Why Judaism Believes In Laurel AND Yanny

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last twenty-four hours, you have already heard of the Laurel/Yanny debate which exploded online after a Reddit user posted an audio clip which sounds like “Yanny” to some and “Laurel” to others. (Team Laurel over here!) There are even those who hear both or a combination of the two. (Test it here.)

Many people are commenting that the Laurel/Yanny duality is much like the blue/black dress debate from three years ago. Namely that two realities can exist simultaneously for different people (of sound mind). And that is weird. And disturbing. Because we live in a world where grass is green and 1+1=2, and we expect that the rules, which we know to be true, are the same for everyone.

Except Judaism doesn’t believe this and never did. From the time that we became a nation, we were broken into twelve tribes who each had their own way of serving Hashem. And in Jewish law there are countless examples of different people experiencing a different reality simultaneously. For instance, the same piece of meat can be kosher for one person and treif for another. (If the meat is not the highest level of kosher, when a rich person brings it to a rabbi the rabbi would tell him it’s not good enough because the rabbi knows he can afford a new piece of meat, whereas when the poor person brings the same piece of meat to the same rabbi, the rabbi will rely on a leniency to allow the poor person to consume the meat as it would be a financial burden to throw it away).

So too the same Shabbos can be continuing for one person and over for another (if one person holds by the opinion in the Talmud that Shabbos is twenty-five hours and another person holds of the longer Rabenu Tam time). Peyos can be long for one man and short for another. Wearing a wig can both be prohibited for one woman and considered the optimal way to cover one’s hair for another. The list of ways Jewish laws can diverge for different people goes on and on. And that’s because Judaism has always believed in the idea that multiple truths exist at the same time.

In fact, we even have a Laurel/Yanny moment in Jewish history. The mitzvah of Shabbos was commanded to us in two different ways – shamor (guard, i.e. don’t do any creative work on the Sabbath) and zachor (remember, i.e. do the positive commandments like kiddush and hamotzi). But in the Talmud (Shavuot 20b), we are told that these two words were pronounced by God on Mt. Sinai in a single utterance – an utterance which the mouth cannot utter, nor the ear hear.

“Shivim panim l’Torah” is a phrase which comes from the Talmud and literally means that “there are seventy faces to the Torah.” Seventy realities concurrently. A similar idea that is repeated in the Talmud is “elu v’elu divrei Elohim,” which literally means “these [opinions] and these [other diverging] opinions are the words of the Lord.”

While people make the mistake of seeing Judaism as a monolithic experience, it is far from it. Of course there are limits to Jewish law, but within the space, there are many pathways in the service of God. These myriad Jewish realities must exist because ultimately human beings are not monolithic and Judaism must reflect that. The Internet is in a tizzy over this phenomenon, but this is something we Jews have known for quite some time.

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