The Caving Walls of the Study Hall

My favorite story in all of Judaism isn’t in the Torah. It’s in the Talmud, where it’s written that rabbis were arguing over whether a certain oven was ritually impure or not; one rabbi said it was, and others said it was not.

The rabbi who said it was said, “If I’m right, this tree will prove it!” and the tree to which he pointed uprooted itself. But the other rabbis said, “An uprooted tree isn’t an argument; do better than that.”

So the first rabbi pointed to a stream and said, “If I’m right, this stream will prove it!” And the stream began flowing backwards, but the other rabbis shrugged and said, “A stream isn’t an argument, either; do better.”

And finally the first rabbi pointed to the walls of the study where they were arguing, and said, “If I’m right, and Heaven agrees with me, the walls of the study will prove it!” And the ground shook, and dust fell from the roof, and walls of the study leaned, and tilted, and began to fall in on the rabbis, and the sky opened into light, and an angel appeared and cried, “Why must you argue with him, even as the study is about to bury you alive, since the whole world shows that Heaven is in accordance with his opinion!”

Upon which one of the disagreeing rabbis leapt to his feet and said, “How dare you!”

The walls stilled; the ground ceased to shake. And the disagreeing rabbi said, “The law is not in Heaven; the law was given to us, on Earth, at Mount Sinai. God wasn’t invited to this argument. God doesn’t own the Torah – humans do; and if the walls cave in on us, that won’t prove a thing. Walls aren’t an argument. Make a real argument, with reason and logic, with the law. Do better.”

And the walls stood upright again, and the stream began to flow in its natural path, and the tree rooted itself back into the ground. And the rabbis continued to argue; and the first rabbi, who had called the tree and stream and walls to move, was found to be incorrect, since the majority of the rabbis disagreed with him.

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