Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tzarich Iyun: Yeshiva Life in the Non-Yeshivishe World: Ailu vAilu Can Go to Hell

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to these rules, once an opinion is decided against, that opinion is not necessarily null and void, it is merely superseded by a superior opinion.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.

12 comments:

Chaim B. said...

>>>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.

This just begs the question of what defines a legitimate point of view.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I think we need to differentiate between factual matters and conceptual or theoretical ones. We are given certain "data" that comprise the substance of halachic and hashqafic tradition. This includes the texts of Tanach and the authoritative statements of the Baale Hamesora in every generation.

However, license is granted to the scholar to develop theories and concepts that explain the data and account for how it all fits together. The theoretical position one takes with regard to an issue will, in many cases, impact one's practical conclusions and halachic rulings. This is how mahloqet occurs - when two Talmide Hachamim disagree as to the proper way to conceptualize an area of halachic or even Midrashic thought. Disagreements about factual information do not come under the rubric of eilu v'eilu.

Eilu v'Eilu teaches that, as long as one is operating within the "empirical" constraints of the mesorah, variant theoretical views are granted legitimacy. We need not worry whether or not our grasp of the theoretical principles is exactly what exists in the "Mind of Hashem".

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Chaim, that's a discussion for another time which may be closely related to this discussion.

R' Maroof, as far as I understand, the rule of Eilu not only applies in the theoretical halachik or hashkafic concepts, but it applies in practice:

In halacha, various communities and nationalities conform to different standards, each of which does not necessarily invalid those who oppose them. In the example used by Ben Greenfield, just because you brush your teeth on Shabbos and I do not, that doesn't mean that I look at you as being Mechallel Shabbos everytime you brush tooth on Shabbos, and therefore I wouldn't count you in a minyan or give you an aliyah. Rather, I understand that your Rav or community or family accepted the ruling to permit tooth-brushing on shabbos, while mine did not.

Similarly, in hashkafah, it is the reason why my beliefs do not consider you (not necessarily you, just anyone who differs slightly in hashkafic outlook, and it is likely that almost every person's hashkafah differs somewhat from another's simply because of the multitude of valid points of view) a heretic and why your beliefs do not consider me a heretic, because both our beliefs are justified even according to the beliefs of the other through the rule of Eilu.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Reb Chaim,

True, eilu v'eilu applies to the practical dimension as well. But what makes, say, two positions about brushing teeth on Shabbat both acceptable?

It is the fact that both views are based upon legitimate analyses of the halachic sources, and that each Rav has reached his conclusion after thoroughly considering the definitions and parameters of all of the relevant halachic concepts. One has determined that the "formula" of the melacha of memaheq would include toothbrushing, and one has determined that the melacha of memaheq would not.

We respect each scholar's right to understand the subject matter to the best of his ability and to rule accordingly. We respect an individual's right to follow the decisions of his Rav.

If, on the other hand, a religious practice or belief contradicted the "facts on the ground" - such as permission to drive on Shabbat, which is contrary to a verse in the Torah forbidding combustion - then it would not be covered by "eilu v'eilu."

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Agreed.

Chaim B. said...

I don't see how you can seperate questions of legitimacy from your definition of eilu v'eilu. The 'facts on the ground' in matters of halacha are not physical entities, but are themselves conceptual constructs. To take an extreme example, an Orthodox Jew sees gay marriage as non-negotiable, and I imagine you would say it contradicts an explicit verse. The other side (the terms sitra achara fits nicely) would argue that your fact is simply a matter of interpretation - perhaps the verse is speaking of a specific idolatrous ritual, just to take one 'out' they suggest.
I am also not sure within RJM's framework how to conceptualize the idea of chiddush. For those of us who are Zionists, there is no denying that the movement was a chiddush which many gedolim viewed as beyond the pale of legitimacy. Chassidus was once viewed as outside the pale. Yet, now we say eilu v'eilu. What changed?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I don't say eilu v'eilu with regard to Chassidut. :)

Halacha operates within a certain framework. There are explicit principles and axioms, which I refer to as "data".

Homosexual relations are prohibited, period. You can philosophize until the cows come home as to why it is prohibited, but the fact that it is not allowed remains fixed. You can enter into halachic analyses of various aspects of homosexual behavior and classify some as deorayta and some as derabbanan, and you may have some halachic disagreements about details, but the building blocks of the prohibition will never change.

Hiddush doesn't involve innovation in the sense of bringing something into halacha or hashqafa that didn't exist before. Hiddush is when we develop a new theoretical insight that explains the preexistent data in a novel way, and then yields new pisqe halacha.

Think of the Rav's Torah in any area, and the way that he introduced powerful conceptual formulations that accounted for "tillin tillin shel halachot" in one fell swoop. He often proceeded to work his insights through, generating practical implications as well.

Zionism is a philosophical issue, and one's position on it will derive from one's interpretation of Tanach and Halacha in general.

Nowhere in taryag do you find the commandment "thou shalt/shall not be a Zionist." From a deep reflection on the principles of Judaism one may arrive at a Zionistic or Non-Zionistic worldview, either of which is potentially legitimate if it is based upon sincere limmud and not politics.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I don't say eilu v'eilu with regard to Chassidut. :) That's very tolerant. :)


Think of the Rav's Torah in any area, and the way that he introduced powerful conceptual formulations that accounted for "tillin tillin shel halachot" in one fell swoop. He often proceeded to work his insights through, generating practical implications as well.I'm not sure exactly what you are referring to, but for example, the Rav in sefer (Hilchos Chametz U'Matzah 7:9) proposes that the Mitzvah of Kiddush is not the actual drinking, but the Brachas therein, the drinking of the wine is only a an outcome of the Brachas (which would otherwise be vain utterances of HaShem). Accordingly, the drinking by Kiddush would only require a cheekful, not a riviis or rov kos. So of course, the Rav had to find rishonim who argues on his principle so as not to affect practical halacha, and indeed we assume that the blessings of Kiddush are only a means to get to the drinking, which is the point of Kiddush. And Rov does this in many places throughout his seforim, he says a novel idea and works through it, but almost always comes out that others argue on his principle and we pasken like those others. That's what lomdus is all about.

Zionism is a philosophical issue, and one's position on it will derive from one's interpretation of Tanach and Halacha in general. ¶ Nowhere in taryag do you find the commandment "thou shalt/shall not be a Zionist." From a deep reflection on the principles of Judaism one may arrive at a Zionistic or Non-Zionistic worldview, either of which is potentially legitimate if it is based upon sincere limmud and not politics.
Chas V'Shalom! Zionism is not just an ideological machlokes, it is also an argument in practical halacha. For example, if one truly believes that the State of Israel supersedes the Torah, then one would be obligated to stop learning Torah and go protest every time the Israeli government decided to evacuate people from their houses and give land to the Arabs, and they would have to give up their lives in the name of the "Israel". However, if one does not believe in Zionism, then he is not allowed to interrupt Torah study in order to partake in Zionist protests, because the Torah is more important. Furthermore, the discussion is Zionism is relevant in regard to the halachik permissability to visit such "illegal" areas that were captured during the Six Day War, like the Kosel.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Reb Chaim,

True, the Rav did not always implement his hiddushim in practice. But my point was that the different practical approaches derive from competing theoretical viewpoints, each of which is attempting to explain the "facts" of halacha that all agree upon and, of course, to apply that understanding to hypothetical halachic cases that there may not be a clear precedent for.

The differences between them emerge as a result of the way they understand the subject area in theory.

I did not mean to say that Zionism has no practical implications. Of course it does. But it is essentially a philosophical position about the significance of Medinat Yisrael in our time, and it is this vision that generates normative guidelines and obligations.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Homosexual relations are prohibited, period. You can philosophize until the cows come home as to why it is prohibited, but the fact that it is not allowed remains fixed.

But again, you are just begging the question. You interpret the pasuk as an issur of arayos, someone else may interpret it as prohibiting a pagan lifestyle. Whose version of the facts is right? The data cannot be objectively established.

With respect to chiddush, the Rav writes on the topic in the end of either Halachic Man or Halachic Mind, I forget which.

R' Shachter also has an article on chiddush vs. shinuy, but while the examples he gives suggest a distinction, where to draw the line is very vague.
http://www.torahweb.org/torah/special/2003/rsch_masorah.html

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I just realized a difference in nomenclature between us. When I refer to the "Rav" I mean the Brisker Rav, while when you refer to the "Rav" you mean his nephew. We should be careful next time.

Ronald Coleman said...

LOL -- was this whole shakla v'taryeh just based on a taos sofrim? Or would we call it a shinuy ha'nuschaos?!

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