My question comes from Shabbat 30b (Koren Talmud Bavli). Two contradictory proverbs are mentioned:

Proverbs 26:4

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.

Proverbs 26:5

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

The Gemara concludes:

..this, when one should answer a fool, is referring to the case where the fool is making claims concerning Torah, whereas that, where one should not answer him is referring to the case where the fool is making claims about mundane matters."

My question is, why they took this decision. Why should I make a fool feel wise when it comes to important questions regarding Torah? Are there some other sources supporting this attitude? I'm a teacher and I mostly proceed according to the former proverb when it comes to important things.


If you read the second verse again you will see that it is saying the opposite of your understanding that you write in your question. It says that you should answer a fool (in matters of Torah), lest he be wise in his own eyes - if you do not answer him he will think that his opinion is wise. But in mundane matters we don't care what he thinks and feels, and there is a danger that you will become like him if you try to answer him.

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  • Thanks, Moshe, I understand your point. However, there is also written that we should answer "according to his folly". Is that because we suppose that he will recognize that he posed a foolish question? – Mariana R. Jan 16 '14 at 9:00
  • @MarianaR. The Vilna Gaon explains that "according to his folly" means that you should only give an answer to his foolish opinion that he is expressing, but do not add other matters. You may also wish to look at how Rashi explains this posuk here. – user4523 Jan 16 '14 at 9:12
  • Ok, so Rashi says: "Let him know his folly." From that I deduce that point is to answer so that he realizes his folly. Then the question is how to achieve this with a fool :) However, thanks for clarifying. – Mariana R. Jan 16 '14 at 9:49

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