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Why is it that the Academies of Shammai and Hillel have contradictory opinions in most of the verses? It's almost as if one is waiting for the other to give a contradictory opinion.

Take, for example, Shabbat 1:6:

Bet Shammai says, One may not put bundles of flax into the oven, unless they will be steamed during the day; nor wool into the kettle, unless it will absorb the appearance. But Bet Hillel permits it. Bet Shammai says, One may not spread nets for animals, birds or fish, unless they ensnare during the day; Bet Hillel permits.

According to one count there are 316 disputes that involve them.

And why are the opinions of Beit Shammai not widely followed, although their rulings seem to appear more orthodox?

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In terms of why they argue, the Arizal wrote that Beis Shammai embodied the characteristic of middas hadin, strict justice, whereas Beis Hillel embodied the attribute of middas harachamim, mercy. They had world-views which led to their manifold disputes, with B"S consistently falling on the side of stringency and B"H on the side of leniency.

(It was once explained to me that this is why according to some Rishonim, following both the stringencies of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel is foolish (Eruvin 6b) is limited specifically to Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel because they had opposing world-views, and choosing the stringencies of both is a silly mix of two independently internally-consistant but mutually exclusive schools of thought.)

As to why the rulings of Beis Shammai are not followed, the simple explanation is stated in the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) - a Bas Kol (heavenly voice) came out and announced that we follow Beis Hillel over Beis Shammai, even though they both espouse the words of G-d. The Talmud goes on to explain that this is because Beis Hillel were patient, and taught the opinion of Beis Shammai before their own. (Some understand this to be a sort of reward, however some explain it to mean that they were therefore better informed, as they were more accepting and contemplative of the opinions of their adversaries.) However, on a deeper level, the Arizal explains the statement of the Zohar that in the future, the halacha will follow Beis Shammai as follows - this world is a world which cannot live up to the strict measures of exacting justice, and Hashem runs the world with the balance of mercy. However, in the future, when the world is perfected, it will run on the standards of justice, and Beis Shammai will be the prevailing opinion.

  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/a/17316/759 – Double AA Nov 18 '14 at 21:27
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    esp. the comments. – Y     e     z Nov 18 '14 at 21:31
  • Bas Kol? what is the authenticity of such voice? Is it not possible that one side invented this Bas Kol to settle the matter? what if two people receive contradictory bas kols ? – narnia Nov 19 '14 at 5:59
  • @narnia You could always ask that as a separate question, but the Bas Kol did not appear to one side or the other - it was heard by all, and they didn't have Dolby Digital back then to fake one. Its authenticity isn't really a question - its authority, on the other hand... – Y     e     z Nov 19 '14 at 18:21
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    @narnia I don't understand your second comment. Why do you think this story was recorded exclusively by the "victorious group"? Beis Hillel don't write the Talmud. – jim Nov 23 '14 at 4:37
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Your premise is wrong, they do not argue in most places, in fact compared to the amount of things they agree on it is almost as if they do not argue about anything. For example in the example you brought they disagree about whether a person's objects are required to rest on Shabbos. They only disagree about this after they agree that:

  1. Melacha is Assur on Shabbos
  2. Shabbos is the seventh day of the week
  3. Shabbos starts at night etc. etc.
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    4. There is a G-d 5. He gave the Torah 6. ... – Y     e     z Nov 18 '14 at 21:32
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    6 That the earth is round, 7 That they're of the same species. 8 That sun rises from the west. The amount of agreements doesn't make the amount of disagreements less problematic. – Lie Ryan Nov 18 '14 at 23:05
  • @LieRyan Can you include an explanation for your point? My point was they only disagree on minute details, even though there are many of them. – user7340 Nov 18 '14 at 23:10
  • @LieRyan Your examples of agreements are not relevant to the discussion. Those agreements do not lead to this disagreement, whereas the stated agreements are contextual prerequisites of this disagreement. – Y     e     z Nov 19 '14 at 18:23
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The Iggeres HaRav Sherira HaGaon, a fabulous history of the Oral Torah and how it came to be written down in the Mishna and subsequently in the Gemara, speaks to this point. Rav Sherira (ca 900-1000 CE), who was one of the last heads of the Pumbedisa yeshiva, states that following the destruction of the Second Temple, the various rabbis and their students were spread out through the Holy Land by the Romans. Prior to the Temple's destruction, Rav Sherira says that there were few disagreements about the Law, as all students were surrounded with experts in the various orders and could check their learning. After the dispersion, which affected Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, this capability to maintain agreement and accuracy of the Oral teachings suffered greatly, and disputes resulted. The disputes between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai were not the only disputes, but given the size of their schools, they tend to stand out. By the second century after the dispersion, there was fear that many teachings could be lost forever -- indeed, many had already been lost. It was for this reason that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was inspired to record summary teachings of the Law in his Mishna. Note that Rambam relies greatly on Rav Sherira's analysis in his introduction to the Mishna Torah.

  • Shammai and Hillel lived four generations before the destruction, so one can assume that some students were around (and arguing) before the Churban – Shmuel Brin Apr 3 '17 at 4:11
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The Maharal on Avos suggests an answer that combines two of the already given ideas.

Hillel and Shammai themselves only disagreed three or maybe five times. Shabbos 15a, Chagiga 2:2, Eduyos 1:2-3, Niddah 1:1) Then their students have 316 recorded disputes! The explanation for this explosion in number is given as "they did not serve their mentors" (Sanhedrin 88b), a lack of proper apprenticeship.

The Maharal points out that Hillel and Shammai were the last in a series of zugos, "pairs" of Nasi (Prince / President) and As Beis Din (Head of the High Court) who together comprised the rabbinic leadership. A sequence of mishnayos that make up part of Avos ch. 1 are sets of quotes from each of the zugos. The Maharal shows how in each generation, the nasi is quoted a giving advice based on chesed, lovingkindness, whereas the av beis din makes a somewhat parallel statement but one coming from din, strict justice. Including Hillel and Shammai. Which fits each role: the nasi's job is to distribute charity and otherwise provide for the communty, whereas the av beis din is the head of the justice system.

He explains that without the hands-on service of their mentors, the students confused their mentor's jobs with their positions. The Students of Hillel received an image of Hillel's Torah that was overly influenced by his happening to be nasi, and therefore chessed dominated. Similarly, Shammai's students and din.

As for why we follow Beis Hillel, there was a bas qol, an echo of a metaphysical voice, that told us to. But according to Tosafos and general consensus since, we only follow this bas qol because it reaffirmed the normal rules of establishing halakhah -- majority rules, even when the minority is brighter. Beis Hillel were greater in number, but Beis Shammai were sharper. (As per the gemara that mentions that bas qol.) See my answer at https://judaism.stackexchange.com/a/67460/1570

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You asked:

Why is it that the Academies of Shammai and Hillel have contradictory opinions in most of the verses?

Tosafos on Chagiga 16a "Yossi ben Yo'ezer" answers this by quoting a Yerushalmi that says that [for some unspecified reason, maybe related to upheaval and the proximity of the destruction of the Temple] the students of Shammai and Hillel didn't study long enough and as a result they were the first generation to have arguments that couldn't be resolved.

(Hillel & Shammai only argued bout 4 issues. The 4 generations before them argued about 1 issue. Before that, all arguments were resolved.)

יוסי בן יועזר כו'. בירושלמי אמר בראשונה לא היה מחלוקת אלא על הסמיכה בלבד, ועמדו שמאי והלל ועשו ד'. משרבו תלמידי שמאי והלל שלא שמשו כל צורכן, רבו מחלוקות בישראל ונחלקו לב' כיתות.‏

As to your question:

And why are the opinions of Beit Shammai not widely followed, although their rulings seem to appear more orthodox?

That was already answered by YEZ, in the second half of his answer that it was declared by a Bat Kol. We don't decide Halacha based on what sounds more orthodox (whatever that means), but on what the Torah expects from us.

  • Bas Kol? what is the authenticity of such voice? Is it not possible that one side invented this Bas Kol to settle the matter? what if two people receive contradictory bas kols ? – narnia Nov 19 '14 at 15:58
  • @narnia - firstly, doubting a Gemara is rather peculiar behavior. Secondly, we are discussing that issue (politely) here: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/48500/501 – Danny Schoemann Nov 20 '14 at 10:31

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