Shevat 5778

Two Jews, Three Opinions: Diversity and Debate


It may be cold outside, but soon spring will come and the natural world will awake and bring forth a diversity of flowers, plants and trees.  So this month we are inspired by that diversity to reflect on the diversity of people, personalities  and opinions that we often deal with in our work in Jewish communities. Working with all kinds of people and ideas can sometimes be challenging, especially when people disagree. The Jewish concept of Elu v’Elu (“both these and those”) helps us thrive in a world where not everyone has the same opinion.

Having an “Elu v’Elu” approach means having a “Both/And” perspective.
This Jewish approach includes recognising that there are multiple sides to an issue, being open to views that are not your own, and grappling with the complexities of life.


The phrase Elu v’Elu comes from a famous text in the Babylonian Talmud. For three years the House of Study of Shammai and the House of Study of Hillel disagreed. These said, “the law is in accordance with us” and the others also said, “the law is in accordance with us”. A Divine Voice emerged and proclaimed: Both these and those are the words of the living God, but the law is in accordance with Beit Hillel.

Even though the students of Hillel and Shammai came to different conclusions about matters of law, a heavenly voice said that both were in fact correct. The implication is that there can be more than one right answer, yet a decision had to be made and God said to follow the decision of Hillel’s students.

Be well and argue wisely,
The Yesod Team

Another Perspective & Podcast

Faustine Sigal, International Director of Jewish Education for Moishe House, talks about this text and others as she explains how diversity is an opportunity to create open and respectful environments. Click here to listen to Yesod’s exclusive interview with Faustine.

Faustine brings theories that proved successful as she navigates different cultures, personalities and opinions. Three ideas she holds onto are:

Have an open discussion with your team about what your collective mindset or ground rules are in order to create a respectfully diverse environment.

Questions to ask yourself and your team:


Resources on Elu v’Elu and Related Concepts

To learn more about Disagreements here is BimBam’s video about Disagreements for the Sake of Heaven. This is part of the Pardes’s 9th Adar Project for a Week of Constructive Conflict. Visit their site for more resources, videos.

More great practical ideas can be found in Rabbi Melissa Weintraub’s Times Of Israel article about how differing opinions create generative space.

Hillel International has an excellent set of discussions and activities on this topic, relevant to those who work with young adults and students.

A more advanced look at the history, sources and outcomes of the elu v’elu debate by Noam Zion of the Shalom Hartman Institute is here.

Tu B’shvat Resources

Time for Tu B’shvat – the festival celebrating the Birthday of Trees starts on Tuesday night 30th January.

It is a great time for your friends or community to come together, have a Tu B’shvat seder (festive meal), and focus on the world around us. It’s also never too early to start preparing for Purim, Wednesday night 28th February. Visit our Yesod archives for Tu B’shvat and Purim ideas.