July 17, 2024
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‘Eilu V’Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim’: An Enlightening Conversation With TABC Talmid Eytan Goldstein

Eytan’s Great Kashya: Brachot 51b

TABC talmid Eytan Goldstein posed a very compelling question! While learning the eighth perek of Masechet Brachot, Eytan learned a well-known dispute about Kiddush’s two blessings. Beit Shammai believes we should first say the bracha ending in Mekadesh HaShabbat and then say “borei pri hagefen,” “gafen” or “jofan” (depending on whether one is Sephardic, Ashkenazic or Yemenite). Beit Hillel believe that “hagefen” is recited first, which all Jews follow.

The baraita presents Beit Shammai’s two reasons for his view and then shares Beit Hillel’s two reasons. The Gemara proceeds to ask why a second reason is offered for Beit Hillel. It answers so that one should not favor Beit Shammai’s view since he has two arguments supporting his view, and Beit Hillel has only one. Therefore, the baraita presents Beit Hillel’s second reason to demonstrate that Beit Hillel’s view is not inferior to Beit Shammai’s.

Asks Eytan Goldstein: How do the Gemara’s question and answer differ? It asks why we need a second reason and then answers because we need a second reason! What is the transition between the question and answer?

 

Background for an Answer: Ramban

To understand it, we must bear in mind a fundamental insight set forth by the Ramban in his introduction to his Milchamot Hashem commentary to the Gemara. The Ramban writes that Talmudic arguments do not generally prove points conclusively, as is the case with geometry. Instead, we put forth reasonable arguments that eminent Torah scholars decide are most compelling.

 

Answer Eytan’s Question

The Gemara’s question assumes that when Beit Hillel offer their first explanation, it constitutes absolute proof, and therefore no further argument is necessary. However, the Gemara—in its answer—assumes like the Ramban. Thus, since the arguments are not absolute, offering additional reasons for one’s position bolsters his view. Had Beit Shamai offered two reasons for saying Mekadesh HaShabbat before “hagefen/gafen/jofan” and Beit Hillel offered only one reason to say “hagefen/gafen/jofan” first, we would have followed Beit Shammai in this case. Now that Beit Hillel provides a second reason, they are on equal footing with Beit Shamai. In practice, we follow Beit Hillel, for this is the general rule (with a few notable exceptions).

 

Conclusion: Explaining
‘Eilu V’Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim’

In light of the Gemara and Ramban we can understand the famous proclamation about Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel (Eruvin 13b). The Gemara stunningly states that a bat kol (heavenly voice announced, “Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim, v’halacha k’beit Hillel.” Both Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel reflect Hashem’s opinion, but the halacha follows Beit Hillel.

How can both views be correct? The answer is that both sides present credible arguments, and neither side presents absolute arguments in their favor. However, for various reasons, we follow Beit Hillel in practice. The Ritva offers a similar approach. He writes, “When Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Har Sinai to receive the Torah, he was shown regarding every issue 49 reasons to forbid and 49 reasons to permit. The matter is left to the sages of each generation to decide.”

Accordingly, we should have room in our hearts for the differing views among Orthodox Jews regarding a myriad of matters. For example, the arguments permitting and forbidding government-supervised milk (often called “chalav stam” today) are both compelling. Neither side has proven its case with absolute certainty. The sages of the differing communities have simply arrived at differing conclusions as to which opinion should be followed. Neither side should disparage the other as being unreasonable or disloyal to halacha. Bearing in mind the lesson that emerges from the discussion with Eytan helps us maintain Jewish unity despite our differences.

 

Postscript: A Caveat

The Ritva writes of there being 49 arguments pro and con. He does not write that there are infinite arguments. Halacha is not a “free for all,” and there are limitations to what constitutes a legitimate halachic view. We leave for another occasion how such boundaries are set.


Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter’s 18 books may be purchased at Amazon and Judaica House.

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