Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Machlokes Means Building Consensus, Not Argument

The old joke is, "How does a talmud scholar scratch his left ear?"  It's a visual joke, so you now have to imagine extending one's right arm over his head and scratching the left ear with the right hand.  Ha ha ha.

The root cause of jokes like this is, of course, that anyone reading the gemara sees nothing but a mish mash of disconnected thoughts.  Classic example near the end of Bava Kama.  The topic is clarifying the intent of the Torah in requiring a thief to return the stolen property.  The mishna on 103a clearly states that the thief has fulfilled his obligation as along as his victim forgives the loss (not just the crime, but actually tells the thief that he needn't return the stolen goods nor their value).  The mishna on 108b, however, clearly says that the thief must get the stolen goods out of his pocket -- even if the victim has died and the thief is the sole heir, as discussed previously.  Both of those mishnayos are "stam" -- stated anonymously.  Pretty clear contradiction, but no suspects as to who holds these contrary opinions, nor why.

The gemara finally finds source that discusses the issue on 109a, the case of gezel ha'ger; as discussed here.  To refresh your memory, in that case the ger converts the theft to a loan, then the ger dies.  In that case R' Yosi haG'lili says the case may be put to rest; R' Akiva says it's not over till the thief gets the property (or its value) out of his hands.

R' Yochanon says, "Great!  The mishna on 103b is R' Yossi haG'lili, the mishna on 108b is R' Akiva."  R' Sheishes, however, says, "No way!  Both mishnayos are R' Yosi haG'lili."  Rava (not to be outdone, it seems) says, "Umm... no.  Both mishnayos are R' Akiva."  Wow... one case, six opinions!?

Yes and no.  We clearly have a difference of opinion between R' Yosi haG'lili and R' Akiva; as demonstrated by our gezel ha'ger case.  Chazal, however, all state things is the most succinct manner possible.  By delving into the matter, two factors not readily apparent have surfaced.  One, the two mishnayos have a subtle difference; on 103b the forgiveness is between victim and thief, whereas on 108b the forgiveness is only between the thief and himself.  Second, the case of gezel ha'ger added the strange twist of converting the theft to a loan.  Obviously that was not just done for dramatic effect, it was introduced to reveal a new factor that has halachik consequences.

The gemara then goes on (using a nice amount of prime real estate) to show just how far one can push the boundary of agreement and in how many directions.  When a real boundary is found, the reasons and arguments are explored and digested until all is understood.  At the end, one is left with several factors -- all important and true -- contributing to the final decision.  Not unlike (thank you, Rob) deciding what bracha to make on a chocolate covered raisin.  Both the chocolate and the raisin are important, but you can only make one bracha.  The machlokes is not "argument", but "clarifying and distinguishing the relevant factors".

So besides all the other benefits of learning gemara, one learns to look past the surface, understand different points of view, and build a conclusion on consensus.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…