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There is a famous Jewish adage "על טעם ועל ריח אין להתווכח" - there are no argument when it comes to taste and smell.

However, amazingly, one can find a plethora of disagreements in the Talmud and Halachic works whether reicha lav milsa hi or if ta'am is k'ikar. How do these arguments square with this rule? How do we understand this adage in light of these arguments?


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    על ריח וטעם יש מחלוקת כל פעם – Double AA Feb 25 '15 at 14:05
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    Ahh the irony. Must be a machlokes lshem shomayim for it be all the time – Shoel U'Meishiv Feb 25 '15 at 14:35
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Certainly, you can have an argument about taste or smell. However, you can't argue about taste and smell. If you hold reicha lav milsa hi it's because you hold that the taste is so significant that the smell amounts to nothing. So you can either argue about taam k'ikar and hold that taste is significant and smell is, as a result, worthless, or you can argue about reicha lav milsa hi and, thereby, hold that taam lav k'ikar. But once you argue about one of them, you can't really argue about the other.

There are, of course, those who will argue with what I've said here.

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There seems to be a great deal of confusion about whether Jews argue or not:

  • The taste/smell issue you cite.

  • NYTimes claiming that Hebrew had no word for "debate," and Philologos countering that, yeah, we've got plenty of words for that. I mean, have you heard of the Talmud?

  • The Talmud claiming (Berachot 64a and other places) that "Torah scholars increase peace in the world." I mean, have you heard of the Talmud? Of Rabba and R' Zeira? Of the Ba'al Hamaor and the Milchamot Hashem ("Wars of God," no less)? Need I go on?*&#^%$

  • The ancient Jewish saying "Ask two Jews, you'll get three opinions," clearly opposed by Rashi on Shemot 19:2, who claims that 600,000 Jews were able to share one opinion.

I think the only resolution to all of these quandaries is that, in each case, someone observed, correctly, that Jews argue a lot. He happened to be standing near at least one other Jew, who naturally felt compelled to offer a contrary opinion, to defend it in its strongest possible form, and to codify it as part of our tradition. As a result, our tradition incorporates an eternal argument about whether we indeed argue.


*&#^%$ I'm not even going to get into contemporary stuff. That's too depressing for Adar.

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