The idea of Machloket-less study and transmission of the Oral Torah is very basic in Judaism.

I spot two approaches:

  1. That of Sanhedrin 68b - there were Machlokot and different approaches and schools, but they were all settled by the working Sanhedrin:

    "תניא, אמר רבי יוסי: מתחילה לא היו מרבין מחלוקת בישראל, אלא בית דין של שבעים ואחד יושבין בלשכת הגזית"

    "... Rabbi Yosei said: Initially, discord would not proliferate among Israel. Rather, the court of seventy-one judges would sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone... "

  2. That there were no different approaches, just as Moses didn't have them: Rashi (Sotah 47a see also Temurah 16a):

    "עד ימיהן לא היה מחלוקת בחכמי ישראל כולן היו אומרים דברים כנתינתן למשה"

While the first sound reasonable and feasible, the second sounds improbable and illogical: besides simple reciting mantras, discussing just anything leads to discords as a result of:

  • Differences in perception of the surrounding world - for example, time of sunrise, colors of stains, animal species or estimations of physical states (illness etc)

  • Finding new interpretations of the text

  • Different hierarchy of values (what overrides what)

Moreover, we can clearly see that Moses himself perceived the obligating (him) Halochos differently than what G-d told him, as in Breaking the Luchos, adding a day before Matan Torah, hitting the Rock and more.

I'm looking for a more comprehensive explanation of the approach that for over a thousand years studying of the Torah was Machloket-less.

2 Answers 2


I think you are mistaken in your understanding of how the Sanhedrin worked. Or, to put it another way, when the gemara you quote (Sanhedrin 68b) says:

"תניא, אמר רבי יוסי: מתחילה לא היו מרבין מחלוקת בישראל, אלא בית דין של שבעים ואחד יושבין בלשכת הגזית

[A beraisa was] repeated: Rabbi Yosei said: Initially, discord would not proliferate among Israel. Rather, the court of seventy-one judges would sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone...

It says "לא היו מרבין מחלוקת -- discord would not proliferate", not "לא היו מחלוקת -- there was no discord". And the translation is apt, we mean here מחלוקת in the sense of discord, not difference of opinion.

There were three styles of tefillin found in ancient use during the Maccabean and Bar Kokhva Revolts. Among the them both the styles we now identify with Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam.[1] The Sanhedrin saw no need to resolve the dispute, because it hadn't become a point of discord.

Even earlier, the tribe of Efraim didn't have the letter shin in their Hebrew -- thus the whole "shibboles" vs "sibboles" story in Shofetim 12. They must have fulfilled the mitzvah by saying "Sema Yisrael...", and the Sanhedrin didn't rule that Shema was one or the other.

Each city and sheivet had its own high courts, and only questions that needed escalation were referred to higher courts. They are even prohibited from punting a question they were capble of adjudicating themselves! (Sanhedrin 16b) So, if a city beis din or the sheivet's beis din hagadol had a ruling they were content with, the question never went to the Sanhedrin. And so, there would necessarily be regional differences.

And that was a good thing.

[1] Geza Vermes, “Pre-Mishnaic Jewish Worship and the Phylacteries from the Dead Sea,” Vetus Testamentum 9 (1959); J.T. Milik, “Textes littéraires,” in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, Vol. 2* (texte) (Oxford 1961): p. 81.

  • 1. How do you define a "discord" vs a "different opinion"?
    – Al Berko
    Mar 5, 2019 at 21:50
  • 2. It seems that the second part of your answer affirms my other question judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/100179/… - there was no ruling Halacha and therefore no discords.
    – Al Berko
    Mar 5, 2019 at 21:51
  • 1
    It's not actually true that they found rabbenu Tam tefillin. There was a somewhat ambiguous laid out scroll not matching any Talmudic opinion that Yigael Yadin decided was most similar to r Tam, and published that he found it. It was wildly publicized and repeated after that in Jewish encyclopedia type works.
    – Double AA
    Mar 5, 2019 at 23:05
  • @AlBerko Chassidim who use two holes per corner to tie their tzitzis have a differing opinion about how to do the mitzavah. Or making those tzitzis from Ashkenazi windings vs Sepharadi half-knots. No one fights about it. But the attempt to reintroduce tekheiles caused heated arguments. And hilkhos eiruvin could produce outright fighting. Mar 5, 2019 at 23:10
  • @DoubleAA I will pick another example, then. But as long as they found more than one opinion over the course of the centuries between Chanukah and Bar Kokhva, the error doesn’t touch my point. But I am surprised. I thought ai cited the people who actually found them. Mar 5, 2019 at 23:13

Essentially, the difference between the two sources you cited is the difference between Mishnah and Talmud (in their original senses, as in Sotah 22a, Kiddushin 30a, Bava Metzia 33a-b, etc.). "Mishnah" is the basic halachos; "Talmud" is the analysis of those halachos, including also the application of them to different scenarios and conditions. (The Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:11-12, calls the first one "Torah shebaal peh" and the second one "Talmud.")

So the "Mishnah" part, the actual halachos, continued to be said כנתינתן מסיני; everyone knew them clearly. The "Talmud" part is, as you said, subject to human variability, and that's where they would need to resort to the Sanhedrin (as indeed implied in Devarim 17:8ff, כי יפלא ממך דבר למשפט).

Over time, of course, things migrate from "Talmud" to "Mishnah," in the sense that once a halachah is applied (via "Talmud" analysis and, if necessary, a vote of the Sanhedrin) to a certain scenario, then that becomes "Mishnah," settled case law. (For example, the Baal Hatanya writes in his Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1 that the Tur, Shulchan Aruch and Rema - where many of the halachos come from the Talmud - are categorized as "Mishnah" for purposes of Torah study, while the commentaries on them count as "Talmud.")

The Rambam, in his introduction to Perush Hamishnayos, draws such a distinction within the "Mishnah," between the halachos that were known to have been given to Moshe at Sinai (which remained clear and were never subject to debate, even after machlokes began to proliferate) and the halachos derived later on (such as via the 13 Middos), where there was unclarity, and thus dispute.

In short, then, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (should be 88b, by the way) is talking about "Talmud" and the halachos derived from it; Rashi is talking about "Mishnah," where originally both parts of it were clear, and later on only one part of it - the ones known to be Halachah Lemoshe Misinai - remained so.

To give an example, using the first Mishnah of Berachos:

מאימתי קורין את שמע בערבית: that Shema has to be recited in the evening (ובשכבך), and that there exists a definition of when this begins - universally accepted, and never lost. Every talmid chacham, from Moshe down to our times, learned this כנתינתו מסיני (not necessarily with the same wording, of course; Biblical Hebrew would probably have been מן מתי or something like that.)

משעה שהכהנים נכנסים לאכול בתרומתן: includes two points: (a) that kohanim who were tamei (and toveled) have to wait until "evening" to eat terumah, and (b) that this is the same time when "evening" begins as far as Shema. (a) is also universally accepted (based on the known facts that ובא השמש וטהר means טהר יומא, and that ואחר יאכל מן הקדשים refers to terumah), while (b) is not (as we see that the Gemara there brings several other opinions). In other words, at one time all talmidei chachamim knew and learned when "evening" begins for both of these purposes; later on they still knew and learned (a) כנתינתו מסיני, but weren't sure about (b), and so argued about it.

עד סוף האשמורה הראשונה... עד חצות... עד שיעלה עמוד השחר: obviously a matter of machlokes. From Moshe until the Zugos, it was known (it may have been decided by a vote of the Sanhedrin, for example) that ובשכבך delineates a certain time of the night, beginning at time X and ending at time Y. (It's also possible that in one generation the Sanhedrin voted one way, and in a later generation differently; see Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 2:1.) But later on this was forgotten, and so different Chachamim try to reconstruct X and Y, each in their own way.

  • I can't say I understood your idea. Are you saying that there are no Machlokos on the Mishnah part? I seriously doubt your "So the "Mishnah" part, the actual halachos, continued to be said כנתינתן מסיני; everyone knew them clearly." As most of the Mishnayos are said in the names of the Rabbis I don't see how it's connected to Moses. Even though, how studying those Mishnayos can be with no discord. The only option if they were merely memorized and recited.
    – Al Berko
    Mar 5, 2019 at 21:37
  • @AlBerko: First of all, you have lots of stam mishnayos, with no names attached. Second, I thought I made it clear (next to last paragraph) that there are parts of the Mishnah that were universally accepted and agreed to (the parts that were known to be from Sinai - the Rambam gives a list of a number of such halachos there), and other parts that were originally also known to everyone but then afterwards partly forgotten (those are the parts where the Mishnah is quoted in the name of one or another Rabbi, but those are also the parts that started out as "Talmud").
    – Meir
    Mar 5, 2019 at 23:44

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