name of the one who [originally] said it brings redemption to the world") without attributing it to the person who said it (R. Elazar and R. Chanina)?

The Wolf

11 comments:

Ezzie said...

Most people don't know who said it. They either think it's a general statement or simply don't know.

BrooklynWolf said...

Right. But considering how important it is (it brings geulah to the world) wouldn't you think they'd try to find out?

The irony is sometimes so overwhelming...

The Wolf

ProfK said...

Indeed a conundrum. I use this statement as support for my insistence that my students have to clearly state sources for any quoted material. All the students knew the posuk, but only a few knew who had said it. Yes, ironic.

Drew_Kaplan said...

It's interesting that you state that, since it's actually not clear who said it. (Although I mentioned this statement in passing in my posting from a week ago, I specifically left it unattributed because it's unclear who stated it.)

ProfK said...

Drew, at least for academic citation purposes, if there is a question as to who said a particular thing, that must go in the citation, usually written as "generally attributed to X." Better to err on the side of "perhaps" then to leave out attribution entirely.

Drew_Kaplan said...

ProfK,
Fair enough - sounds good.

Chaim B. said...

Perhaps because (despite the way it sounds from the simple reading of the Mishna) the point is not attribution as an end in itself, but avoiding taking credit for someone else's chiddush. This is borne out from the source the Tanchuma brings for the Mishna - al tigzol dal. Chazal are warning againt stealing someone else's idea, usurping intellectual property. Assuming this is correct, then citing a Chazal without an attribution is not a problem so long as one does not take credit for inventing the idea.
However, if the point of reciting something b'shem omro is so that the original speaker has schar talmud torah posthumously (as other sources suggest), then perhaps a true attribution is required.

(see the Avos with Meorei Ohr / Tosefes Ohr on the GR"As commentary where the question is raised whether the issur of 'lo tigzol dal' applies if one quotes a statement and acknowledges it as not original but fails to attribute the exact source.)

Chaim B. said...

>>>since it's actually not clear who said it.

The gemara often will cite a statement in the name of one amora (or string of amora'im) and then offer an alternate tradition citing the same statement from someone else which would indicate that when in doubt or when possible both attributions should ideally be cited.

One other note: if the source for the idea of saying things "b'shem omro" is rooted in al tigzol dal, then plagarism would seem to be a legal offense rather than a mere ethical one. One contemporary writer who has made much of this distiction is Richard Posner: http://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Plagiarism-Richard-Posner/dp/037542475X

Drew_Kaplan said...

Chaim B.,
I think that's why I just let it be with a hyperlink to the posting that lists all of the different possibilities rather than trying to list them at that other place.

Josh M. said...

Building off of Drew's comment (and his post), I would say that the vast majority of the people who cite this statement have only absorbed the version that appears in Avos, so that there's not even a possibility for them to cite its source. Granted, this is probably a limmud zechus, as most of the statements in Pirkei Avos, even the sourced ones, probably go unattributed in conversation.

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