The recent Daf Yomi (Gemara Yevamos 14a) tells us that prior to the decision to universally follow the School of Hillel, there was a period of time where the School of Shammai followed their rulings independently. The Gemara wonders how the School of Shammai rationalized this when the general principle is that the halacha (law) is decided in accordance with the numerical majority. Since the School of Hillel was the majority, even the School of Shammai should have conceded. The Gemara answers that when the minority is מחדדי טפי, possess superior intellectual acuity, they can rule in accordance with their opinion, despite being the minority.


The halacha for the generations is that we follow the School of Hillel. A Bas Kol (divine voice) ruled that we should honor Beis Hillel’s opinion, as told in Eruvin 13b. The Gemara there wonders, why ultimately was the halacha ruled in accordance with Beis Hillel? The Gemara offers two reasons:


  • The School of Hillel was characterized by patient, humble scholars who would not react when affronted.
  • They would teach the opinion of the House of Shammai, and not only that, but they would study the opinion of Shammai first before they would study their own opinions.


This Gemara teaches a number of lessons. Even though the School of Shammai was known for their intellectual sharpness, this did not merit them having the halacha established in accordance with their opinion. On a simple level, we might say, since as the Gemara in Eruvin says, “these and those are the words of the living God”, either opinion would be “correct”. Thus, the School of Hillel merited that the halacha was ruled in their opinion as an extra bonus due to their exemplary character, since correctness alone was not the deciding criteria. A deeper explanation might be that since the School of Hillel was humble, and they made sure to review the opinion Of the School of Shammai first, they would quite naturally be more likely to arrive at the truth. Being patient and open-minded, as well as truly curious to understand the opposing position even before your own, is a greater intellectual asset than being quick-witted.


This is a key communication tool in relationships, especially when trying to work out contentious disagreements. If you humbly try to understand the opposing point of view, to the extent that you review the other person’s opinion first, you will be more likely to arrive at the truth. Furthermore, the other party will certainly feel gratified and respected.


Here is an interesting quote from a responsum (271) of the Rivash (1326-1408):


“We have seen with our own eyes numerous sages with sharp analyses and pilpulim who can pass an elephant through the eye of a needle. On each point, they are able to pile mountains of questions and answers. Yet, due to their over intellectualization, they fail to arrive at the correct halacha, and permit what is forbidden and forbid what is permitted. It has already been stated (Eruvin 13b), that it is known and revealed to the One who created the world that there was no one in his generation that could compare to Rabbi Meir. If so, why did they not establish the halacha in accordance with his opinions? No one could follow his reasoning because he could offer convincing arguments to declare the pure impure, and vice versa…We have long concluded that in the realm of halacha, the one who has extensive general knowledge is superior to the person whose analytical ability can deconstruct and overturn any argument.


Sometimes the most admired and respected persons outside of their home have the greatest difficulty with their personal relationships. Politicians, CEO’s and Rabbanim are used to being right, paid for being right and often indeed are smarter than everyone else.  However none of this helps endear them to their loved ones. In fact, quite the opposite.  It is hard work to unravel the self-deceits that justify our behaviors, especially when we are smart enough to be right, but well-worth it for personal happiness and successful relationships.  The Israelis have a saying, “The two dead drivers were both right, in fact.”


Simcha Feuerman maintains a private practice specializing high conflict couples and male sexual health.  His office is located in Brooklyn, Queens and Boca Raton.  He also has a daily blog, “Psychology of the Daf”.