I know it’s a simple question but why did R’ Yehuda feel the need to record dissenting opinions in the Mishnah?

I feel the way the Rambam summarized all the rulings of the Talmud, disregarding minority opinions, is a superior form of recording law.

To preempt an answer: I know many will say “by sharing minority opinions you can get to the heart of the debate” but is this really true?

Follow-up question: is there really a point to studying Mishnah if you have all the conclusions of the Mishnah recorded in the Rambam?


1 Answer 1


This is such a great question that the Mishna itself asks it (Eduyot 1:5-6) and brings different sides :->

And why do they record the opinion of a single person among the many, when the halakhah must be according to the opinion of the many? So that if a court prefers the opinion of the single person it may depend on him. For no court may set aside the decision of another court unless it is greater than it in wisdom and in number. If it was greater than it in wisdom but not in number, in number but not in wisdom, it may not set aside its decision, unless it is greater than it in wisdom and in number.

Rabbi Judah said: “If so, why do they record the opinion of a single person among the many to set it aside? So that if a man shall say, ‘Thus have I received the tradition’, it may be said to him, ‘According to the [refuted] opinion of that individual did you hear it.’”

In other words, there are dissenting opinions

  • so that if a later Sage comes and innovates an alternative, one can tell him this opinion was considered and discarded
  • so that in certain cases where leniencies are required (e.g., strong financial loss), the halacha can rely on minority opinions

More broadly, since "these and those are the words of the living God" (Eruvin 13b), the Mishna recognizes that reality is complex and at times, two sides of an issue can be true at the same time, even if halacha will need to pick one so we know how to behave.

An example I like is the question of "should we expel this poorly-behaving student?" One professor says yes because he will spoil life for the other students, another professor says no because the student can redeem himself. In the end the school's principal needs to take a decision but it doesn't make the minority opinion less valid.

This is complex topic, one good book on the topic is Why do I need to learn gemara? which expands on the question (and from which I took the example above), see also here.

  • 1
    Excellent answer! The Rambam also brings down a few other reasons. 1) A later court may decide to go with the preserved minority position (unless it was a precautionary Gezera that was enacted which cannot be reversed). 2) To demonstrate the value that truth and its pursuit has. See his haqdama to the Mishnah Commented Feb 20 at 14:40
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    Yes! I knew I had seen this question somewhere but could not recall. As I saw you write Rambam, I immediately recalled his introduction to the Mishna. Thanks for bringing it up.
    – mbloch
    Commented Feb 20 at 15:23

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