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The final paragraph of this answer:

We do have the tools to derive from the Torah what those Halachos are (Moshe Rabeinu taught them to us), but these rules are very general in nature and therefore we get two opinions on how to learn a given Passuk.

got me thinking: why are there always two competing opinions (among Tannaim and Amoraim)? There are (almost?) never more opinions, and whenever there seem to be, the Gemara seems intent on aligning the third (and forth, fifth, etc.) opinion with one of the first two being discussed.

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I agree it's rare, but I don't think it's statistically significant. Think how many more dinim have only one opinion vs those that have two opinions. (Yes, I know the saying: 2 rabbis == 3 opinions.) –  Double AA Aug 27 '12 at 3:47
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א"ר יוחנן תלמיד היה לו לר"מ וסומכוס שמו שהיה אומר על כל דבר ודבר של טומאה ארבעים ושמונה טעמי טומאה ועל כל דבר ודבר של טהרה ארבעים ושמונה טעמי טהרה. But in the end it all comes down to a positive or negative. Permissible vs Restricted. Unclean vs Clean. –  YDK Aug 27 '12 at 3:58
    
This is especially strange considering the mishnah in the first or second chapter of Eduyos, "Why do we put the minority opinion in the mishnah? To teach others who have that opinion why they disagreed" –  b a Aug 27 '12 at 5:38

1 Answer 1

Sometimes, the reason is technical:

  • Often, there were only two leaders of the Generation, such as the Nasi and Av Beis Din of the Sanhedrin, or the Rosh Yeshivas of Sura and Pumbedeisa.
  • In post-Talmudic texts, this is often just a preference of the Brisker Method of Talmudic analysis.

On a more philosophical level, Occam's Razor applies - why assume three or four when you could have just two? This is especially pertinent in context of the Mesorah, where the assumption is that deviations are corruptions of a clear, unified whole from Sinai.

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Arithmomaniac, thanks for your answer and welcome to Mi Yodeya. I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. Your answer would be much improved if you'd edit in a source for your claims that the reasons you give are actually correct reasons there are but two disputants. –  msh210 Aug 27 '12 at 16:11

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