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Yevamot 14a:

... when do we follow the majority? It is in a case where the disputing parties are equal in wisdom to one another. Here, however, Beit Shammai are sharper than Beit Hillel, and therefore they acted in accordance with their own opinion despite the fact that they were in the minority.

  1. What does it mean that Beit Shammai are sharper? Obviously, that cannot mean that they had better sources or arguments, otherwise they would not have been a minority. How do we know that they were sharer? total IQ? ;-)
  2. Why is the majority rule (applied to the beis din members, of course!) limited by "sharpness"? The scripture just says "majority".
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2 Answers 2

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The Maharsha in Chiddushei Agadot here writes:

פרש"י בחכמה ואע"ג דסתמא כתיב בתורה אחרי רבים להטות אפשר דמוקמינן לה דוקא דכי הדדי נינהו מדכתיב לא תענה על רב חסר יו"ד דמשמע ביש חכמה דהיינו רב לא תלך אחרי רבים להטות

Rashi explains that that [they are equal to each other] in wisdom. Even though it is written unqualified in the Torah to follow the majority [אחרי רבים להטות, in Ex 23:2], perhaps this is true specifically when they are equal to each other [in wisdom], which can be supported by the verse [ibid] "you shall not speak in a disagreement" [לא תענה על רִב], which is written without a yod [רִב instead of רִיב], meaning when there's wisdom, that is "rav" [the letters רב can be read as רַב = rav instead of רִב = riv], do not follow the majority.

So this argument is saying that Beit Shammai have greater wisdom (and for your first question: greater wisdom does not automatically imply more followers), and therefore the halacha does not follow the majority. The verse from which we learn about following the majority has a word written in such a way that it can be reread to support this interpretation.

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  • Ex 23:2 seems to be saying not to follow the majority (when it does wrong). Is there a better source for the majority rule?
    – sds
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 19:46
  • How do we know that Beit Shammai have greater wisdom?
    – sds
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 19:51
  • These are great questions, but different than the OP. Ask them on the site!
    – magicker72
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 19:58
  • 1
    judaism.stackexchange.com/q/128718/2068
    – sds
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 20:05
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/q/128719/2068
    – sds
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 20:11
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For the 2nd question. If there is a debate and there are those who are greater in wisdom, the rest might not be in the picture even. Like if sages debate a matter, we care only about their opinions, not the simple people in the street. You have to be someone great to have an opinion. If beis shammai was smarter there's a logic to say beis hillels opinion doesn't even get in the picture.

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  • The majority of a beis din decides the matter, of course, not the "people on the street". Since Beis Hillel are in the beis din, their vote should count as much as that of Beis Shammai. Right?
    – sds
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 22:45
  • @sds 3 random jews can make a beis din. Besides their debate wasn't in a beis din. It just happened to be there were more beis hillel people than beis shamai in the world.
    – Shlomy
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 23:02

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