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Eiruvin 13b recounts an argument between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. The argument grew very heated until a bat kol intervened and stated the famous line elu v'elu divrei elohim chayim ("These and also those are the words of the living God"). But then the bat kol concluded v'hahalacha k'veit Hillel ("And the halacha is according to beit Hillel").

The bat kol seems to settle the dispute; however, we learned in the story of the Oven of Akhnai (Bava Metzia 59b) that we don't listen to a bat kol to settle halachic disputes because the Torah is lo bashamayim hi ("The Torah is not in heaven").

So why was the bat kol able to settle this dispute?

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The Batei Hillel/Shammai bat kol was able to convince its listeners and the Akhnai bat kol was not. Lo bashamayim hi - if the rabbeim are not convinced, it's irrelevant, but if they are convinced, it is relevant. The takeaway - diplomacy and tact matter. –  Charles Koppelman Jul 29 '13 at 16:16
    
@CharlesKoppelman Can you prove that? Just saying that the halacha is according to Hillel doesn't seem that convincing. Especially immediately after elu v'elu... –  Daniel Jul 29 '13 at 16:26
    
@Daniel I can't prove it with sources (hence this is a comment, not an answer). But it seems like it was convincing enough to settle the dispute - at least for the Amoraim who wrote the story. –  Charles Koppelman Jul 29 '13 at 17:00
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1 Answer

Tosafot in Yevamot 14a (d"h R. Yehoshua) asks precisely this question. Tosafot answers we don't generally follow the ruling of R. Yehoshua that holds we don't listen to a bat kol. Tosafot goes on to explain that by the Oven of Achnoi everyone agreed not to listen to the bat kol since it was only for the honor of R. Elazar who stated "From the heavens it shall be prooven I am right". Tosafot also says that by the oven the bat kol was also against the majority and the halakha always follows the majority. However by Bait Shammai the bat kol said to follow the majority (however without the bat kol we would be unsure, since Bait shammai were sharper).

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So when do we follow a bat kol and when don't we? If we only follow a bat kol when it is according to the majority, then that means that we don't really hold by it at all because the halacha should always be according to the majority. –  Daniel Jul 29 '13 at 20:44
    
@Daniel Well we are unsure if the halacha is like the majority if the minority is sharper. That was clarified by a bat kol –  chacham Jul 29 '13 at 20:50
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Doesn't that seem to be the case by the oven of Achnai? R' Eliezer definitely seems to be the sharper one. In fact, R' Eliezer is from beit Shammai. –  Daniel Jul 29 '13 at 21:00
    
maybe there is a difference by a majority against one person than a majority against a smaller group –  chacham Jul 29 '13 at 21:36
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