9Adar is February 18 – 24, 2018


From Rabbi Robert Rubin

I submitted the following article for the rabbi’s column in the February issue of our local Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Journal (Ocean County, NJ) and for the February issue of our synagogue bulletin, The Vine. I spoke on the same points on this past Shabbat (8 Adar) with about half of the more specific content components on Friday night and half on Shabbat morning. Thanks for providing so much background information and source material.
Rabbi Robert Rubin
Temple Beth Or
Brick, NJ 08724
Can We Disagree Agreeably?
Can we disagree with each other in an amicable, respectful, agreeable
manner? Can we have differences of opinion on issues that we are
passionate about and still be able to discuss and debate them in a
proper fashion? I sure hope so! It has often been said that
if you have three Jews you will have four
opinions. The Talmud is full of multiple opinions, discussions and
debates. Even with all of the discussions and debates among our
ancient rabbinic sages, they state (Bavli Berakhot 64a) that
“disciples of the sages increase peace in the world.” How is this

Disagreements can be conducted with different tones. My grandmother,
Hannah Missner, of blessed memory, often taught us that it is not what
you say but how you say it. Of course content is important, but
communications experts agree that how you say something plays a major
role in conveying your message to others. Tone and style of speaking
can reflect whether the person is intending to be constructive or
destructive, cooperative or confrontational, supportive or
challenging, helpful or hurtful. Legitimate differences of opinion
and disagreements handled properly can actually increase peace and not
cause further conflict.

In life, there will always be disagreements as well as agreements.
Let us see how some of our ancestors handled disagreements. Pirkei
Avot (Ethics of the Ancestors/Sages) teaches us (Mishnah Avot 5:17)
that the classic machloket (disagreement) that IS NOT l’shem shamayim
(NOT for the sake of Heaven) is the rebellion of Korach and his
faction against the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Bemidbar/Numbers
16:1) and the classic machloket (disagreement) that IS l’shem
shamayim (is for the sake of Heaven) are the debates of the sages
Hillel and Shammai.

What was the nature of the Hillel/Shammai debates and among their
respective followers? The Talmud teaches us (Bavli Eruvin 13b) that
both opinions were considered “words of the living God” as both sides
reflected legitimate opinions, expressed in true sincerity to
determine what each thought was the right way to go. Though the final
decision of the law often followed the School of Hillel, both sides
were respectful of the other and respected by the other.

UNFORTUNATELY, this dialogue of respect was not always the case. The
Talmuds record one tragic incident of destructive conflict between
these two groups of disciples. The context (Mishnah Shabbat 1:4) was
that on one particular day the sages did a roll call and found that
“the disciples of Shammai were more numerous than the disciples of
Hillel and they decreed eighteen regulations that day” (presumably
following opinions of the School of Shammai rather than that of the
School of Hillel). The Mishnah gives us the basic story, but the two
Talmuds give us their traditions of the tone of this incident.

The Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 17a) states: “They (Beit Shammai)
thrust a sword into the study house and declared: ‘Whoever wants to
enter may enter, but no one may leave!’ On that day Hillel sat in
submission before Shammai like one of the students, and it was as
wretched for Israel as the day on which the (golden) calf was made.”

The Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat 1:4, 3c) states: “That day was as
wretched for Israel as the day on which the (golden) calf was made.
It was taught in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua Oniya: The students of the
School of Shammai stood below them and began to slaughter the students
of the School of Hillel. It was taught: Six of them ascended and the
others stood over them with swords and lances.”

Yikes! This does not sound very good at all! Many later commentators
wrestled with trying to understand what may have happened that day,
with some even suggesting more metaphorically that the sages did not
actually physically kill each other. However, there is general
agreement that that type of incident should not be seen as or become
the norm.

Later Jewish law codes and commentaries identify that tragic day as
the Ninth Day of Adar and suggest that we should fast on 9 Adar
because of what happened between the Schools

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