The following is a translation of Chapter 7 of Loda'as
by Rav Yehuda Greenwald
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'"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
End of Part I