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17 Shevat 5759 - Feb 3, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Why are there Differences of Opinion In Judaism?

The following is a translation of Chapter 7 of Loda'as Bo'oretz Darkecho

by Rav Yehuda Greenwald

Part I

Why do differences of opinion exist in Judaism?

Question: "It is extremely difficult for me to understand how there can be differences of opinion among the different groups within Torah Jewry. Why is this all necessary? The situation confuses me, and it causes a chillul Hashem among secular Jews."

Answer: Almost every baal teshuvah, when taking his first steps, is dumbfounded by the differences of opinion found in the Torah World. It seems to him that all Torah- observant Jews should have one identical way of thinking and live in complete harmony.

First of all, Judaism is not disturbed by having differences of opinion within itself -- as long as they are all lesheim Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven.

"Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel disagreed for three years. Each side maintained that the halocho is as they determined it. A Bas Kol emerged [from Heaven] and proclaimed: `Both of these [opinions] are the view of the Living Elokim, but the halocho is like Beis Hillel'" (Eruvin 13).

HaRav Eliyahu Dessler zt'l (Michtav MeEliahu II, pg. 353) explains, "The two opinions are two views about the matter, both of which are true. For instance, let us take a sheet of paper and show its edge to one person but hide its flat surface, while we show the other person its flat side only. Afterwards an argument will surely arise between them whether the sheet of paper is a large flat area or a thin sharp one. Each one will think that the other is completely incorrect. And what is the truth? Each one sees the same sheet of paper, but from two different angles, from two different sides." (See also the notes in Pachad Yitzchok -- Igros Umichtovim, pg. 51).

About the machlokes between Hillel and Shammai, Chazal (Ovos 5:17) write: "Every machlokes that is for Heaven's sake will result in something permanent [i.e., will be constructive] . . . Which machlokes was for Heaven's sake? The machlokes between Hillel and Shammai."

R' Ovadia of Bartenura explains (ibid.) that in a machlokes for Heaven's sake "the objective, and our end goal in that machlokes, is to arrive at the truth . . . but in a machlokes that is not for Heaven's sake, the goal is control over others and winning the fight."

Chazal tell us that the talmidim of Hillel and Shammai disagreed about many halochos and one of them concerned the marital status determined in a certain case. As a result of this disagreement there were women who were permitted to be married according to one side but prohibited for marriage by the Torah according to the other. Nevertheless, "neither Beis Shammai refrained from marrying women from among Beis Hillel nor did Beis Hillel refrain from marrying women from among Beis Shammai, to teach you that love and brotherhood existed between them, to fulfill what is written (Zecharia 8:16) `Love the truth and peace'" (Yevomos 14b). The reason is not that they intermarried fully as some erroneously think, but that they told each other which women were prohibited according to the other's view.

HaRav Shlomo Wolbe (Alei Shur, II, pg. 545) writes, "When peace and love exist between two sides that differ, that is proof that there are no personal interests involved and that the machlokes between them is for Heaven's sake."

We must remember that after a dispute arises, any attempt to sweep those differences under the carpet is false and thus not "the word of the Living Elokim." Only stating clearly what one understands to be the correct way that the Torah is teaching us, without any self-interest stemming from such considerations as honor and pride, makes one's school of thought Divine truth. The existence of dissenting opinions is insignificant, "since an opinion built upon pure intellect without any personal interests is the words of the Living Elokim" (ibid.).

In tefilla we find the same. There were those in the recent past who attempted to arrange a unified tefilla text, with the aim of erasing any differences between Jews throughout the world when they daven to Hashem. It appeared to them that this difference harms the nation's unity.

The Torah Sages, however, had an altogether different opinion. The Mishnah Berurah rules (Orach Chaim 68:4), "Everyone agrees that the minhagim practiced regarding the roots of tefilla should not be changed. People should act according to the minhag of where they live, such as Nusach Ashkenaz, Nusach Sephard, and the like. There are twelve gates in Heaven corresponding to the twelve tribes, and each tribe has its own gate and minhag."

This is also true concerning new ways of avodas Hashem originated by gedolei Yisroel who acted without any personal interests and whose intents were utterly pure. In recent generations gedolim who were aware of the nation's sagging spiritual level realized that they must find a cure for the heart of the common Jew and so draw him nearer to the Creator. All of these ways of avodas Hashem are kodesh. However they differ they are not, chas vesholom, mutually exclusive.

The first of these gedolim was the Baal Shem Tov zt'l, who founded the movement of Chassidus. "I say about him, `Happy is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are Your highroads' (Tehillim 84:6). He was a person `whose strength is in You,' blessed with a wonderful ability to cling [to Hashem] and with elevated kedusha. Through this strength he was privileged to pave new highways in the hearts of those living in recent generations who suffered in the darkness of the golus" (Olom HaYedidus in Bein Sheshes LeAsor of HaRav S. Wolbe, pg. 123, 124).

Afterwards came the turn of HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, who founded the Mussar Movement, which spread throughout the Lithuanian yeshivos and brought about an enormous revolution in avodas halev, in refining middos, and in pure yiras Shomayim. HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt'l, too, succeeded in establishing a new system in Germany -- the system of "Torah with derech eretz" -- which was the answer to the Enlightenment Movement. HaRav Hirsch's system "saw in it a challenge to fulfill the halocho in all professions and life situations" (ibid., pg. 177).

These are some of the main schools of thought existing among Torah Jewry. Their existence itself does not constitute a reason for hatred or for machlokes that is not for Heaven's sake. Each one has his own way in avodas Hashem.

Sharp Expressions of Disagreement

"Please excuse me. This all sounds just wonderful in theory, but we sometimes hear exceptionally sharp expressions of disagreement between the dissenting sides. This does not seem to me an example of `peace and love.'"


First of all we must remember that we are talking about systems of actual avodas Hashem. They are not abstract intellectual philosophies, but rather intense inquests to reveal the truth. We want to know what Hashem wants the world to be. A person who contends that his view or system is correct must forcefully hold his ground and not yield.

This is also the right way of studying Torah. HaRav Yisroel Salanter wrote that "Torah study is rightly done with sharp persistence. Each person should firmly support his reasoning. The lishma is a person's calmness of soul while seeing his and the other's view is truly equal [i.e., he has no personal interest in maintaining his view; only seeking the truth concerns him] . . . . Chazal (Kiddushin 30) tell us how to behave: "Even a father and his son, the Rav and his talmid, who engage together in Torah, become enemies, but before they can budge from there they love one another, as is written `Es voheiv beSufa' (Bamidbar 21:14)" (Or Yisroel, letter 6).

Initially a person should study sharply, incisively, without any concessions. Each person should forcefully assert his own opinion, buttress his logic, and defend it strongly.

A newcomer to a yeshiva beis midrash is dumbfounded. He sees groups of talmidim standing and screaming at each other, yelling their reasoning out loud, and sometimes even using sharp expressions. The litmus test to see whether this study is lishma and not an outburst of bad character traits is whether they become the best of friends immediately afterwards. If it is lishma, they can disregard their own reasoning either when the truth is proven to them or upon following the standard practice of ruling halochos (complying with the majority opinion or the most respected opinion).

This is the case with avodas Hashem too. Here too there is no reason for a person to give up his personal way of avoda just because there is an opinion opposing it, as long as this avoda is true and correct according to another opinion. On the contrary, he should continue doing it to the best of his ability.

Second, any new school of thought in Judaism is faced with emphatic criticism and opposition. This was the case when Chassidus first appeared and likewise with the Mussar Movement. This is in sharp contrast to what happens in the non-Jewish world, where all sorts of ideologies and theories have appeared and totally disappeared from history. Klal Yisroel has, however, continued on its way and has watched over its spiritual existence with immense stubbornness.

Ardent resistance to any new way in avodas Hashem has meant that only reliable ways that have passed our nation's strict criticism were accepted, and only those people for whose nature the new derech Hashem was appropriate have adopted and followed it. Without such intense opposition Klal Yisroel would have been constantly shifting from one system to another and would not have succeeded in keeping its spiritual sturdiness and existence. Naturally, this opposition is occasionally accompanied by caustic expressions of disagreement and spirited reactions.

Take for example some of the Ra'avad's critical notes (Hasogos HaRa'avad) on the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam: "All that is written here is vanity and folly" (Ishus 23:2), and "This author is making up his own gemora" (Yibum 5:24), and the like. Or let us look at the way the Ramban, in his Milchamos Hashem, in which he defends Rabbenu Alfas against the Razoh's kushyos, phrased his disagreement to the Razoh's opinion in Sefer HaMa'or: "If ignorant people would remain silent there would not be any differences of opinion" (Bovo Kama 13 of the Rif). In addition, the Ramban comments (Bovo Kama 65) about the explanation of the Razoh's father that "with this he has consoled his father with nonsense."

Anyone who reads the above tends to think that the Ramban absolutely repudiated the Razoh's opinion. However, in his introduction to the Milchamos Hashem (Brochos) the Ramban writes: "The reader should not think that all the difficulties I pose against the Razoh are unanswerable and that you are forced to agree to them . . .. This is definitely not so. Anyone who studies our Talmud knows that there are no complete proofs to any side in the machlokes among its commentaries and there are no decisive objections. This wisdom does not have absolute proofs like mathematics and geometric exercises." Nonetheless, the Ramban uses the most forceful language and tough style against the Razoh.

We likewise find, in the gemora, the rishonim, and the acharonim, the strongest phrases launched against the dissenting side. An onlooker might think that the attacked side has been entirely proven wrong and that his views and books should be disregarded. This is incorrect. Because of the eminent status of the dissenting side these gedolei olom had to use such stinging language to prevent others from following them. The person who encounters these differences of opinion must afterwards study intensely to understand the two sides of the reasoning correctly and consider them both.

The Yad Malachi (cited in the introduction to Yad HaChazokoh of the Rambam, Kelolei HaRambam) writes: "Heaven forbid that anyone think that the holy Ra'avad wanted to diminish the Rambam's honor. He revealed his holy arm, disagreeing forcefully in several fundamental halochos, to prevent others from following [the Rambam exclusively]."

End of Part I

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