Sunday, 29 September 2019

Building the Good Place - Rosh Hashanah 5780






You might have seen the TV show, The Good Place. It’s a sitcom set in the afterlife – I recommend it.

The premise of the show is that our heroes have died and, as good people in life, they wake up, in death, in The Good Place -  a place where everything is really very, very good. Actually, that’s not what the show is about at all, but the premise is good enough to get me thinking. What would The Good Place really be like? What makes a society ‘good’? What I want to do today is sketch out a rabbinic vision of a good place, I want to ask some questions about how we get from here, to there. And I want to suggest some answers.

Let’s start at the top – who should be in charge? As Jews we’ve a bunch of models to draw on. The Torah features God trying out a singular human – but neither Adam or Noah cope. The model of a family too frequently descends into fraternal bickering, if not fratricide. We have prophets, a hereditary priesthood and a monarchy. But the prophets are too unpopular and priests and Kings become corrupted. Eventually, Judaism settles on … rabbis. Now, don’t worry, I’m not planning world-domination myself. The real clue is in the last letter of the word – rabbis. All the greatest rabbinic leaders of the classical rabbinic period come in pairs; you get Hillel and Shammai, Rav and Shmuel, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael. And these pairs – or Zugim – argue. They argue about everything from Kashrut to theology to what it means to be kind and compassionate. Chavrtuta o Metuta the Rabbis teach – passionate argument or death. In our Good Place there will be passionate argument.

Here’s the other thing about Rabbis – their leadership isn’t purely dependent on what they know, rather they – we – are expected to be decent, ethical and compassionate. I mean, I know I mess up all over the place, but you can’t be a good rabbi and a bad person.

There’s a famous story about the renowned professor of ethics in some secular university, who was an utterly appalling person. And one day a student finally plucked up the courage to ask their teacher how it was possible for them to be such an expert on ethics and such a vile human being. ‘What’ the professor responds, ‘if I taught geometry, would you want me to be a triangle?’ It doesn’t work for teachers of religion.

On the other hand, here’s one of the greatest Rabbinic leaders, Maimonides;

Assur leadam lehiyot achzari - We are forbidden to be cruel, forbidden to be slow to forgive. Rather we should be gentle, willing and slow to anger. And when one who has sinned against us requests our forgiveness, we should forgive with a levav shalem – a full heart a willing spirit. And even if the person has distressed us greatly, or many times, don’t be vengeful, don’t bear a grudge.

Rabbis are supposed to listen hard to even those with whom they disagree and treat everyone with courtesy and dignity. In our Good Place, leaders – and we would need a plurality of leaders – would be wise, and decent and they would argue out the best way to run society.

It won’t just be the leaders arguing. My vision of a Good Place rejects the seductive appeal of mono-culture at every level. Certainly, a Jewish Good Place will have what the Bible calls gerim, outsiders, refugees, resident aliens – you can pick your contemporary term for the people who are different; probably less privileged, possibly less eloquent in our language, less sure of our customs. Loving the stranger is the most frequently repeated idea in the Bible not, I think, just because it’s a nice thing to do, but because Good Places value difference and diversity as a source of creativity and productivity.

And what kind of society would emerge from all this plurality and wisdom and decency?

Here are three laws which appear in a run of seven verses in the three-thousand-year-old book of Deuteronomy.[1]
1.       If you loan someone some money, and they pledge their millstone to secure the loan, and they default, you can’t take the mill-stone away from them ki nefesh hu choveil – it’s their life-blood – you take the millstone, they won’t be able to mill their flour and they will slide into destitution, and that can’t be good.
2.       If you loan them some money with a pledge to repay and they default, you don’t go into their house to take their pledge – you wait outside for them to bring it to you. It’s better to be sensitive to their sense of security in their own home.
3.       And if they pledged their coat – don’t take their coat overnight – they’ll need it to sleep in. If a person pledges a coat, it’s the only thing they’ve got.

There’s a vision of a Good Place in these ancient verses. I don’t suppose anyone here is reliant on a mill-stone today, and I know we’ve learnt a whole lot about astral physics and evolution and the rest of it in the last 3,000 years, but the values of our sacred texts, the checks and balances and the approach to a good place are, surely, exactly what we need in contemporary society. Is credit necessary for economic advancement? Of course it is. Do lenders and their capital need to be protected by the rule of law? Of course they do.
But not all the time, not to take all pledges from all debtors and not in any way creditors might deem suitable.

The vision of society that emerges, time and time again through the Bible and Talmud is a society that demonstrates compassion alongside a commitment to justice. I’ll take that balance of compassion and justice as a model for my Good Place

And then there will be Shabbat. We’ll have the chance, in our Good Place, for six days of the week, to get on, to make, to create, to seek for more and better. And then we’ll all pause, turn off the phones and the emails and turn our attention towards celebrating what we have. We’ll eat meals with friends and family. We’ll converse without the distractions of screens or headphones. Shabbat, in The Good Place, will help us realise that ‘better’ doesn’t always mean ‘more.’ That should help us find better ways to protect the environment in our Good Place. In my little thought experiment, basic rules of physics will still apply, as God said to first human beings as they guided around the Garden of Eden, “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake, I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”[2] That one will still apply, but we’ll be ready for it and we’ll take due care.

Well, that’s the vision. Do you like it? It could do with a tweak, here or there, I’m sure. But it would do, no? Creativity, decency, a space to celebrate the gift of our humanity?
Here’s the question. How far away are we? How impossible, how fairy-tale, how beyond the reach of possibility is this Good Place?

I mean, working out how we get the right kind of political leadership is a tricky one, but the really radical thing about this vision of a Good Place is how simple it is.
We could all get on with creating this Good Places even if without the political leadership problem entirely sorted – in fact it’s probably much better if don’t wait on the politicians – they seem to have their hands full for the time being. Certainly, those of us who lend, could lend with the sort of empathy and humanity that the Bible calls for. Many of you, I know, do exactly that. The rest of us can get on with, I don’t know; making sure that the blind aren’t confronted with stumbling blocks, or that if, even our enemy is stumbling we don’t gloat. We could get on with not coveting things that belong to others and we could all benefit from taking Shabbat more seriously and we don’t really need anyone’s permission to do that.
Two other verses from Deuteronomy;
It’s not in heavens that have to ask, who will go up to the heavens and bring it down for us. It’s not beyond the sea that you have to ask, who will cross the sea to bring it back for us.
We all have the possibility of creating better places, for ourselves, for our loved ones, for all of society. In fact, we had better get on with it sooner rather than later.
It will some gumption and well, there’s really no other words I can use, it will take religion and it will take faith.
Here’s the thing that puzzles me. If, I could get a bum-on-a-seat for every time someone told me this past year that they weren’t really into Judaism as a religion, this place would be rammed full. And I wold love to see this place rammed-full on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, but that’s not really the point. The point is, if you want to live in a Good Place, in a better place – where do you find the pointers towards the way that society will function? How do you puzzle your way towards making that vision a reality when your desires come up against the desires of others? How do you protect yourself and your society from the forces that will weaken us and strip our values from us. I’ve an answer – be more Jewish. Do more Jewish stuff, read more about Jewish stuff. Speak up and take more pride in the Jewish stuff. I’ve nothing against other religions, I’m sure other religions can help, and if you’ve another faith tradition that speaks more clearly to you – gei gezunte heit – go for it. But if you are here today, do more of this. Be prouder of this. If you find yourselves in environments where self-declared atheists or lapsed-Jews or any of the like are taking opportunities to explain how much smarter they are now they don’t do Judaism, raise the eyebrow. Ask how they intend to get to a Good Place, suggest that they could do with paying more attention to some very old, very holy and, frankly, very Good suggestions in the pages of the Good Book. Creating the Good Place will take religion. Do more religion.

And it will take faith. Faith is the thing that allows a person to do something they know is right even if the rest of the world thinks you are crazy. Faith is the thing the justifies the sorts of actions that we know are good, even if society doesn’t value their performance – things like being nice or charitable or gentle. These tend to be things society doesn’t seem set up to value, sometimes they are even things society seems ready to mock. But have faith. They will make the world a better place. We know that; we have faith in that. Faith is good. Faith doesn’t require us to use the ‘God word.’ It just requires us to believe there is justification for goodness, even if it’s not immediately apparent. We’ll need some faith to build this Good Place.
We are, quite remarkably blessed to have this heritage. It’s an astounding gift in a world that desperately needs our active, faithful and religious engagement, if it is to become a better place, let alone a Good Place.
Don’t give up on this journey.
It’s the best shot we have at turning this world into a Good Place
It could even come in this new year.

May it come to us all in health, peace and joy, Shannah Tovah



[1] 24:6-13
[2] Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13

The Angel of Last Week and the View from Above The Stars - Rosh Hashanah 5780




Two moments from the vast Rabbinic canon, one taught by a son and one taught by his father.

Let me start with the son, Rabbi Yossi son of Rabbi Yehuda.

Rabbi Yossi taught a person has two angels who accompany them home from the Synagogue on a Friday night; one good, one wicked. And if the person gets home and the candles are lit and the table is laid and the bed is made, the good angel says to the bad angel, “May it be this way next week,” and, against their will, the wicked angel is forced to reply, “Amen.” But if this isn’t the case, then the wicked angel says, “may it be this way next Shabbat,” and against their will the good angel is forced to respond, “Amen.”[1]

And here’s the moment taught by Rabbi Yossi’s father, Rabbi Yehudah

It comes in a commentary on a verse in Genesis just before we began our Torah reading today. Abraham is old, childless and worried he will have no-one to take on the mantle of the promise God made to him.
(ה) וַיּוֹצֵ֨א אֹת֜וֹ הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַבֶּט־נָ֣א הַשָּׁמַ֗יְמָה וּסְפֹר֙ הַכּ֣וֹכָבִ֔ים אִם־תּוּכַ֖ל לִסְפֹּ֣ר אֹתָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ כֹּ֥ה יִהְיֶ֖ה זַרְעֶֽךָ׃
And God took Abraham out of his tent and said to him – Habeit Nah Hshamayah – look at the heavens, count the stars – if you can count them, so shall you have offspring.

On this verse the Rabbi Yehudah, [2] points out that the word Habeit isn’t really the Hebrew word for looking up at stars, in the sense that you or I might look up at the stars. Habeit is the Hebrew word for looking down from a high place to a low place. [3] So, says Rabbi Yehudah, it must be that when God took Abraham out of the tent, God lifted Abraham lemala mikpat harakia above the dome of the heavens- so Abraham could look down on the stars spread below him. Look down on these stars, Rabbi Yehudah imagines God telling Abraham – you are not to be controlled by these stars. Yes, I know, you are old and childless, and it seems to you that it is written in the stars that you shall have no children, but you look down on the stars. They don’t control you. You, Abraham, have a future no mazalot – no astrological destiny – can determine. The possibilities of your future, Abraham, expand before you with the fecundity of the stars in the heavens.

In my first story the past controls the future – as last week, so next week.
In my second story we are to be lifted above the present to look down on its puny attempt to control our tomorrows.

This isn’t, in case anyone is worried, a sermon about angels and miraculous interstellar space-travel.
It’s a sermon about you and me, our faith and this world in which we live.
Because we don’t need angels or miracles to help us understand these two stories – the one in which the past controls our tomorrow, and the one in which we rise above the present to futures unknown.

I recently had a conversation with a member who wanted to chat about the future of the Synagogue. They were worried about the women thing – they said they came to Synagogue to feel comfortable and they were comfortable with the roles for men and women they knew and loved from their childhood. And as much as they knew that women are capable and powerful in so many ways, they just felt distracted by seeing women and men sitting together or women leading services.

I have a sympathy for anyone who feels the same. I’ve also felt the same at some points in my own religious journey. I’m not interested in labelling the response good or wicked, but rather I’m interested in the way in which it’s a case of last week’s angel exerting power over tomorrow. ‘May it be this way next Shabbat’ says one angel and the other angel is forced to say ‘Amen.’

The only answer I can give to such a person is Heschel’s answer. Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the greatest rabbis of the last century, suggested that religion has to comfort us in our afflictions, and also afflict us in our comfort. We need to be held by the blessing of last week’s angel, but also we need to fly above the stars.

Ester Perel, the New Yok based therapist, once shared that we all need both the sense of being comforted by our surroundings, and the experience of change, provocation and challenge. And we are all continually modulating the way we embrace the new or surround ourselves with the known, as we go through our lives. Perel is a couples’ therapist. Her work is to help her clients balance their own desires for the same and their own desires for the different as they struggle to get on with each other. She would probably make an excellent congregational rabbi.

We are in a process of change, at New London. And we are all determined by the angels of last week, and we all wish for a tomorrow of possibility.

Here’s the process of change.
18 years ago today, while I was still a Rabbinic student, I led the first services at New London where women were called to read from the Torah. 15 years ago, the day before I got married, I celebrated my aufruf here in the first fully egalitarian service in our history – both those services took place next door, in the Hall. Twelve years ago, in my first week as your Rabbi, there was meeting to decide whether to make any changes in the services in this room – the meeting split 71-70.  Several years later there was a decision to allow certain Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations to take place in this space as egalitarian services. And then, several years after that, we went egalitarian on alternate weeks.

We are out of sync with that commitment to alternate egal services here today. We’ve been exclusively male led on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ever since that decision. One of the things I was always going to say, today, is that the services in here next Rosh Hashanah will be egalitarian – with an option for mixed seating. But our most recent AGM and a more recent Council meeting have gone further, with my fullest support. We’ve announced an EGM that will vote on us becoming fully egalitarian every week of the year. That’s new.

This journey towards the new is a response to all kinds of issues; both Halachic and social, both rabbinically led and reflective of the mood of our members. The process has involved hearing the whisper of the angel of last week and saying instead of ‘Amen’, ‘No – we’re heading towards a different tomorrow.’ And for some it’s long overdue. And for some it’s deeply uncomfortable. And we all want to claim we are the afflicted person religion should be comforting rather than the comfortable person who should be afflicted.

And the strange thing about being the Rabbi of a community balancing the angel of last week and a trip beyond the stars in this way, is the relationship between these discussions in our own community and the discussions going on in the world out there.

One of the great problems in contemporary political life, Professor David Runciman said recently, is that we’ve forgotten how to lose. In the political realm, we’ve drawn our battle lines forcibly. We are so committed to winning our political arguments that we threaten the protections and balances that hold the space for our civil society. That can lead to the counter-indicative result of creating a more divisive and fractured society, even as we do win, and that’s bad for all of us.

I mean I care about Brexit, of course I do, but we’ll either leave soon, or later or never and more important than winning in one direction or another is the quality of the society we create together. And judged by that metric, we are all losing.

We have to get better at modulating our competing desires for continuing with the same or soaring above the past if we want to be able to get on. After all there is so much we agree upon. Even the most committed Remainer knows there are democratic deficits and inefficiencies in the EU. Even the most committed Brexiter knows the value of the freedoms membership of the EU ensures. Even the most committed egalitarian advocate knows the value of ensuring long-term members feel at home in a community they helped build. And even the most committed non-egalitarian advocate knows their attitude towards women in prayer is an outlier when compared to every other part of their lives.

Maybe we all need a good session with Ester Perel, the couples’ therapist who would help us, surely, find new possibilities hidden behind the high fences of our battle lines. We need to learn to lose better.

Let me lighten the tone.

Goldstein was driving erratically at two in the morning and was pulled over by the police. “And where are you headed at this time of the night?” the officer asked. “I am on my way to a lecture about the abuses of alcohol, its toxic impact on the human body, and the harmful effects of smoking.” The officer responded, “Really? And who exactly is giving that lecture at two o’clock in the morning?” To which Goldstein replied, “my spouse.”[4]

The point is that Goldstein is heading home. He, or she, knows they are going to lose any argument about their behaviour and they are accepting losing because they know there is something more important at stake. Goldstein has found there is something more important than being right – it’s being part of a unit that grows and protects. And if we are all to heal some of the fissures in a society where my desires will inevitably conflict with the desires of others, we are all going to have to learn to lose better. Or to put it a slightly different way, we need to learn how to find victories without winning arguments. This is a little counter-cultural. It might be that when we focus all our energies on winning arguments, we actually break the very things we are most keen to protect. And if we find creative ways to cede being on the winning side, we can find greater futures even as we lose arguments

It’s Rosh Hashanah, it’s a great time to be open to the possibilities of not having everything on our own terms. Rosh Hashanah is when we are judged not on whether we win or lose arguments, but on the quality of the relationships we maintain. Debate and disagreement is all well and holy and certainly very Jewish, but perhaps try this for a test of whether or not we have won at a debate or a disagreement – does our relationship with those with whom we disagree get stronger or weaker when we debate?

What would our world be like if we judged the quality of our disagreement by whether we emerged from the disagreement closer to those with whom we disagree, as opposed to whether we came up with the supposedly crushing bon mot?

It would be a better society, surely. And we would be better members of that society.

I opened this sermon with two apparently contradictory stories; one about the power of the angel of last week, and one about the possibility of tomorrow. But the two stories are told in the name of members of the same family; Rabbi Yehudah and his son, Rabbi Yossi. Both stories can exist at the same time in the same family. Both stories exist, at the same time in this community, in this society also. Actually, both stories exist within me simultaneously, and maybe you also.

Our internal peace, and the peace of the communities and societies in which we live will come only when we can watch these competing narratives in our own soul and treat them with compassion, the same compassion we should show those around us, in our family lives, in our religious communities and in our broader societies. We have so much more in common with one another than any win-or-lose argument should fracture. And the bright, generous future we wish for ourselves in all the worlds in which we live, can only come if we learn to find moments of conciliation and possibility that will strengthen us all.

May it come to us, in this year to come, in good, in health and in blessing,

Shannah Tovah



[1] Shabbat 119b
[2] Bereishit Rabba 44:12
[3] Used to describe looking from a mountain down towards a valley I Kings 18:43, and the view of God looking down from the heavens Ps 33:13
[4] Based on a more gendered version of this joke I learned from Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove

Friday, 20 September 2019

On the Birth of the World


The Birth of the World


הַיּוֹם הֲרַת עוֹלָם
Sacks – This day is the birth of the world.
Routledge – This day the world was called into being.
Harlow - Today the world is born.

הָרָה  conceive, become pregnant ( Assyrian erû ) Impf. וַתַּ˜הַר Gn 4:1 26 times.

There are four New Years:
The first of Nisan is the new year for the kings and for the festivals
The first of Elul is the new year for the tithing of animals
The first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee. The first of Shevat is the new year for the trees.

Rosh Hashannah 10b-11a
It is taught Rabbi Eliezer says: In Tishrei the world was created; the Patriarchs were born and died, Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were remembered and Joseph came out from prison.
Rabbi Yehoshua says: In Nisan the world was created; the Patriarchs were born and died, Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were remembered and Joseph came out from prison.
Rabbi Eliezer says: How do we learn the world was created in Tishrei? As it is stated: “And God said: Let the earth bring forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind” (Genesis 1:11). Which is the month in which the earth brings forth grass and the trees are full of ripe fruit? You must say Tishrei.
Rabbi Yehoshua says: How do we learn the world was created in Nisan? As it is stated: “And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed and tree yielding fruit” (Genesis 1:12). Which is the month in which the earth is full of grass and the trees bring forth fruit? You must say Nisan.

Rabbeinu Bachya Gen 1:3
You need to appreciate that the real beginning of the creation of the universe commenced with this directive of “let there be light.” This occurred on the 25th day of Ellul, the number 25 corresponding to the numerical value of the word יהי. As to the statement in the Talmud that the world was created in the month of Tishrei, the reference was to the creation of Adam, the first human being. Creation of humanity was the completion of the creative process and this is what the Talmud referred to. The human is the “seal” of all of God’s activities up until then. The Talmud could not say that the universe was created in Ellul as it concerned itself with a finished product only.

Vayikra Rabba 29:1
It was taught in the name of Rabbi Elazar: on the 25th of Elul the world was created... We thus find to say: on Rosh Hashanah, at the first hour, God had the idea of creating the first human ...at the third hour, God gathered the dust; at the fourth hour, God molded this dirt... At the eighth hour, God brought them into the Garden of Eden. At the tenth hour, they violated God's command. At the eleventh hour, they were judged. At the twelfth hour, they were pardoned. Said the Holy Blessed One to Adam: this is a sign for your sons--just like you come before me in judgment and I have given you a pardon, so too will your sons come before Me in judgment and I will give them a pardon.

Jeremiah 20 14-18
Accursed be the day That I was born! Let not the day be blessed When my mother bore me! Accursed be the man Who brought my father the news and said, “A boy Is born to you,” And gave him such joy! Let that man become like the cities which God overthrew without relenting! Let him hear shrieks in the morning and battle shouts at noontide because he did not kill me before birth. Oh that my mother might have been my grave, And her womb pregnant [with me] for all eternity [Harat Olam]. Why did I ever issue from the womb? To see misery and woe, To spend all my days in shame!

Hil Teshuvah, Maimonides 5:1-3
Free will is granted to all humanity. If a person desires to include towards the good way, they have the power to do so. Give no place in your minds to that which is asserted by any of the ignorant, that the Holy Blessed One desires a person, from their birth, should be either righteous or wicked. The power of doing good or evil is in our own hands.

הַיּוֹם הֲרַת עוֹלָם
הַיּוֹם יַעֲמִיד בַּמִּשְׁפָּט כָּל יְצוּרֵי עוֹלָמִים אִם כְּבָנִים אִם כַּעֲבָדִים
 אִם כְּבָנִים רַחֲמֵנוּ כְּרַחֵם אָב עַל בָּנִים
וְאִם כַּעֲבָדִים עֵינֵינוּ לְךָ תְלוּיוֹת עַד שֶׁתְּחָנֵּנוּ וְתוֹצִיא כָאוֹר מִשְׁפָּטֵנוּ
אָיוֹם קָדוֹשׁ
A New Translation By, Ahem, Me
This day is the last day of being be-wombed before our birth into the year to come.
This day – next year – we will stand to be sentenced for our actions, like all the creations of the world, whether we have proved to be like children or like slaves.
If we prove to be like children, be merciful towards us, like the mercy of a parent to a child.
And if we prove to be like slaves, know that we turn our eyes towards you until you gracefully free us, like the light that comes at the end of our sentence.
O mighty and holy One.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Sources on Rabbis Changing Their Minds


I've been interested in this problem - at a time when the British parliament (and society?) is at loggerheads.
The 'standard' Talmudic sugya opens with alternate positions taken by two sages and several pages later preserves the alternate positions as being 'correct' for the disputants. i.e. Talmudic 'success' results in a principled and tolerant disagreement. I get that.

But I've been trying to think of examples of sages changing their opinion, admitting their mistake, being persuaded by argument etc. and ... I'm struggling.
The first two cases aren't really examples. 
But there are examples. And interesting ones at that. And a great joke.


Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2:8-9
Rabban Gamaliel had diagrams of the moon on a tablet [hung] on the wall of his upper chamber, and he used to show them to the unlearned and say, “Did it look like this or this?” It happened that two witnesses came and said, “We saw it at a certain time, but on the night which should have been the new moon it was not seen,” and Rabban Gamaliel accepted their evidence. Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas said: they are lying witnesses. How can they testify that a woman has given birth when on the next day she’s still heavily pregnant? Rabbi Joshua to him: I see your argument.
Rabban Gamaliel sent to him: I order you to appear before me with your staff and your money on the day which according to your count should be Yom Hakippurim. Rabbi Akiva went and found him in distress. He said to him: I can teach that whatever Rabban Gamaliel has done is valid, because it says, “These are the appointed seasons of the Lord, holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Leviticus 23:4), whether they are [proclaimed] at their proper time or not at their proper time, I have no other appointed times save these. Rabbi Joshua went to Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas [who also said Joshua would have to accept the opinion of Rabban Gamliel]. So he took his staff and money and went to Rabban Gamaliel on the day which according to his count should be Yom Hakippurim. Rabban Gamaliel rose and kissed him on his head and said to him: Come in peace, my teacher and my student my teacher in wisdom and my student because you have accepted my decision.

Nazir 52b
Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to Bar Kappara: Do not teach Rabbi Akiva changed his mind about whether a Nazir can be in a room with a quarter-log of blood, as Rabbi Akiva held onto his opinion in this regard. And furthermore, the verse supports his opinion, as it states: “Neither shall [the Nazir] go in to any dead bodies” (Leviticus 21:11).[1] Rabbi Shimon says: “All his days, Rabbi Akiva would deem a quarter-log of blood from two corpses ritually impure. Whether he retracted his opinion after he died, I do not know.” A Sage taught: Rabbi Shimon’s teeth blackened due to his fasts.[2]

Rosh Hashanah 13b
Rabbi Yirmeya said to Rabbi Zeira: How can the Sages possibly discern precisely between produce that reached one-third of its growth and produce that reached less than one-third of its growth!? Rabbi Zeira said to him: Don’t I always tell you must not take yourself out of the bounds of the halakha? All the measures of the Sages are like this; precise and exact. One who immerses himself in a ritual bath containing forty se’a of water is rendered pure, but in forty se’a less the tiny amount cannot immerse and become pure in them. Similarly, an egg-bulk of impure food can render other food ritually impure, but an egg-bulk less even the tiny amount of a sesame seed does not render food ritually impure.
Rabbi Yirmeya said: What I said is nothing.

Baba Batra 23b
Mishnah: If a fledgling bird is found within fifty cubits of a dovecote, it belongs to the owner of the dovecote. If it is found outside the limit of fifty cubits, it belongs to the person who finds it…
Gemara: Rabbi Yeremiah asked: “What if one foot of the bird is within fifty cubits, and one foot is outside it?” It was for this question that Rabbi Yeremiah was thrown out of the Beit Midrash.

Mishnah Eduyot 1:12
These are subjects concerning which Bet Hillel changed their mind and taught according to the opinion of Bet Shammai:[3]
A woman who came from overseas and said: “My husband died” may be married again; Bet Hillel says: “We have heard so only in the case of one who came from the harvesting grain.” Bet Shammai said to them: “It is the same thing in the case of one who came from harvesting grain, or olives or from overseas; they mentioned harvesting only because that is how it happened in the original case.” Then Bet Hillel changed their mind and taught according to Bet Shammai.
Bet Shammai says: “She may be married again and take her kethubah payment.” But Bet Hillel says: “She may be married again but may not take her kethubah payment.” Bet Shammai said to them: “You have permitted the graver matter of a forbidden marriage, should you not permit the lighter matter of property?” [there is another round of argument]. Then Bet Hillel changed their mind and taught according to the opinion of Bet Shammai.

Chagigah 2a-b
Everyone should make an appearance in Jerusalem at the festivals apart from [a list including] slaves.
You might say the use of the word ‘everyone’ means even one who is half-slave and half-freeman needs to make an appearance, as the Mishnah (Pesaim 88a) teaches: One who is half-slave half-freeman serves his master one day and works for himself one day. This is the statement of Beit Hillel.
Beit Shammai said to them: You have remedied things for his master, but not for him, for he is unable to marry a slave (as half of him is free), and unable to marry a free Jew (as half of him is still a slave). And if you say he should not marry, surely the world was created for the sake of procreation. Rather we force his master to make him wholly free, and he writes a bill to his master accepting his responsibility to pay half his value to him. And Beit Hillel retracted their opinion, to rule in accordance with the statement of Beit Shammai.

Eruvin 13b
Rabbi Abba said that Shmuel said: For three years Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. These said: The halakha is in accordance with our opinion, and these said: The halakha is in accordance with our opinion. A Divine Voice emerged and proclaimed: “Both these and those are the words of the living God. However, the halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel.” The Gemara asks: Since both these and those are the words of the living God, why were Beit Hillel privileged to have the halakha established in accordance with their opinion? They were agreeable and forbearing, they would teach their own statements and the statements of Beit Shammai. Moreover, they prioritized the statements of Beit Shammai to their own statements.

A Final Thought
In 1920s Soviet Russia, in the middle of the jockeying for power following Lenin’s death, Stalin emerges to address an expectant crowd. “Comrades! I have in my hand a telegram from Comrade Trotsky, which I think will resolve our current differences of opinion. Let me read it to you: ‘You were right and I was wrong. You are the true heir of Lenin. I should apologize. Signed, Leon Trotsky.'”
The crowd goes wild! But wait, there’s one man in the crowd signalling to get Stalin’s attention. “Yes, comrade?” Stalin asks. “Comrade Stalin, I think you know Comrade Trotsky is Jewish.” “Yes, I do.” “Well, I’m Jewish, too, and I thought I might have an extra insight on what Comrade Trotsky was trying to say. May I read the telegram myself?” “Of course, comrade.” The man gets up and starts reading: “You were right and I was wrong? You are the true heir of Lenin? I should apologize? Signed, Leon Trotsky.”




[1] The plural form “bodies” understood to include blood, even blood that could have come from more than one body.
[2] Which he undertook for uttering this irreverent comment about Rabbi Akiva.
[3] There follow three examples, of which the second is the same as recorded in Mishnah Chagigah – below.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...