Parshat Shoftim is replete with reminders to us to ensure that justice is enjoyed by all. We are commanded, "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof; righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue." The Midrash shares a reason behind the repetition of tzedek, and teaches that it is incumbent upon us all to do all we can do to pursue justice, even when it works against our own best interests.
It may be for this very reason that our sages, may their memory be a blessing to us, have such profound respect for even the radically divergent opinions of their rabbinic colleagues. The lesson of "Alu ve'elu divrei Elokim chayim, both the opinion of the minority as well as the majority are the words of the Living G-d," confirmed that all informed opinions are divinely inspired. The goal behind this attitude is the creation, development, and growth of an open minded, trained, disciplined, and dedicated group of scholars, judges, rabbis, teachers, and students to lead and direct the people toward a purposeful and fulfilling life of service to both the Divine and mankind.
The minority opinion is always recorded alongside the majority opinion. Yet one has to ask: Once the decision is made, why record the abandoned opinion?
The rabbis, in their great wisdom, knew that by preserving the minority positions issued by trained and accepted scholars, they left open the possibility that a later court could decide an issue in accordance with the minority. An example of this follows.
Rav Moshe Isserles, known as the Rema, served as the Chief Rav of Krakow, Poland, during the sixteenth century. He was considered one of the outstanding experts and judges in Jewish law, and his religious-legal decisions are accepted as authoritative for Ashkenazic Jewry to this very day. Rav Moshe Isserles opens his responsum (no. 125) with the words, "I hear behind me a great rushing noise," the roar of an angry community who questioned him--and were even thinking of deposing him from his rabbinical position--because he allowed a wedding to take place on Friday night!
This was viewed as problematic because the Mishnah (Beitzah 5, 2:20a) forbids conducting a wedding ceremony on the Sabbath. The reasoning behind this decision is explained in the subsequent discussion of the Gemara as, "lest you come to write out the Ketuba, marriage document," without which the couple cannot live together as man and wife. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe Isserles performed such a ceremony.
In a rare introduction to his responsum, the great rabbi explained that the bride's parents had promised a considerable dowry to the groom's parents, but that the bride's father had died shortly before the wedding. The bride's lack of dowry meant that the wedding had been called off at the last moment. At 10:30 on Friday night, an aunt of the groom had convinced her nephew to go ahead with the marriage despite his parents' objections. They arrived at the rabbi's home at that very late hour, and since the rabbi understood that the groom could easily change his mind should there be a delay, the Rema immediately performed the ceremony. Only an immediate wedding would save the bride from the shame of the broken engagement and poverty that would most assuredly have doomed her to spinsterhood.
Rav Moshe Isserles goes on, in his responsum, to cite the minority view of Rabbeinu Tam--that the prohibition against a Shabbat wedding only applied to a couple who already had children from a prior marriage--noting the fact that even Rabbeinu Tam himself would only permit a Shabbat marriage "under extreme duress" (bedohak gadol). The Rema felt that this minority opinion was sufficient to rely on in the case of the couple who stood before him; thus, the importance of preserving every minority opinion!
In a similar vein, why was the School of Hillel recorded as the source of all final halachot, and not the School of Shammai? Were not the words of Shammai also called the words of the Living G-d?
The scholars of Bet Hillel were accepted as the decisors "because they were sweet-tempered, modest, and accept rebuke; moreover, when asked the law, they first presented the opposing opinion of the Academy of Shammai, and then presented their own view" (BT Rosh Hashanah 14). A system of laws taught and developed by such great rabbis is truly a testament to the words of our holy and eternal Torah, "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof."
Rabbi Pinchos Hecht
Head of School, Atlanta Jewish Academy