The Mishna frequently mentions different opinions. Some opinions are generally rejected Halachicly (Rabbi Elazar, Beis Shammai). Why doesn't the Mishna mention who the Halacha follows (in general).

The Gemara is much more complex, with many arguments going back and forth, and yet also has very few final rulings.

Why is that?

  • 2
    What makes you think there were any final rulings to record?
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 6:54
  • @DoubleAA First of all, why did the Sanhedrin not vote on it (when it existed, in the time of Rebbi). Second, there were established customs Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 21:54
  • 1
    1) you can ask that about why any machloket exist(s/ed). 2) There were probably also established variant customs.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 22:12
  • "also has very few final rulings" - I haven't run any statistics, but, I think the Gemarah has many final rulings, perhaps more than you realize. I'm not sure if your claim is accurate. But, even if I were correct, keep in mind that even where the Gemarah would issue a "final" ruling on something, that halacha may have been changed centuries later, for numerous reasons. E.g. - the gemarah says we may not drink water left under the bed overnight. AFAIK, that halacha has been changed.
    – DanF
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 17:07
  • @DanF I seriously doubt the gemara records a "final ruling" more than 10% of the time. Probably a good deal less than that.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 23:53

2 Answers 2


Rav Yitchak Cohen from Yeshiva University explained this to me about 40 years ago when I asked him this question as a student in his class.

He said that the purpose of the Gemarah is not to always tell you the answers. It is the questions that are the most important. The purpose of the Gemarah is Torah Sheb'al Peh - the Oral law. In that sense, it mimicks the written Torah, itself. The written Torah generally does not explicitly state how to do something. One main reason for that technique is to have you delve into it so that you can ask questions and delve further into discovering the answers.

The Gemarah too, presents things in a question and answer style and offers various opinions with arguments and proofs and rebuttals. Why not just get to the point and tell you "do this"? Often the Gemarah doesn't know the answer which is what taiku is. But even if it did give you the final answer, which it frequently does, perhaps, more than you may realize, the purpose is really to appreciate the discussion and methodology and get you to ask the questions.

In short, Rav Cohen explained, that the questions are far more important than the answers. And, it's also a disciplinary lesson, Rav Cohen explained. It teaches you the discipline of learning to accept unanswered questions in life. (FYI - this is a tough challenge for the average person, but Rav Cohen taught me that learning Gemarah really does train you in this discipline!)


Your question is essentially answered in the Mishna in מסכת עדיות פרק א:

משנה ה:

ולמה מזכירין דברי היחיד בין המרובים, הואיל ואין הלכה אלא כדברי המרובין: שאם יראה בית דין את דברי היחיד, ויסמוך עליו, שאין בית דין יכול לבטל את דברי בית דין חברו, עד שיהא גדול ממנו בחכמה ובמניין. היה גדול ממנו בחכמה, אבל לא במניין, במניין, אבל לא בחכמה--אינו יכול לבטל את דברו: עד שיהא גדול ממנו בחכמה, ובמניין.

All opinions are mentioned, so that nobody can claim that they have a tradition of another opinion that should be taken into consideration.

There are rules how to Pasken from the Mishna and the Gemara. For example, we always follow the "multitude" רבים against an individual.

Many, if not most (all, possibly?) sugyot in the Gemara have a מסקנה - a conclusion - and that מסקנה becomes the Halacha. (Many of us have simply never been trained to conclude each section with its halachic ramification.)

When you find differences of opinions in Halacha, you will always be able to trace their origins back to different ways to learn the Sugya; if the opinion has no basis in the Gemara, how can it be a valid opinion?

  • 1
    The Mishna discusses why other opinions were mentioned. Their being mentioned doesn't preclude a conclusion being mentioned as well.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 14:52
  • 1. What @DoubleAA said. 2. Who said we "always" rule like the majority? There are times we don't, and there are times we don't know who is the majority. 3. Many sugyot don't have a conclusion (Breira, for example). 4. There is a source in the Gemara, but it's difficult to tell the psak (even if you know how the Rishonim learned the arguments) from the Gemara. The Gemara was written for people (at least the smart people of 1000 years ago) to use for Psak. Why didn't they make it easier? Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 21:58
  • There are Machlokes in Tanayim which is nishtalshel into Sefardi-Ashkenazi machlokes. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 22:01

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