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Devarim 14:1:

בָּנִים אַתֶּם לה' אֱלֹקיכֶם לֹא תִתְגֹּדְדוּ וְלֹא־תָשִׂימוּ קָרְחָה בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם לָמֵת׃

You are children to Hashem your G-d. You shall not cut yourselves, nor make a bald spot between your eyes for the dead.

Reish Lakhish gives an interesting interpretation of the above verse to R' Yochanan in Yevamot 13b.

.אמר ליה ר"ל לר' יוחנן, איקרי כאן: (דברים י"ד) לא תתגודדו, לא תעשו אגודות אגודות

Said to him Reish Lakhish to R' Yochanan, I read here: (Devarim 14:1) "You shall not cut yourselves" as "do not make many sects."

The Gemara continues on and describes Reish Lakhish's reason for deriving this interpretation. Here is a link to the Daf for anyone who is interested.

My question is such: if we are prohibited to make numerous sects and factions by the Torah, why are there many halachic differences between Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and other regional sects? What about Chasidim, for that matter?

Does halacha accept Reish Lakhish's interpretation of this passuk?

  • 3
    Did you read the rest of the Sugya? – Shmuel Brin Mar 30 '17 at 22:05
  • @ShmuelBrin - Yes, and it is explained that the passuk means both forming many factions and cutting yourself for the dead, as it says: שמע מינה תרתי. – ezra Mar 30 '17 at 23:19
  • See also Makkot 20b – Noach MiFrankfurt Mar 31 '17 at 0:17
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    @ezra it also discusses how their can be two different courts in the same town – Double AA Mar 31 '17 at 1:13
  • Why do you ask about Ashkenazi and Sefardi and not the Sages themselves, how did they keep two or more schools/courts/Rabbis in one town? – Al Berko Oct 27 '18 at 17:58
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The Gemara (Yevamot 14a) says (regarding if Beis Shammai followed their own Psak):

ומ"ד עשו קרינן כאן (דברים יד, א) לא תתגודדו לא תעשו אגודות אגודות אמר אביי כי אמרינן לא תתגודדו כגון שתי בתי דינים בעיר אחת הללו מורים כדברי ב"ש והללו מורים כדברי ב"ה אבל שתי בתי דינים בשתי עיירות לית לן בה

And yet the question remains: According to the one who said that Beit Shammai acted in accordance with their opinion, we should read here: “You shall not cut yourselves” (Deuteronomy 14:1), which is interpreted to mean: Do not become numerous factions. Abaye said: When we say that the prohibition: “You shall not cut yourselves” applies, we are referring to a case where two courts are located in one city, and these rule in accordance with the statement of Beit Shammai and those rule in accordance with the statement of Beit Hillel. However, with regard to two courts located in two different cities, we have no problem with it.

אמר ליה רבא והא ב"ש וב"ה כשתי בתי דינים בעיר אחת דמי אלא אמר רבא כי אמרינן לא תתגודדו כגון ב"ד בעיר אחת פלג מורין כדברי ב"ש ופלג מורין כדברי ב"ה אבל שתי בתי דינין בעיר אחת לית לן בה

Rava said to him: But the dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel is considered like a case of two courts in one city, as these two schools of thought were found everywhere, not in any specific place. Rather, Rava said: When we say that the prohibition: “You shall not cut yourselves” applies, we are referring to a case where there is a court in one city, a section of which rules in accordance with the statement of Beit Shammai and another section rules in accordance with the statement of Beit Hillel. However, with regard to two courts located in one city, we have no problem with it.

But, as traditionally, Sefardim were located in different cities than Ashkenazim, there's no issue.

The problem is what happens when they are in one city. So you'd say "Machlokes Abaye VeRava? Halacha KeRava except for Yal KeGam (which this isn't one of them)".

The problem is that the Rambam rules like Abaye here:

ובכלל אזהרה זה שלא יהיו שני בתי דינין בעיר אחת זה נוהג כמנהג זה וזה נוהג כמנהג אחר. שדבר זה גורם למחלוקות גדולות שנאמר לא תתגודדו לא תעשו אגודות אגודות:

So the famous question is why?

So there are a few answers:

  1. The Kesef Mishna answers that "Halacha follows Rava" is only true when they argue themselves. When they argue about others' opinion, there are no rules.
  2. The Kesef Mishna quotes R' Dovid Cohen who interprets the Rambam differently, and it follows Rava.
  3. The Radvaz says that Abaye only talks about small or unknown courts, where following different opinions would cause argument. There's no problem if the Machlokes is well known (Like Beis Hillel or Beis Shammai).

All except for answer #1 allow one to follow their Minhag even in a different community.

  • 1
    Such a famous question I've never heard of it. :) – DonielF Jul 13 '17 at 5:42
  • It should be noted that "the city" means hardly a block in our scale. Based on the Gemmorah in Sanhedrin 120 people constitute a city. It does not mean two courts in NY city. – Al Berko Oct 27 '18 at 17:20
  • Another important point is that Halochos that Rambam does not bring in their place, like this warning that is not "ruled in its place" (say Hil. Sanhedrin), but mentioned "by the way", should not be questioned/dealt with seriously. – Al Berko Oct 27 '18 at 18:24
  • These aren't the reasons...there's a famous teshuva in Avkat Rochel by R' Yosef Karo that brings down the machloket and ultimately rules that the prevailing custom should be that of the current community. There is the opinion of the Panim Meirot that rules a community may follow it's own minhag in a different place; however, this does against several Rishonim and Acharonim(Rambam, Rif, Rosh, etc.). – chacham Nisan Oct 27 '18 at 21:17

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