Saturday, April 11, 2009

You are wrong!

[I am re-posting this.]

(I was thinking of finding a picture appropriate to the topic of machloikes, but then thought that nothing would fit better than this video, which I like very much.)

I’d like to thank Dixie Yid for a link to “the comment thread at A Simple Jew’s Post, The Essence of Emunah [of] an interesting back-and-forth discussion between R’ Micha Berger & R’ Micha Golshevsky regarding the inner unity behind the major machlokes’n in history”.

As I was reading the discussion, I thought this (not necessarily regarding any side of the discussion):

It seems to me that sometimes our American sensitivity and tendency to make peace and accommodate everyone’s opinion (commendable though this tendency may be) gets in a way of understanding the machloikes. Back in the day, people didn’t have a problem saying “I disagree.” Not “I am right on some level, you are right on another level”, but “I am right, and you are wrong.” Doesn’t mean they didn’t respect the other side’s opinion (depending on the nature of machloikes, of course), but they still thought it to be wrong.

* * *

[Beginning of a long digression — feel free to skip to the next asterisks]

There is a second level of justification — from spiritual perspective. Obviously, in Judaism we have the statement that “eilu v’eilu dvorim Elokim chayim” (“these and these are words of the living G-d” — regarding the dispute between Shammai and Hillel, but more abstractly regarding most other disputes). What is sometimes overlooked, as I mentioned before, that Shammai and Hillel themselves still believed the other party to be wrong. More importantly (for us), we follow only one of their specific opinions for Halacha purposes. And in many cases when we say that a certain halachic opinion is for this community, while other opinion is for another, it’s only due to the circumstances of us being in golus, as Rambam explains in the introduction to Mishnei Torah.

On the other hand, in many cases, of course, this is not true. We accommodate for multiple opinion in our psak din, and indeed, this is the beauty of Torah both from spiritual/metaphysical and sociological point of view (I can hear teeth grinding). From the latter perspective, says Reb Shlomo Yaffe, accommodation of multiple opinions in the final ruling (since all of them are right, despite sometimes obvious disagreement and even mutual exclusivity), the “bottom line” of Jewish law tends towards the middle. On the other hand, in case of, lehavdil, X-ity and Islam, with passage of time these religions acted like a centrifuge, pushing their choice of the ultimate interpretation of their texts towards the outside, the extreme.

Of course, we, as religious Jews, don’t care so much about sociology (this was just an interesting point explaining the difference between Abrahamic religions — the principle of “eilu v’eilu” vs. “my way or the highway”). From philosophical point of view, the principle of “eilu v’eilu” becomes interesting, because it reveals fully the unlimited and undefined nature of G-dliness, from which Torah stems.

I had a conversation once with an apikoires, who asked me if G-d can create a square circle (a more intelligent way to put the question with the stone). I told him that according to the school of chakirah, He cannot — but it’s a limitation not on G-d, but on our reality, or, as Rabbi Gottlieb put it, one our language (i.e., our logic). “When you say square circle, I hear words, but no meaning enters my mind. So, you’re asking me, can G-d create _____, and there is nothing in the blank. You did not ask any question.” Or, to put it differently, G-d could create a square circle, but it would be incompatible with our reality (it’s a slightly different statement from Rabbi Gottlieb’s, but I’ll just lump them in one category for now).

On the other hand, I said, the school of mysticism teaches that G-d indeed can create a square circle and even make it compatible with our reality. In fact, in our history, such things have happened (if you are lazy to read the whole post, in the case of Menoira oil both burning and not burning at the same time, or in the case of Aron Koidesh not taking any space). Now, how the square circle would look to us is a different story. Perhaps it would look like a hologram or, more simply, like a Necker cube, only not on the level of illusion or perceptual ambiguity, but in reality.

“This is interesting,” the apikoires said. “But this means that G-d could tell you to do X and not to do X at the same time. What would you do then?” He thought he had me, but he made a trap for himself. In fact, I explained, every law that G-d gave us is like this. Torah derives from G-dliness, which is multidimensional (infinitely-dimensional, even, one might say). It is the job of our authorities, then, to bring down a specific dimension of each law to this world — and this is where the disagreement stems from, when one authority’s spiritual level is different from that of the other, and as a result, they disagree on the practical “interpretation” of the law, since the particular dimension of the law that one brings down is different from that of another authority.

In practice, sometimes we rule in favor of one opinion, and sometimes in the other (because only one opinion may be appropriate for this world, for this particular place and this particular time), but sometimes we accommodate for multiple opinions. An example I give sometimes is that of dipping chalah in soup on Shabbos. On Shabbos, a Jew is not allowed to cook. Skipping many details, this means he is not allowed to put something defined legally as uncooked into a hot soup still in the first or second vessel of cooking. What about challah? Is baking the same as cooking? If it is, then he is allowed to dip challah in that soup (since something already cooked cannot be further cooked). If it’s not, then he is not allowed to dip challah in the soup (since that would be tantamount to cooking the challah). There is a disagreement in opinions.

We rule that lehatchilo one should not dip challah in the soup, but bediyeved, if someone already dipped the challah (e.g., having not paid attention), one is allowed to eat it. Thus, in our ruling we accommodate for both opinions, despite the fact that they are opposite and mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, from mystical perspective, we learn that even those opinions that were presented in Gemara and were clearly rejected as unsupported by our tradition, are still true on some spiritual level. In fact, they are even higher (from the point of view of gilui) than the opinions that were accepted — and this is why they were rejected, being incompatible with this lowly world (of course, b’etzem, the accepted opinions are higher, since they allow for dira b’tachtoinim). See this beautiful chapter (“Co-existence of Contradictory Truths”) from the Gutnick edition of Rambam’s 9th and 10th principles (with commentaries ranging from classical to those of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) for further discussion on the topic of the spiritual origin of different opinions and the reasons for their inclusion in Gemara (even those that were rejected).

[End of the long digression]

* * *

I think despite all of the above, however, we still overlook the other, non-accomodating side of the machloikes. Yes, sometimes we rule in favor of both parties. And sometimes we say that this is right for us, and this is right for them. But sometimes we rule in favor of only one opinion! Sometimes we say that only one opinion is more appropriate for everyone.

Or, more specifically, sometimes we follow a particular shitta, and even though we recognize the other shitta as beautiful, and part of Torah, and “words of the living G-d”, and shining brightly on some high spiritual level — but here, in this world, where we are trying to bring Mashiach, this shitta is less appropriate than the one we accept. Of course, people who hold according to that shitta may think the same about ours. And we think they are wrong in practice (or at least less right than we are), and they think we are wrong. And guess what? There is nothing wrong with thinking someone is wrong. There is not always a need to sweeten the pill.

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