Sunday, January 25, 2009

These And These Are The Words of the Living God

I owe thanks to Anonymous, G, and R' Gil Student for recommending that I read The Dynamics of Dispute: The Makings of Machlokess in Talmudic Times by Rabbi Zvi Lampel. The book has proved invaluable to me.

CORRECTION: Contrary to what I had thought, in fact the book IS in print, in a brand new edition! It is available from Judaica Press, or should be available in your local Sefarim store.

There is one particular chapter that I think should be xeroxed and handed out to every single Jewish teacher in every elementary school, high school or other place of learning. This is the chapter on the meaning of "Eilu V'Eilu," namely the adage that "These and These Are The Words of the Living God." It is Chapter 11. Having had this fight as recently as last year with a teacher I otherwise highly esteem, this chapter beautifully answered my questions as to the ways in which this adage can be understood, and the correct (and incorrect) application thereof.

Lampel includes a review section which reviews the differing opinions of leading figures as to how to understand the meaning of "These and These." I have reproduced it below, although one really ought and must read the entire chapter to understand how these viewpoints are formulated (he carefully provides both the Hebrew text and English translation in order to demonstrate how these points of view are derived).


The following is a brief summary of the explanations we have quoted for the meaning of "These and those are the words of the Living God."

Rav Yisroel Salanter: All valid attempts to reconstruct what Hashem told Moses are subsumed under the title of "Torah," including the opinions that are ultimately nullified as halacha.

The Yahm Shel Shlomo: Since a Sage's conclusions conform to sound logic, they are as valid and holy as the explicit words of Hashem. The kabballistic teaching that all souls were present at Mount Sinai and each perceived the Torah through one of forty-nine conduits supports this position.

Ritva (Eurvin 13a) and Tosefos Shantz (Aid'yos 1:5) cite another kabballistic teaching that Moses was shown forty-nine arguments to each side of an issue (totaling ninety-eight arguments to each issue) and was told that the decision was entrusted to the future Sages. We have suggested that we may here apply Rashi's understanding (Menachos 29b) that this happened prior to Moses' receiving the Torah. Thus, "These and those" positions conform to human logic and even the Will of Hashem before He prescribed the limitations and parameters of halacha.

Rashi according to our first understanding: Perceptions are subjective. Trust the perception of present reality determined by your authority, though another's perception may be different, because it is a true "reality."

Rashi according to our second understanding: The situations the Sages are ruling on are not really identical, and all authorities would agree on how to rule in any given time. Disputes across generations are only apparently disputes.

The Ohr Gedaliahu: There is a single unifying formula which really produces opposite results in different circumstances.

Drashos HaRan: Each opinion is potentially the official halacha, and the decided halacha is the one we must obey- whether it is true or false- because chances are that the decisions do conform to the "original intent" and the benefits we accrue by obeying the Sages outweigh and counteract the risk of harm.

Tosefos: Regarding opposite reports of past occurrences, there are elements even of Absolute Truth to each side of a machlokess, though one is dominant and the others recessive (the Maharal of Prague's concept of "They were all given by one Shepherd"). Whereas one version reports a tradition describing the actual event, the other reports a tradition of a strongly considered action.

Maharal of Prague: Two statuses are actually equally present. Neither one is recessive, neither one is dominant. This was true only of some machlokos, the first of which were those of Bes Shammai and Bes Hillel.

Rashi according to our third understanding: All the criteria and considerations introduced by disputing Sages play a role in determining absolute truth, although in each individual situation the aplicability of these factors changes, thereby changing the situation's status in terms of absolute truth. (However, such unstable and subtle considerations are too complex and cumbersome to be allowed in practical halachic decision-making, and opposite reports about the proper halacha and the proper criteria for determining it cannot both be correct.)


This review of how our classical commentators understood the adage "Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim Heim, These and those are the words of the Living God," showed that there are different ways in which it could be understood. But we can state unequivically that according to all, neither Hashem when He originally established the halacha nor Moses when he transmitted it, stated more than one halacha for a given case. So far as the halacha l'maaseh, the practical law that we should follow is concerned, two or more opposing Sages cannot both be stating what their teacher, or teacher's teacher, or Moses or Hashem originally said.

If Hashem told Moses that the law is one way, someone saying otherwise simply does not conform to that law. In this aspect, we cannot say that he is "right." "These and those" does not mean that. Nor does it mean that two Sages disagreeing over the meaning of another Sage's statements are both conforming to his actual intention. If their opinions are mutually exclusive, then that just cannot be. And we cannot imagine that two students could be both correct if they disagree over what their teacher's very words were. The opposite statements could not have issued verbally from their teacher's mouth at the same time. In all such cases, someone must be mistaken.

~The Dynamics of Dispute, Chapter 11, pages 224-226


Baruch said...

Pretty insightful. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

2 suggestions
1. listen to where R'YBS towards the middle/end waxes eloquent on the subject

2. look at the gemara baba kama 3b and explain how rav yehuda hanassi used a word (hamaveh) in the mishna which rav and shmuel (very soon after) couldn't agree on what he "meant" in a very halacha lmaaseh case(I'll give an answer later b"n)

Joel Rich


ari kahn said...

I think there are far more opinions, I also believe that the correct translation should be "these and these are the living words of God"
living modifies "words" not "God".
when you understand this, certain questions disappear, and understanding will replace them.
I also don't know why he calls a midrashic explanation"kabbalistic".
furthermore - the Ritva he cites ultimately rejects that view, and says that there is a kabbalistic opinion - which he doesn't state (but my hunch is can be found in the Recanati)

2jews3opinions said...

Chana, I am actually very interested to hear your opinion on this.The subject of Eilu V'eilu has bugged me forever and I have heard countless lectures on different levels that all tried to reconcile the often contradicting opinions being equally correct and valid. I feel that when one looks at it purely theoretically, it would make sense that in our human subjective view we can view only one thing as correct, while through G-d's objective lens two seemingly contradicting opinions can go very well together.
However, when things boil down to practicality... it is just so hard to understand how two opposites can both be right. How do you feel about the story about the Bat Kol and the Beit Midrash and the signs... It always disturbs me, eats away at me, although at heart I understand that there can be one opinion on Earth and Lo Bashamayim Hi, and it is the process that counts... I have yet to find an explanation that satisfies both: my heart and my mind. By the way, I would love to write for the next issue in the observer...

Anonymous said...

2jews3opinions said...
Think about someone living in a 2 dimensional world trying to understand how 2 points with the same x,y coordinates can be different - then realize you live in a 3 dimensional world and see how easy it is (quantum physics also works)

Listen here'eira
for an answer to my question above.

Joel Rich

dave said...


the links you posted is lacking the end.

like this one.

can you please post it again.

Anonymous said...'eira

Anonymous said...

The blog cuts off the shortcuts for some reason -

first is latest R H schachter on vaeira on yutorah
2nd is R'YBS on parsha on bcbm - appointment of king 1971

ayen sham

Joel Rich

The Talmid said...

I read about the first third or half of this book until I couldn't take it anymore. He missed simple answers based on, for example, the shalsheles hakaballah of the Rambam, and the 2 types of Mesorah, the regular mesorah, and the mesorah that the one person per generation in charge of the Shalsheles Hakabbalah gave over to the next leader (the actual 40 people the Rambam lists). For example, Pinchas learned from Moshe, but the Rambam says he received the Kabala from Yehosshua (and again later, Achiah Hashiloni from David ubeis Dino). If he learned form Moshe, why did he receive the kabbalah from Yehoshua? The answer is there was a special set of things which only the one bearer of the kaballah (the 40 people) had. So Pinchas did not get that from Moshe. (This special kaballah would include things like the ksav Ashuris which Ezra later instituted for everyone, and Menatzpach). Menatzpach is at the beginning of gemara Megilla, and is that they forgot if the mem sofis is the regular mem or the final mem. I heard explanations in Shiur quoted from R' Chaim Soloveichik's sons R' Moshe (The Rav's father) and R' Velvel which fit in well together about this topic, though I'm not sure where they're published. The idea about 2 kaballos - the regular one and the special one for the outstanding leader of each generation - I saw once in R' Ahron Soloveichik's Perach Mateh Ahron I think in Mada, but I don't remember where exactly it was.

R' Ruvein Margolios (sp?) (author of Margolios Hayam on Sanhedrin) has a book (in Hebrew) about the mesora, I read part of it, it's very interesting. These issues are certainly not stuff they taught at the schools in Chicago (I can't speak for anywhere else), maybe by now they've changed but I doubt it.

the apple said...

R' Kahn, what are you basing that translation off of?

ari kahn said...

that is the way i understand the Gemara.
i have taught it that way for years, recently i noticed that Rav Ahron Lichtenstein also translated the phrase that way, which obviously strengthened my feeling that this correct.

Mike S. said...

On your recommendation I bought a copy and am working through it. There is some interesting perspective, although it differs from much pf what the Rav said in his yahrtzeit shiur which has been published under the title "Shnei sugei Hamesorah."

Mike S. said...

On your recommendation I bought a copy and am working through it. There is some interesting perspective, although it differs from much pf what the Rav said in his yahrtzeit shiur which has been published under the title "Shnei sugei Hamesorah."