The halacha is always in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel, but one who wishes to act in accordance with the opinion of Beit Shammai may do so, and one who wishes to act in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel may do so. If he wishes to adopt both the leniencies of Beit Shammai and also the leniencies of Beit Hillel, he is a wicked person. And if he wishes to adopt both the stringencies of Beit Shammai and also the stringencies of Beit Hillel, with regard to him the verse states: “The fool walks in darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2:14). Rather, he should act either in accordance with Beit Shammai, following both their leniencies and their stringencies, or in accordance with Beit Hillel, following both their leniencies and their stringencies.
The beraita states that the rabbis always follow the rulings of Beit Hillel, while leaving space for those who wish to follow the opinions of Shammai. And yet, the beraita insists that the choice must be shaped by intellectual consistency. The schools of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai are shaped by profound differences in their world views and in how they interpret and enact their values. One who chooses to follow the teachings of one of them must commit to that school both when it is stringent and when it is lenient.
Committing to a particular school’s stringencies can be hard when the people around you are relying on more lenient opinions. But committing to a particular school’s lenciencies when everyone around you is more stringent can in some ways be even harder, as others may think that you’re not even observing the law. And the idea of committing to a single school at all can be hard, especially for those raised in a modern individualistic society committed to independent thought.
And yet today’s daf generalizes this principle even further:
Wherever you find two tanna’im or two amora’im who disagree with each other in the manner of the disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, one should not act either in accordance with the leniency of the one Master and in accordance with the leniency of the other Master, nor should one act in accordance with the stringency of the one Master and in accordance with the stringency of the other Master. Rather, one should act either in accordance with both the leniencies and the stringencies of the one Master, or in accordance with both the leniencies and the stringencies of the other Master.
The gemara here broadens the principle beyond just Hillel and Shammai. In any rabbinic dispute, one’s actions must be rooted in intellectual consistency. The gemara goes on to acknowledge how hard this can be. After articulating the general principle, the text continues with a series of discussions about rabbis who appear to follow only the stringencies of two teachers, while ignoring their leniencies. And yet the Talmud consistently concludes that, in fact, the rabbis’ actions were rooted in an intellectual consistency that was not initially apparent.
It is easy to always say yes or to always say no. Far harder is understanding the complex reasoning that leads to lenient outcomes in some situations and stringencies in others. And yet the very difficulty of intellectual consistency is what leads to its power, a profound understanding of one’s values and worldview, and the awareness that one’s actions are rooted in both.