There seems to be an implied "rule" (or at least strong desire) in Torah (derech halimud) to limit machklokes wherever possible and moreso what seems "at all costs"

My question is simply - Why?

Here's more detail/background on the question:

  • I can understand in cases where there are 2 seemingly contradictory statements from one author (for example 2 Rambam's Mishneh Torah vs. Moreh Nevuchim) - that although it's possible that he changed his mind over time (and thus the latter reflects his true opinion) - this would not be very common, thus fair to assume that there in fact is no contradiction.
  • Or likewise 2 separate (seemingly) contradictory statements from the same author in the same sefer - which would have all the more reason to assume that they in fact do reconcile./don't contradict
  • Likewise, I'm not referring to the mesorah that we received at Sinai, as then it would be understood as unlikely to have 2 contradictory statements from one author (Hashem)
  • Regarding the Written Torah itself (i.e. single sefer (Torah) from single author (Hashem)) - you get involved in the idea of אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים - that allows for contradictory statements from Him (i.e. single author) - so I'm not referring to that.

So basically, since it seems to be self evident that 2 people (especially Jews) can have 2 different opinions on the same matter - why try to reconcile (even to the extent of what seems as very forced answers). Why not "embrace" the different opinions (again where it doesn't imply a break in the chain of mesorah) and especially after than chain was broken (Beis Shammai - Beis Hillel).

On a personal basis, it frustrates me learning with people, who when faced with different seforim (Rishonim, Acharonim) that seem to be saying different opinions, will try to force them into one (so long as it's not explicitely stated otherwise)

I'm curious to know where the source of this "bias"/assumption is ?

I looked in the sefer Halichos Olam, and in Shaar Sheini - 50 he gives an example from Bava Metzia (10b) ואמר ריש לקיש משום אבא כהן ברדלא: קטנה אין לה חצר, ואין לה ארבע אמות. ורבי יוחנן משום רבי ינאי אמר: יש לה חצר ויש לה ארבע אמות This would seem to be a pretty obvious and explicit case where these Amoraim argue. The Halichos Olam says "אע"ג דמשמע דפליגי קאמר התם דחד מיירי בגיטין וחד מיירי במציאה ולא פליגי כלומר מר מודה ליה בגיטין ומה (מר?) מודה ליה במציאה, וכי האי גוונא איכא טובא " Although the Gemara, presents versions that they do in fact argue (albeit agreeing in one case). Nevertheless, this seems to be the final אי בעית אימא conclusion of the Gemara that there is no argument at all, and each statement was not said סתם but rather in a specific context.

This "reconciliation" is made even though

  • both halachos are quoted in absolute terms (without any reference or hint to being limited specifically to cases of acquiring a get or lost object) - thus it would seem that these statements/rulings were taken (and passed on) out of context.
  • making this reconciliation is not a stringency to cover all basis, as by stating that Reish Lakish (who said that אין לה חצר) is referring specifically to a lost object (see Rashi) but in regards to get would agree to Rebbi Yochanan that יש לה חצר - we're considering her divorced and permitted to other men. Whereas the simple understanding of Reish Lakish, is that in all cases חצר does not acquire for her, and as such the get was never given to her, and she is not permitted to other men.

The Halichos Olam, concludes, that not only is this a common occurrence (as quoted above) but moreso this is the preferred approach

וכל היכא דאשפר לומר כן ושלא לעשות פלוגתא בין החכמים שפיר דמי

So at least as far back as 1490 (date of publication of the sefer) this is the preferred approach. And of course much further back, as he brought only one example from the Gemara, as he says there is many more. Anyone who learns Gemara, has even come across the lengths that the Gemara will go to try to find some reconciliation, even if it essentially relegates one of the opinions to referring specifically to a very far fetched/ i.e. limited case which rarely ever occurs.

So back to the question, WHY?

  • if it seems abundantly clear that different people have different ways of looking that things
  • and we see tons of cases where (there is no choice but to accept) that there is debate.
  • And we (the Gemara) even received the mesorah from the Tannaim (via the Mishnayos) that continually states machlokes.
  • And we (the Gemara) has admitted that now we live in a time of ריבוי מחלוקת (Sanhedrin 88b, Sotah 47b)

If so, when we encounter a case which is CLEARLY stated as 2 separate opinions - Why try to "force" the issue and create cases that aren't stated and qualify statements which were given (over) in absolute terms?

It's not like doing so will restore a situation of a single homogeneous state where there is a single view/shittah on everything.

More so, doing so could have a steep cost - as wouldn't these qualifications that are introduced be distorting the true intention, literally inserting something that the author never said?

  • 4
    Well asked. Brief part of a response: A large part of our learning is trying to figure out foundations. We assume that the earlier generation understood the Torah and its foundations more clearly; we aren't trying to figure it out from first principles, we are trying to sort out (reverse-engineer) what they are telling us about it. We do this with Tanaim, Amoraim, and even Rishonim. Since we think that way, it makes sense to assume that they agree on the basics and are arguing on the details.
    – MichoelR
    May 10, 2020 at 16:01
  • It's worth mentioning that the Rambam in his Hakdamah to Peirush Hamishnah says a similar version of this principle: machlokos are usually on small details, not on the main issues that were generally well-understood.
    – MichoelR
    May 10, 2020 at 16:11
  • It seems like you've answered your own question. There are lots of reasons to minimize machloket. Just because you don't find certain instances compelling is not a question on the principle. We don't actually eliminate every dispute ever.
    – Double AA
    May 10, 2020 at 16:11
  • Isn't this (somewhat) similar to living during the period where (due to עת לעשות) writing Oral Torah was allowed and every time you encounter a written sefer which appears to be stating a thought on the Oral Torah, to then come up with some qualification to say that really it wasn't talking about the Oral Torah, but rather about ... i.e. we live in a period where it's prevalent, so when confronted with what is another instance, why force the issue?
    – Chaim
    May 10, 2020 at 16:29
  • 1
    MichoelR - I appreciate the reverse-engineering point. And (together with a "Steady-state" assumption) the dangers in assuming that if there is machlokes now, then there must have been machlokes from the beginning (or near to it) and our mesorah is tainted. However, in this case, as the Gemara states there was a point-in-time change. However, even according to the Rambam (Beginning with) the talmidim of Hillel and Shammai things changes and machlokes proliferated - thus it's not reverse (or any) engineering to think that this new reality should cause a change in how we view machlokes
    – Chaim
    May 10, 2020 at 17:38

2 Answers 2


There are two parts to this answer, one historical and one in "what's more likely?"

The historical aspect is that our tradition is that Moshe Rabbeinu received the complete Torah from Hashem. So the question that needs to be asked is, "How do machloksim start in the first place, if Moshe received everything directly?" Now this is a topic that can take an entire book to resolve (See the Dynamics of Dispute by Zvi Lampel), but basically it means the tradition had a breakdown somewhere. But it makes sense to assume that the breakdown was smaller rather than larger.

The reason for this is the general rule, תפסת מיעוט תפסת תפסת מרובה לא תפסת. In other words, always start with the smallest assumption possible that covers the facts. Sort of like Occam's razor. So why assume a large breakdown in the tradition if a small one can explain the different views?

In regards to the example you brought from Halichos Olam:

Imagine an alien who never visited Earth has two statements in front of him: Tom says the sky is light blue. Harry says the sky is dark, almost black, with little points of light scattered across it. To the alien, these statements might seem contradictory. But to us these statements are obviously not contradictory: Tom is describing the sky during the day, and Harry is describing it at night. "But nobody said anything about day or night!" the alien might protest. "Because it was obvious," we would answer.

Similarly, to us the statements of Reish Lakish and R' Yochanan seem contradictory, but to the writers of the Gemara, they were clearly different cases.

Now let's say the two statements are not obviously referring to different cases, and the Gemara doesn't address the apparent contradiction. Should we assume that 1) there is an argument unaddressed in the Gemara (even though the Gemara usually explains when a statement is disputed) or 2) that there is a way to reconcile the two statements as being about different cases, and perhaps the resolution was obvious enough to the Gemara that it did not need to say it explicitly. When you factor in that the entire Torah was given to Moshe Rabbeinu and everyone starts from the same place, it is very reasonable to look for some factor that can explain the two statements without them contradicting. If you find one, great. If not, maybe you do have an argument on your hands. A lot of the discussion of the commentaries from Tosafos and on is addressing these types of questions. One Rishon might feel their distinction is good enough, and another might differ.

Now you could ask, why wasn't the Gemara or the speaker more clear? This answer has a few points to it:

  1. The language of the Tannaim and Amoraim in the Gemara is not what that specific Rabbi literally said. Instead, it is the Gemara's (very succinct) distillation of their opinion. There was a lot more information about what the specific rabbi may have said available to the Gemara than to us. [E.g. see Rashba and Ritva to Yevamos 9a]

  2. Every work is written for the people of that generation. The Rambam [Intoduction to Mishna] says this is why the generations following R' Yehuda Hanasi had to write braisos and Toseftos to explain the meaning of the Mishnah for the following generation. Eventually, a Gemara needed to be written. And eventually, commentaries on the Gemara needed to be written. But to every generation, some things that were obvious to them were omitted, confusing the next generation. [See also Ramchal, Maamar al Hahagados]

So maybe there is a contradiction, or maybe we are missing a point. To say definitely there is a contradiction would be hasty.

  1. There is a tradition passed down of how specific a generation of rabbis was expected to be. So Tannaim can be more cryptic than Amoraim. It is a judgement call from experience to know when someone should have said something or not. These points are also often discussed in Rishonim.

See also Kovetz Hearos [siman 38; 6-7] who asks why sometimes the Gemara assumes a statement to be all-inclusive, and sometimes the Gemara says a certain statement is only in a very specific case. His resolution is that in regards to the specific halachah being taught, a statement is all-inclusive unless stated otherwise. In regards to a technical, side detail regarding how this halacha could be relevant, it might only be in uncommon situations that the Tanna did not specify. See there for examples.

To give examples: Let's say you have a hypothetical scenario. The only authority you find to discuss the scenario rules x, and as far as you can tell nobody argues. In that case, it is reasonable to assume that the halacha is x, since as far as you know the halacha is unanimous.

Now let's take a case where two authorities argue [e.g. Rashba and Rosh]. If the Rashba clearly makes two assumptions, and the Rosh clearly argues on one of them, is there any reason to assume he disagrees with the other? Not really, only one assumption is disputed, and the other remains unanimous, as in the first case.

But let's say the Rosh did not explain his reasoning, he just states that the halacha is different than the Rashba. He must disagree somewhere, but on both assumptions or just one? Here again the rule of תפסת מיעוט תפסת תפסת מרובה לא תפסת comes into effect. If you can justify the Rosh's opinion without saying he argues on both assumptions, that is the Occam's razor approach. If you can explain the Rosh by saying he argues on either assumption, then you have a safek as to the Rosh's actual opinion.

Let's say you do further research and discover that the Ritva argues on both the Rashba's assumptions. Now it is reasonable to assume the Rosh might also disagree with both the Rashba's assumptions, since you know the Ritva does. But you can't be sure.

Now, perhaps both assumptions are connected, and there is a reason why assumption A leads to Assumption B. In that case, if the Rosh argues on A, he must also argue on B. But are the assumptions really connected? This is the sort of question that Acharonim deal with constantly. (Of especial note is the Mishna Lamelech, who laid out many such situations, and the Ketzos Hachoshen, who demonstrated these connections many times on the conceptual level, and resolved many problems this way.)


Based off of Chagigah 3b it appears that although there are two divergent arguments they are both correct. They are both given by Hashem or at the very least sourced in his Torah. The Ran in drashos haRan says that all arguments by the sages were told to Moshe Rabbeinu and this is a Gemara in Megilla if I recall correctly.

Therefore, one approach would be to understand that they are not truly arguing, rather there is some subtle difference in the case or context that causes the argument. We often find the Gemara itself and Tosfot do this to resolve an argument, to make a change in the case. Though you are right that this is more common when it is the same author.

I suppose you could learn the Gemara Chagigah 3b differently though, that is that the sages are making rulings opposite each other but at the root they are using principles that everyone agrees to. How to apply them there might be some disagreement, like how a doubt deals with a chazaka etc...

At any rate there is truth in both conflicting opinions and we try to see how. And decide what are they really arguing over.

Chagiga 3b

״בַּעֲלֵי אֲסֻפּוֹת״ — אֵלּוּ תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים, שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין אֲסוּפּוֹת אֲסוּפּוֹת וְעוֹסְקִין בַּתּוֹרָה. הַלָּלוּ מְטַמְּאִין וְהַלָּלוּ מְטַהֲרִין, הַלָּלוּ אוֹסְרִין וְהַלָּלוּ מַתִּירִין, הַלָּלוּ פּוֹסְלִין וְהַלָּלוּ מַכְשִׁירִין, שֶׁמָּא יֹאמַר אָדָם: הֵיאַךְ אֲנִי לָמֵד תּוֹרָה מֵעַתָּה — תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״כּוּלָּם נִתְּנוּ מֵרוֹעֶה אֶחָד״. אֵל אֶחָד נְתָנָן, פַּרְנָס אֶחָד אֲמָרָן, מִפִּי אֲדוֹן כׇּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים בָּרוּךְ הוּא, דִּכְתִיב: ״וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת כׇּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה״. אַף אַתָּה, עֲשֵׂה אׇזְנֶיךָ כַּאֲפַרְכֶּסֶת, וּקְנֵה לְךָ לֵב מֵבִין לִשְׁמוֹעַ אֶת דִּבְרֵי מְטַמְּאִים וְאֶת דִּבְרֵי מְטַהֲרִים, אֶת דִּבְרֵי אוֹסְרִין וְאֶת דִּבְרֵי מַתִּירִין, אֶת דִּבְרֵי פוֹסְלִין וְאֶת דִּבְרֵי מַכְשִׁירִין.

“Those that are composed in collections [ba’alei asufot]”: These are the sages who sit groups in groups learning Torah. These say impure and these say pure. These say prohibited and these say permitted. These say pasul and these say kosher. Maybe someone will say how can I learn Torah. Therefore the verse says "They were all given by one Shepherd". One power gave them [Hashem] and one leader said them [Moshe] from the mouth of the master of all actions blessed be he, as it says "And Elokim said all of these things". So you too make your ear like a funnel and grind up their words, acquire an understanding hear to hear the ones say impure, pure, prohibited, permitted, pasul and kosher.

  • thanks for the response, as the Q still bothers me. But I think this Gemara actually furthers the Q - i.e. if both opinion are true - then all the more reason not to alter one, and say that it was only said in a specific (very unlikely) case - purely in an attempt to harmonize the 2 opinions. If each opinion can be true - acknowledge that it's true and fulfill תורה אחת יהיה לכם via the psak halacha - which accepts one view.
    – Chaim
    Jul 21, 2022 at 14:42
  • I think the point of the gemara is that both opinions are correct. That being said how you resolve how they are both correct I suppose is up to you. I was just explaining how making a subtle change ookimta like tosfos or gemara is a possible approach. I believe there is a rambam that is more specific to your question if I can find it.
    – msj121
    Jul 21, 2022 at 14:45
  • I will say that although your option is imo a valid one, the other side will argue that it is more desirable to change the case and not have two contradictory rulings both be "true". I suppose both approaches will have their detractors, and it could be both are true.
    – msj121
    Jul 22, 2022 at 2:21
  • I definitely agree that it's preferable to not assume an argument - my point of question (and bewilderment) is the lengths that are taken - to sometimes TOTALLY restate what was said - it would seem to almost be heretical to argue - thus reword as much as necessary.
    – Chaim
    Jul 22, 2022 at 21:48

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