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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Disputing, For God’s Sake


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The Talmud (Yevamos 14b) informs us that though Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel were in disagreement in many key areas of Jewish law (“What one forbade, the other permitted”), they nevertheless maintained peaceful, amicable relationships with each other, practicing the injunction “Love truth, but also peace” (Zechariah 8:19). They did not abstain from marrying women of each other’s families, nor did they abstain from using the other’s potentially impure utensils, despite the fundamental differences that separated the two groups in these pivotal areas.

 

For three years there was a dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, each one stating that “The law is in accordance with our views.” Then a divine voice announced, “The words of each are the expressions of the living God, but the law is according to Beis Hillel.” Since both are the expressions of the living God, what entitled Beis Hillel to have the law determined according to its rulings? They were kindly and humble; they taught their own rulings as well as those of Beis Shammai. Even more, they taught the rulings of Beis Shammai before their own. [Talmud, Eruvin 13b]

 

Most of the debates between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai were decided in favor of the former. Numerous factors contributed to Beis Hillel’s “favored” status over its Talmudic counterpart:

 

• Nasi at its head – The nasi led Beis Hillel; the av beis din led Beis Shammai. After Shammai’s passing, they would join together in one house of study, under the nasi’s direction.

 

• Majority­ – Beis Hillel comprised most of the scholars of the time. Only a minority studied under Shammai. When the disputed matters were put up to a vote, Beis Hillel possessed the necessary majority to confirm its position.

 

• Final Editing ­– The primary editor and codifier of the Mishnah’s text was Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, a descendent and student of Hillel.

 

Still, Beis Shammai is mentioned first in every debate. Since that yeshiva was founded earlier, Shammai’s opinions had already made their way into the Talmudic discussions. “The original Mishnah did not move from its place” (Talmud, Yevamos 30a). Statements and rulings issued by Beis Hillel were only added to those already present.

 

Following Shammai’s death, significant structural changes occurred affecting the leadership of the Sanhedrin. The position of av beis din was terminated. All scholars now sat in one assembly, under the leadership of Hillel. In addition, the position of nasi now became a hereditary position, beginning with Hillel’s son Shimon. It would remain within the family for over 400 years until the position was ended by the Romans in 425 CE.

 

This latter amendment was brought about to ensure the chain of strong Torah leadership in those troubled times and in subsequent generations. (They would remain in that position well after the Temple’s destruction and the banishment of countless Jews from the Holy Land, proving yet again the great endurance of the Torah and its representatives.) Hillel’s descendants were automatically elevated to the position, effectively taking the decision out of the ruler’s hands, thus minimizing outside interference.

 

As noted above, there are two kinds of machlokes, one that is for the sake of Heaven and one that isn’t. Let us always strive to be in the former camp, to ensure that we are not driven by selfish motives but from a true desire to advance our collective purpose in this world.

 

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is Head of School at Torah Day School of Atlanta. He can be reached at nhoff@torahday.org.

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About the Author: Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting (ImpactfulCoaching.com). He can be reached at info@impactfulcoaching.com.


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One Response to “Disputing, For God’s Sake”

  1. Sarah Lederstein says:

    The twelve member bipartisan committee on spending cuts seems to be missing the whole point of making these cuts. It is to meet their obligations to the their elderly population who alredaygave the government their hard earned money up front to hold for them in an escrow type of account for when they will be using it. That is money prepaid and OWED them and theirs! The health of elderly cannot be eliminated or as a second yacht can be. How can Obama ask the elderly to give up their own necessities which they count on to live on? Obama should not be looking at that sum as a pot of gold he can allocate to others he deems more needy or worthy or for forein aid or to pay the debts he owes to China. I think we have to thank the GOP for refusing tax cuts, perhaps, because if they agreed, the elderly would be also cut and sold down the river in that deal or pushed in front of the bus to die without having their needs met. Cuts to the elderly are inhumane and under no circummstances can they be equated with cuts for those who have more than their needs. I would say we target the people who are here undocumented and let them pay their share for sanitation, school, etc. and leave teh American seniors have their medical and dental and meager social security never cut. I say look elsewhere Obama. Even if the very richest do have their tax cuts eliminated, still, there should never be a cut to our seniors. Cola for teh first time was cut under Obama and all that will happen will be that the burden to care for elderly will go to their family and kids or if they were helping their kids out those kids will need to go on a program from teh governmenet.
    Bottom line, it is NOT OK to cut from seniors IF Obama also cuts the 1% from their breaks. No logic or fairness there.

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