Among the myriad of commandments mentioned in Devarim that forbid various practices of idol-worshippers is the admonition of "lo titgodedu," (14:1) which literally means that one may not inflict a wound on themselves out of grief stemming from the loss of a relative, a practice prevalent among the Emorites (see Rashi ad loc.). However, the sages utilize what they see as extra letters in the word "titgodedu" to lend an additional meaning to this phrase - "al ta'asu agudot agudot" - do not make many groups. It is forbidden to fragment Jewish society through the adoption of various and differing rituals and customs.

There are two possible approaches raised with regard to explaining this concept. The first is that suggested by Rashi in his commentaries to Yevamot 13b and Succah 44a. In both instances he claims that the problem of "agudot agudot" is that it appears that there are two Torahs, i.e. two separate law codes, each with its own set of adherents among the Jewish people. The second reason offered arises in Pesachim 50b. The mishna there discusses the case of a person who travels from a town whose custom is not to do work on Erev Pesach to a town whose custom is to do work (or the reverse). The mishna states that such a person should adhere to the stringencies of both places, and concludes by saying that he should not change the custom of any location, so as not to cause arguments. As close as these two reasons seem to be to each other, there are possible differences that we will discuss a bit later in this Chabura.

Returning to the gemara in Yevamot, the gemara seeks to define the parameters of making several groups. If a Jew in Jerusalem and a Jew in Johannesburg have different ways of performing a mitzva, are they in violation of this law? This issue is the subject of debate between Abaye and Rava. Abaye claims that two courts (or halachic authorities) in one town may not take opposing views on a halachic issue, but if they are in two different towns there is no problem. Here, at least the first reason mentioned above can potentially be applied - there will be no argument, as they are located in two cities separate from one another. Rava argues on this position and takes a more lenient stand. Two courts in one town may take opposing sides on a given issue, but within one court the members may not be split between two opposing views (this refers to the actual teaching of halacha - obviously, debate is allowed and is considered to be a major part of the evolution of halacha). Rava's concern seems to be centered more on the problem of two Torahs - one court producing two contradictory opinions creates an image of a multiplicity of truths, any of which may be valid.

It is at this point that we may raise several questions. First, what are the practical differences between the two reasons given for this prohibition? Second, how are we to apply the opinions of Abaye and Rava? What is considered to be "within one town," what is considered to be "within one court," and which of these two opinions do we hold like to begin with?

To begin with the last of these questions, Rif cites only the view of Rava when discussing this piece of the gemara, following the principle that we, in general, follow the opinion of Rava over that of Abaye. Curiously enough, Rambam (Hil. Avodah Zara 12:14) brings down the view of Abaye as law. The Kesef Mishna asks how Rambam can go against Rava, and offers a technical answer and room for further investigation. Returning to the law of Rif, which is the one that is generally accepted, how are we to understand this law? Before dealing with any specific issue, we should seek to answer our first question. The Minchat Chinuch (actually, his son) suggests a possible difference arising from the two reasons given for this prohibition. He claims that if the problem is one of two Torahs, then perhaps this applies only to Torah laws, but Rabbinic ordinances and customs would be excluded. On the other hand, if the problem here is one of creating strife within the nation, then even at the level of custom people should strive for uniformity. However, he rejects this notion, based on Tosafot Avodah Zara 22a, which states that one can act in violation of "putting a stumbling block before a blind man," i.e. causing another to sin, even with regard to Rabbinic laws. He states that this case is similar, based on Devarim 32:7 - "ask you father and he will tell you" - that we are prohibited from making the Torah of our fathers (namely, Rabbinic laws and customs) into two Torahs.

Despite the Minchat Chinuch's rejection of his theoretical split, there is room to discuss whether or not all categories of practices are included in this law, or if, perhaps, only certain levels fall within its scope. Both Ritva and Meiri state that lo titgodedu applies on the level of Rabbinic laws (and certainly Torah laws), but local customs that differ from each other are not in violation of this law. The Meiri explains the law of Rava, that there is no problem with regard to two courts in one city, by stating that we cannot expect that everyone will be of one opinion, and thus we allow for a certain measure of dissent.

The second parameter concerns the method of performance of the mitzva or custom in question. The gemara in Succah 44a discusses whether or not one may take the four species on the first day of Succot if it falls out on Shabbat. The gemara raises a case where it states that the people in Israel should have taken the species on Shabbat but did not do so. Why not? Since they are not taken on Shabbat in the diaspora (as we are unsure of the date and thus may not be allowed to push off Shabbat in order to perform this mitzva), so too they are not taken on Shabbat in Israel so as not to fragment the Jewish people. Working off of Rambam's codification of this law, the Lechem Mishna asks how it is possible that Jews in the diaspora hold two days of every holiday, while in Israel only one day is kept? His answer is that since the second day of a holiday is kept so as to preserve the customs of our forefathers, we do not have the right to come now and change it. Thus, he asks, why don't Jews in Israel hold two days as well, thus conforming to the diaspora in a manner similar to that described in Succah 44a? In answer to this question he distinguishes between two ways in which the Sages can tell the people to act - passively and actively. With regard to the four species, the Sages have the right to tell people to not perform a certain action if they have a legitimate reason to do so (sheiv v'al ta'aseh). However, telling the Jews of Israel to keep a second day of a holiday would be telling them to take action so as to conform or satisfy certain "external" circumstances, something that the Sages do not do, and thus we do not worry about lo titgodedu in such a case.

There is an aspect of this law that is perhaps more striking, yet it reveals a great deal about the nature of halacha's allowance for a variety of opinions. The Mordechai states that if people from a town where a certain practice was held to be forbidden come to a town where that practiced is permitted, they may adhere to the custom of the town that they have come to, even though the practice has been forbidden for them until this point. This opinion brings out an important point of which a full discussion is well beyond the scope of this Chabura: when two opposing decisions are made on a given issue, neither one is absolutely right or wrong in the eyes of halacha. As such, it is possible not only for two towns to simultaneously hold both opinions, but even for one person to change from adherence to one view to adherence to the other. The Meiri highlights this point when he notes that if a person eats a piece of meat that was the subject of debate with regard to its kashrut, even if he accepted the view that held the piece to be non-kosher, his action is not in violation of any specific prohibition, as the piece of meat did not become an inherently forbidden piece (See also Responsa of Mabit 1:21). Again, this raises what may be seen as an inherent tension in this entire law - the allowance for a multitude of opinions, each of which may be valid in its own context, while at the same time forbidding the division of society through the proliferation of differing practices.

There is one final aspect of this law that will we look at before moving on to discuss particular situations. Within what limits are two opinions allowed to be followed? The Meiri discusses the situation of two courts that are equal both in wisdom and in number. How is the law to be decided in such a case? He states that when everything is equal, the stricter opinion should be followed. However, when one side outnumbers the other, there are two possible resolutions. If the more numerous side is of the stricter view, then it is forbidden for those in the minority to act on the basis of their own teachings and be lenient. This idea takes a stricter approach than a view expressed in a later responsa of the Mabit (1:21), who claims that the main problem within one city is when both sides teach their law to the public. However, when each side acts on their own in private, without publicizing two dissenting views, there is no problem. Ritva similarly states that there is no problem of lo titgodedu for those involved in the argument, but only for other who follow the two views and effectively set up opposing camps. However, the Meiri also comes out slightly on the other side of the Mabit and Ritva, claiming that if the minority is of the stricter opinion, they may not only be strict for themselves, but they may even privately tell others in the town to follow their views.

We now return once again to Yevamot. The gemara raises a problem from the first mishna in Megilla. There it states that the megilla is read on the 14th day of Adar, that people in walled cities read it on the 15th, and that those who live out in villages would read either on the 14th or on the Monday or Thursday that came closest to (and was before) the 14th. The obvious question is how can the people in the villages read on a day different than everyone else (the reading on the 15th does not bother the gemara, as the reasons for that reading are based on the verses of the megilla itself)? Several answers are given for this problem. Tosafot cite a view expressed by many, that the village-dwellers would not read in the big cities, as is commonly assumed, but rather that they would read in their villages before coming into the cities to do their business. As such, they are viewed as being two separate courts in two separate towns, and have no problems even according to the view of Abaye. Rosh offers a more fundamental reason. He states that the only reason that these people read on an earlier day is that they have to read it in the cities (where there are people who know how to read the megilla properly), and thus they have no choice other than to read it on those days. However, as the prohibition against breaking up into many sects applies only when the division is based on machloket (argument), and such is not the reason here, there is no issue of lo titgodedu in this case (see also Meiri and Magen Avraham O.C. 493:6). In a similar vein, Rashba says that the reading done on an earlier day is a leniency made by the Sages for the benefit of such people, and does constitute the creation of a "second Torah."

We come now to one of the main applications of this law over the course of the past several hundred years. What we refer to is the vast differences between the customs of Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews. Seemingly, this area would constitute one of the starkest violations of lo titgodedu imaginable. Certainly nowadays, when Jews of all backgrounds are often found living together in the same communities, why do we not force both sides to reach a compromise rather than hold fast to the customs of their forefathers?

This problem was dealt with early on by the Maharshdam (Y.D. 153). He claimed that there is no issue of lo titgodedu between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews, as each group constitutes its own "city," in the sense that the gemara uses the term, and thus they are allowed to cling to distinct sets of customs. This responsa is referred to often in several modern-day responsa focusing on this topic. In Yechaveh Da'at (Y.D. 5:36), Rav Ovadia Yoseif deals with the question of whether or not Sefardi students in a yeshiva primarily composed of Ashkenazim may shave during Sefirat HaOmer when most of their fellow students are not doing so. First, it should be pointed out that this issue is one of the few with regard to which Ramo specifically mentions the prohibition of lo titgodedu. On that comment, the Magen Avraham claims that if one is in a place where everyone does shave and get haircuts and he does not want to, he is allowed to do so, since people may just assume that he does not want to shave or cut his hair for personal reasons. However, Rav Yoseif was asked to deal with the reverse case. He adduces several reasons why there would be no problem for the Sefardi students to shave during this time period. First, he cites the aforementioned view of the Maharshdam. Second, he notes that since one problem involved is that of causing machloket, there is no such problem here since it is a well-known fact that Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews have separate customs, and thus they will not come to fight over them. Next, he refers to the Shut Parashat Mordechai (Rav Mordechai Benett) who speaks about a situation where in one shul on Chol HaMoed there are those who want to put on tefillin and those who do not. The Parashat Mordechai allows both sides to remain true to their respective viewpoints, since he claims that the problem of lo titgodedu exists only at the outset of a particular halachic debate. However, once the active debate has ceased and people are merely following one accepted opinion or another, there is no longer such a problem. Furthermore, he invokes the point noted earlier, that this prohibition does not apply to customs. Finally, he makes reference to the fact that there is no problem so long as people are merely following their custom, but not openly teaching it and encouraging others to follow them (Shut Maharshag - Rav Shimon Greenfeld).

A similar issue that is raised concerns the text of the daily prayers used by Ashkenazim and Sefardim. May an Ashkenazi Jew pray according to the text that he is used to if he is in a shul that follows the Sefardi text (nusach)? This issue has sources all the way back to the Rishonim. Ra'avan claims that there is no prohibition when one group of people received a ruling from one Rabbi and another group from another Rabbi. As such, Ashkenazim may use the nusach familiar to them when praying in a Sefardi shul. The Shut Meishiv Davar (#17) takes a different approach. He claims that, insofar as the silent prayer is concerned, if the problem involved is one of causing argument, then there is no problem as a silent prayer will be unknown to anyone but the one praying. On the other hand, if the problem is that of two Torahs, there is still no problem as this concept does not apply to customs. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, O.C. 2:23) also allows people in the same shul to recite different silent prayers, as does the Sdei Chemed cited by the Piskei Uziel. However, the Piskei Uziel himself claims that even silently there is a problem, as the issue is the very act of creating a division within the nation, regardless of whether or not it is a known thing.

Despite all of the leniencies that exist within this law, we should point out that they are many Rishonim and Acharonim who stress the importance of communal and national unity, even if there is a technical loophole available to allow for varying opinions and customs to exist. The Shiltei HaGibborim states that when there is an debate with regard to a particular issue, it is forbidden for one city's residents to adopt two separate practices. Rather, the majority opinion should be followed. In a responsa (#262), Rambam also strongly encourages everyone to follow the majority at all times, so long as there is no violation of a law involved in doing so. The Magen Avraham and the Alshich are also of this opinion, which stems from the verse which mandates our following the majority opinion (Exodus 23:2). More recently, Shut Orach Mishpat (O.C. 149) rules that it is forbidden for a shul to design its new building in a way that differs in any outstanding way from the way in which shuls have traditionally been built (the specific issue at hand is the location of the podium and lectern within the sanctuary).

When all is said and done, how should one act? Given the greater issues involved that we mentioned previously, it is difficult to say. However, one should bear in mind the gemara in Sanhedrin 110b, which states that anyone who engages in machloket acts in violation of the prohibition of not being like Korach and his followers. The mishna in Avot (5:17) notes that Korach and his followers epitomize argument that is not for the sake of Heaven. In their place, the mishna offers the example of Hillel and Shammai, whose arguments were solely concerned with finding the best way to serve Hashem and thus were for the sake of Heaven. To return once more to our gemara in Yevamot, the issue that kicks off the entire discussion there is a debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai concerning the status of various women whose husbands have died with regard to their being able to marry priests. The mishna there states that even though each side potentially saw the other side as allowing something that was forbidden, or vice versa, still each side married women from the other side. Once the law had been decided upon, all argument vanished and they formed one unit in the service of Hashem.

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