One of the basic principles in Jewish law is that we follow the rov – the majority. The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) searches for a source for this rule, and distinguishes between two different types of majorities:
- Ruba d’ita kaman – when the majority is clearly defined, before us. The Gemara’s examples are cases like theSanhedrin, where the Sages would vote and the majority opinion would be accepted or a case where there are nine stores that sell kosher meat and one that sells non-kosher meat, and unidentified meat is found between them.
- Ruba d’leta kaman – when the majority is undefined, that is, where we know what the majority is but it is not something before us that we can count. The Gemara’s examples are a young boy and girl who fall to each other in a situation of levirate marriage, and we assume that neither are sterile, since the vast majority of the population is not sterile.
The Hatam Sofer explains that the basic difference between these two types of majorities is whether or not we can check the situation. In the first case, we base our decision on the fact that we can assume that the piece of meat before us is more likely from the majority of kosher stores that are before us. In the second case, the child who is standing in front of us is independent of all other children, nevertheless we use our broad knowledge of the world to recognize that the majority of children reach puberty and that we can therefore assume that this one will, as well.
Some suggest that in the first case it is the interaction between the majority and the minority that creates the situation of doubt, and the fact that the majority outweighs the minority allows us to reach our conclusion – similar to the decision made in the Sanhedrin. In the second case, however, we cannot say that the majority “beats” the minority, since they are not competing against each other, rather recognizing the majority acts as a tool to allow us to determine how to evaluate the situation before us.
Aharonim point out that although the Gemara appears to assume that the first type of majority is stronger than the second type, still there are aspects of the second type of majority that are stronger. When relying on the first type of majority, we do not actually conclude with certainty that the piece of meat is from the kosher store, rather “majority rules” is a legal means of ruling on a doubtful situation. On the other hand, the second type of majority actually offers us a means to determine with a high level of certitude that our conclusion is a correct one.