The term אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים means "these and these are the living words of G-d." It is a principle used in disputes to say that both sides are correct.
This post actually started out as a stream of conscious comment to Tzarich Iyun: Yeshiva Life in the Non-Yeshivishe World: Ailu vAilu Can Go to Hell but then it went a little bit to far and became an unedited mess with a lot of ideas and words that weren't so well thought-out. I ask that everyone offer their help (in terms of ideas and concepts and issues) to make this into a better formed essay.
I hope to get some comments on this one (from both of my readers). We'll see how much brainstorming we can come out with.
The concept of Eilu V'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim (henceforth known as the rule of Eilu) is only within a certain realm. This is a fairly broad spectrum of what can be considered kosher in terms of Torah True hashkafah and halacha. For each person, what is kosher for him should theoretically be determined by his own Rav and his family's practices, as long as those ideas and laws themselves fall within the range of a Torah True hashkafah. There are some ideas which are totally unacceptable and one cannot apply to them the rule of Eilu. This is because the rule of Eilu says that once we have two legitimate points of view (in the eyes of the Torah Judaism), then both points are wholly true. A Braisa (Megillah 15b) is quoted which shows that there is a dispute between many Tannaic and Amoraic authorities as to what was Esther's motive for inviting Haman to her party with Ahasuerus. After citing this Braisa, the Talmud records an anecdote in which Rabbah bar Avuha asks Elijah the Prophet, which understanding is correct, and Elijah responds that all of them are correct. This means that Esther had all the logical calculations as explained by each Tanna and Amora. This is an application of the rule of Eilu. In another instance, Elijah also uses the principle of Eilu to say that both understanding of a historical event were true (Gittin 6b). In every application of the rule of Eilu, both the disputants have a legitimacy to their opinion, therefore, the rule of Eilu says both are correct. There are certain rules by which practical Halacha is decided. According to these rules, once an opinion is decided against, that opinion is not necessarily null and void, it is merely superseded by a superior opinion. Therefore, this opinion can sometimes "return" under dire circumstances and in such drastic situations can justifiably be relied upon. This is perhaps an outcome of the law of Eilu which grants legitimacy to an opinion which is not necessarily accepted in practical halacha. However, this granting of legitimacy can only apply to an opinion which was originally something that could be considered an opposing opinion. If the unaccepted opinion was inherently unaccepted and is totally not within the realm of halacha, then obviously the law of Eilu cannot grant it legitimacy. Case in point: Let's say there is an argument between two ordinary laymen as to whether Moses wore a pink shirt or a yellow shirt. The law of Eilu grants neither any legitimacy because Eilu applies only within the domain of halacha and hashkafah; the color of Moses' shirt is irrelevant in both fields. Similarly, if there is a dispute as to whether Samson had long hair or short hair, the law of Eilu does not grant both legitimacy, for it has already been totally decided that he had long hair which was the source of his powers as a Nazirite. Similarly, if there is a dispute as to whether gay marriage should be allowed or not, the law of Eilu cannot justify the opinion that it should be allowed because halacha is clear-cut in its prohibition of such a union. The Law of Eilu can only apply to the grey areas of halacha, ideas which have not solidly been already decided. It is more common for Eilu to apply to customs and traditions that halacha itself because halacha is fairly clear-cut in the way one should act in cases of doubt. However, if one of the disputants is considered "unacceptable" against the other disputant, then the former is null in favor of the latter. For example, the Talmud says that Beis Shammai in the place of Beis Hillel [i.e. situation in which there is also an opposing of] is not taught (Yevamos 9a, Brachos 36b). This does not simply mean that in practical halacha we rule like Beis Hillel over Beis Shammai, it means that against Beis Hillel, Beis Shammai has no legitimacy whatsoever. So you cannot really say that both are correct, Beis Shammai's opinion is null and void because we rule like Beis Hillel. This is a special rule in regard to Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai. Although the law of Eilu seems to sometimes create inherent contradictions as to what is considered correct, that is not a flaw within the law itself. This is because halacha and hashkafah do not conform to the normal rules of logic. For example, under normal circumstance an appeal to authority is considered a logical fallacy, while in halachik and hashkafik discussions, an appeal to authority is the greatest possible proof to one's stance. Similarly, an inconsistency within one's own stance or opinion is usually considered illogical, however in halacha sometimes such a self-contradiction is indeed justified. For example, one can halachikly observe the first set of days of the Omer as a period of mourning on year, and the next year the same person can observe the second set of days of the Omer as the period of mourning. This is not considered a flaw within the person's own actions because the law of Eilu says that both ideas are justified. Nonetheless, in one day, one cannot pray Mincha until Shekiah like the opinion of Sages that "day" lasts until Shekiah and then pray Ma'ariv before Shekiah like the opinion of the Rabbi Yehuda who hold that "day" lasts only until the Plag HaMincha (see Brachos 26a). In such a scenario, halacha says that one may not contradict himself to rule like both Rabbi Yehuda and Sages because the rule of Eilu does not apply.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Posted by Reb Chaim HaQoton at 3:22 PM