As anyone who studies Mishnah can attest, there are many debates between the House of Hillel (Beit Hillel) and the House of Shammai (Beit Shammai), two schools of thought that flourished during the Tannaic period (last century BCE and early 1st century).

The final halachah almost always follows Beit Hillel, which is usually the more lenient opinion. However, the kabbalists reveal that in the Messianic era, the halachah will actually follow Beit Shammai.1

Why is this so? And if one of the fundamentals of the Jewish faith is that the Torah does not change, then how can we say that the halachah will change?

A Heavenly Voice

By appreciating how it came to be that the halachah follows Beit Hillel, we can understand why the mystics say it will change in the Messianic era.

At first glance, it seems pretty simple. The halachah follows the majority opinion, and Beit Hillel was the majority (aside from the few instances when they weren’t the majority, and the halachah followed Beit Shammai).

There is, however, a rather perplexing statement in the Talmud2 that seems to imply that the halachah follows Beit Hillel because a heavenly voice said so:

Rabbi Abba said that Shmuel said: For three years Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. These said: The halachah is in accordance with our opinion, and these said: The halachah is in accordance with our opinion. Ultimately, a divine voice proclaimed: Both these and those are the words of the living G‑d. However, the halachah is in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel.

The Oven and the Caving Walls

This statement, as the commentators point out, is rather problematic. The formulation of halachah is not based upon heavenly voices or prophecy, as illustrated by the following story in the Talmud:3

[An oven] that was cut into parts and sand was placed between the parts. Rabbi Eliezer maintained that it is pure (i.e., not susceptible to ritual impurity). The other sages said that it is susceptible to ritual impurity . . .

On that day, Rabbi Eliezer brought them all sorts of proofs, but they were rejected. Said he to them: "If the law is as I say, may the carob tree prove it." The carob tree was uprooted from its place a distance of 100 cubits. Others say, 400 cubits. Said they to him: "One cannot prove anything from a carob tree."

Said [Rabbi Eliezer] to them: "If the law is as I say, may the aqueduct prove it." The water in the aqueduct began to flow backwards. Said they to him: "One cannot prove anything from an aqueduct."

Said he to them: "If the law is as I say, then may the walls of the house of study prove it." The walls of the house of study began to cave in. Rabbi Joshua rebuked [the walls], "If Torah scholars are debating a point of Jewish law, what are your qualifications to intervene?" The walls did not fall, in deference to Rabbi Joshua, nor did they straighten up, in deference to Rabbi Eliezer. They still stand there at a slant.

Said he to them: "If the law is as I say, may it be proven from heaven!" There then issued a heavenly voice that proclaimed: "What do you want of Rabbi Eliezer—the law is as he says . . ."

Rabbi Joshua stood on his feet and said: "'The Torah is not in heaven!' . . . We take no notice of heavenly voices, since You, G‑d, have already, at Sinai, written in the Torah to 'follow the majority.’”4

Rabbi Nathan subsequently met Elijah the Prophet and asked him: "What did G‑d do at that moment?" [Elijah] replied: "He smiled and said: 'My children have triumphed over Me, My children have triumphed over Me.'"

It thus seems problematic to state that the halachah follows Beit Hillel based on a heavenly voice. And on the flip side, if Beit Hillel was the majority opinion, then what was the purpose of this heavenly voice?

Sharp vs. Majority

In the incident with the oven, the heavenly voice said that the halachah followed Rabbi Eliezer versus the other sages, which is contrary to the rule in the Torah that the halachah follows the majority. The commentators5 point out that in the case of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, the divine voice said that the halachah follows the school of Hillel, who were in fact the majority.

There was, however, still a need for a divine voice to proclaim that the halachah follows the school of Hillel, since the rabbis of the school of Shammai were known to be significantly sharper than those of Hillel’s school.6 As such, it was debatable whether the majority rule applied in this scenario. The heavenly voice merely confirmed that indeed the halachah still followed the majority.

Changing in the Messianic Era

We can now turn back to our question about the halachah changing in the Messianic era. If the Torah is everlasting, how does halachah change?

The Rebbe7 explains that when G‑d gave us the Torah down here in this physical world, He wanted the Torah to be a marriage between us and the divine. Therefore, on the one hand, He wanted us to understand and determine the halachah with our own minds, and on the other hand, the halachah needs to be based on tradition and the rules set out in the Torah (for more on this, see Is It Really the Torah, Or Is It Just the Rabbis?).

As we mentioned, the school of Hillel was more lenient. This was a reflection of the source of their souls, the attribute of divine kindness, which is presently more relatable and workable in this world. Furthermore, even on an intellectual level, the House of Hillel’s opinions were more easily grasped by the sages of their time.

The House of Shammai, on the other hand, was much too “sharp.” They were much deeper, and thus their opinions were stricter and more difficult for the majority of the sages to fully grasp.

Therefore, the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court of 70 judges), which was extant at the time, ruled like the school of Hillel. The majority of the sages couldn’t understand the depth of the school of Shammai’s teaching.

Now once the halachah is established, a subsequent Jewish court cannot overrule the previous court—unless the subsequent court is greater both in numbers and quality.8

In the Messianic era, the Sanhedrin will be reconstituted. It will be a time when even the average Jew will be a great scholar,9 and those who are chosen to be on the Sanhedrin will be that much greater.

That being the case, most Jews will not only have the acute insight of Shammai, but will also be on a higher level and will therefore be able to interact with the world on the level of gevurah, strictness and severity (see footnote for further elaboration10). Therefore, the majority of the Sanhedrin, which at that time will be greater qualitatively and quantitatively than the previous ones, will rule according to the House of Shammai.11

May we merit the coming of the Moshiach speedily in our days!