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Conflict of Opinion

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Rarely did an opinion expressed by one of the rabbis of the Talmud pass unchallenged. In questions involving logical reasoning, or the interpretation of some Biblical passage, or an opinion of an earlier authority, there were conflicts of opinion among the teachers of the Talmud. The conflicting opinions were usually represented by different schools; for example, those of Shammai and Hillel, Rab and Samuel, Abaye and Raba. In fact, most of the rabbis of the Talmud, from the earliest tannaim to the latest amoraim, can be grouped into antagonistic couples, one in opposition to the other.

Just as a tanna could not express an opinion which was in conflict with a Biblical passage, so an amora could not contradict a Mishnah or a generally accepted Baraita, unless he was able to produce another Mishnah or Baraita to support his view. Nor could an amora express an opinion which was in conflict with an accepted decision or principle expressed by an earlier leading amora (Beẓah 9a, and Rashi ad loc.). Otherwise, every rabbi had a right to his opinion, even though it conflicted with the opinion of the greatest of his contemporaries (B. Ḳ. 43b).

Rules of Decision.

Scattered throughout the Talmud there are various rules by which the Rabbis were guided in deciding cases of conflicting opinions. When the opinion of an individual conflicted with that of the majority, the opinion of the majority prevailed (Ber. 9a et al.). If one Mishnah records a conflict of opinion between two tannaim, and a subsequent Mishnah in the same book records the opinion of only one without mentioning any name (Setam), the opinion expressed in the latter Mshnah is to be followed (Yeb. 42b). In laws concerning mourning, the more lenient opinion is usually observed (M. Ḳ. 18a). With a few exceptions, an opinion expressed by the school of Hillel prevails against an opinion by the school of Shammai ('Er. 13b). Because Eliczer ben Hyrcanus was under the ban (B. M. 59b; Shab. 130b), decisions were not, except in a few instances, rendered in accordance with his opinions. Decisions are always in accordance with the opinions of Simeon ben Gamaliel, except in three cases (Git. 38a), and of Rabbi (Judah the Patriarch), when in conflict with any other tanna. In questions involving logical reasoning, the decision is never tendered in accordance with the opinion of R. Meïr when in conflict with the opinions of his colleagues, because his reasoning was too subtle ('Er. 13b; compare Ket. 57a).

In conflicts of opinion between amoraim the following rules were employed. In matters of civil law the opinion of Rab prevails against the opinion of Samuel; in religious laws the reverse is the case (Bek. 49b). The same rule applies to conflicts of opinion between Rab Naḥman and Rab Sheshet. With the exception of six cases, decisions are always in accordance with the opinion of Raba when in conflict with Abaye (B. M. 22b). The opinion of Rabbah generally prevails against that of Rab Judah or Rab Joseph (Giṭ. 74b). In rabbinical institutions the more lenient opinion is followed (Yer. Giṭ. 1:2). In a conflict between earlier and later authorities (those coming after the period of Abaye and Raba) the opinion of the later takes precedence (see Asheri to Sanh. 4:6; compare B. B. 142b).

These rules were followed by the various codifiers of the Jewish law. Although the law is now fixed in the codes of 'Maimonides and Caro, many of these rules have still their application, especially the one last mentioned, for it is considered that the later rabbis, who knew of the opinions advanced by their predecessors, were in a better position to decide correctly (compare AḤaronim; AMORA; Authority; Laws, Codification of.

  • Mebo' ha-Talmud, ascribed to Samuel ha-Nagid, appended to Berakot in most editions of the Talmud;
  • Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud, Cincinnati, 1894.
L. G.
J. H. G.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Conflict of Opinion'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​c/conflict-of-opinion.html. 1901.
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