5766 - #33



    The commandment of lo titgodedu,1 not to gash oneself, reflects a prohibition to mourn too excessively.2 T.B. Yevamot 13a, however, introduces a novel understanding of this prohibition that has potential great effect on communal life. The verse declares a prohibition in forming sub-groupings within the greater group. The intent of this command is directed towards the communal observance of Halacha. We are not to form sub-groupings in the practice of the law. The group, the community, is to observe one path in Halacha. In the group, we are not to break apart with some observing a halacha one way while others observe this halacha in another way. A group is to all observe a halacha in the same manner.3 

    Lo titgodedu, in its broadest reading, is seen as , perhaps, the strongest pronouncement of the ideal of a homogeneous vision of Jewish society. Within this vision, machloket is deemed to be a negative, at least in practice. Perhaps a divergence in ideas and thoughts is good, but in practice there should not be differences. Rambam, Hilchot Mamrim 1:4 would seem to even extend this vision to the entire nation as a whole. Rambam asserts that when there was a Sanhedrin, there were no disagreements.4 The Sanhedrin would pronounce, whenever debate over the law would arise,5 the singular law for the entire nation. It was only after the demise of the Sanhedrin -- and thus the absence of the ideal Jewish communal structure -- that machloket would emerge. As such, we can conclude that there is clearly, within the realm of Jewish thought, a negative view of machloket, of a divergence existing in halachic practice.

     Strangely, in contradistinction to this vision of community, there is also found, within Jewish thought, a very positive view of machloket. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:28 states that machloket is inherent to the very being and process of Torah; it is impossible for

Torah to be without machloket. There is also the famous statement attributed to the Arizal that the different nusachim, forms of tefilla, prayer, actually reflect the different natures and prayer needs of those praying. Each shevet, tribe, within Israel had -- and has -- its own nusach. T.B. Shabbat 130a further praises a community that sincerely observed the view of Rabbi Eliezer even though it was an individual view and not the view of the majority and the view that would become the normative law. By extension, this praise further reflects a positive view of machloket. A positive view of divergence in halachic practice also does exist.

    T.B. Yevamot 14a recognizes this conflict, this dialectic in Jewish thought, and in continuing this gemara’s discussion of lo titgodedu develops a limit on the application of this mitzvah. Abaye states that lo titgodedu only applies to two batei dinim, two courts, in the same city but two courts in two different cities may act differently. Accordingly lo titgodedu is a call for, what we may term, geographical homogeneity. One city should form one community marked by similar halachic practice -- this is what is mandatory to create a collective in one area. The creation of a collective of collectives, to bond the communities of different cities together into a great whole, a nation, is not bound to lo titgodedu. This greater community can exist, perhaps even flourish, within a realm of heterogeneity. The development of a community in one geographical area, though, demands homogeneity. This would seem to be the view of Abaye.

     Rava disagrees with the view of Abaye. He states that lo titgodedu only applies to a divergence of opinions within one beit din, whereby some, within this one beit din, follow one opinion and others follow another opinion. Two batei dinim, even within one city, though, are not bound by lo titgodedu. What it would seem Rava is saying is that the issue is one of communal structure and the need for homogeneity within one communal structure. A community is not simply a group of people. Communities form communal entities that govern, serve and assist the individuals in the community. Rava demands communal homogeneity, the acceptance of one halachic view within one communal structure, within the confines of the one beit din. Two communal structures with differing halachic views and practices, even within one geographical area, are not, according to Rava, a subject or concern of lo titgodedu.6 

     The view of Rava demands greater contemplation. Abaye’s view would seem to be easier to understand. An argument that the creation of a collective demands homogeneity has validity -- and, it can be argued that, heterogeneous activity amongst members of one city can be disruptive to the unity of the collective and the community. Rava’s view, though, is almost mysterious. Rava also demands homogeneity in regard to the communal structure but allows for heterogeneity within the one geographical area. He declares, though, that a prerequisite for the allowance of this heterogeneity is the existence of another beit din, another communal structure. To most, the creation of a differing communal structure woould seem to be more divisive. The opposing argument would be: let us, at least, maintain togetherness in one communal structure. To Rava, this is actually what lo titgodedu forbids. Divergence, to be permitted, demands different communal structures, even within the one geographical area.

     When individuals discuss the unity of the community, the perception is that it is best to have one communal structure -- one beit din, one school, one shul -- which can accommodate differences between individuals. Both Abaye and Rava disagree with this vision. Abaye, for the sake of communal integrity and unity, demands homogeneity amongst all those within the geographical parameters of the community. Rava disagrees. He still demands homogeneity amongst all those within one one communal structure, but also demands, for the sake of communal integrity and unity, the creation of different communal structures for divergent visions. One beit din, one school, one shul, is not the way to build Torah communities. The imposition of homogeneity is onerous and counter-productive; it should only occur when there is no other alternative. But the better path is to create differing communal structures reflective of the divergence -- so that within the walls of the communal structure there is homogeneity. Even then, we must still undertake the necessary task to maintain and build a unified klal Yisrael of divergent Torah communities.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

1 Devarim 14:1.

2 See, further, Ramban. This is, of course, a broad generalization of the command which is technically defined in terms of harming oneself. The role of idolatry in the formulation of this mitzvah, both halachically and philosophically, it should be noted, is also a subject of discussion.

3 Whether this analysis of the verse and thus this derived halacha is an actual derasha, a true technical derivation from the verse and thus d’oraita, having the force of Biblical law, or an asmachta, an illusion assigned to the verse and thus without the force of Biblical law (but still having the force of Rabbinic law), is a matter of debate within the commentaries. See, further, Torah Temima, Devarim 14:1, note 4.

4 Rambam actually builds his comments on T.B. Sanhedrin 88b which, in contradistinction to the language of Rambam, refers continuously to an overextension of machloket rather than the very existence of machloket. It should also be noted that the gemara does not refer to lo titgodedu but to the idea of there should not be a perception of two Torot in Israel. A full discussion of these issues are beyond the parameters of this Insight.

5 See, however and further to the comments in footnote 4, Kesef Mishna.

6 In terms of psak halacha, Rambam, Hilchot Avoda Zara, 12:14 would seem to follow the view of Abaye, There are difficulties, though, with this conclusion. See, further, Kesef Mishna. Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 468, while quoting the view of Rambam, states that his teachers followed Rava, and that would seem to be his view as well.

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