9Adar Curriculum: What is Machloket l’Shem Shamayim?

Posted by Daniel Roth on September 8, 2015
Topics: 9Adar Curriculum, Jewish Models for Conflict Resolution, Middle School

The text in this lesson is the source of the term “Machloket l’Shem Shamayim” which can be loosely translated as “conflict for the sake of Heaven”.

Grades: 5-7 (45-60 mins)

Background: Often people have negative associations with conflict. Rabbinic Judaism, however, has always valued machloket, conflict. For example, the Talmud, the primary Rabbinic work of the first millennium, lists literally thousands of machlokot, conflicts or disagreements among the rabbis. The rabbis saw engaging in machloket as a critical part of uncovering truth. The key, however, is to engage in machloket in a constructive way—one that preserves the relationship.

Goals: Students will learn the term “machloket” and will understand that one can engage in machloket in a destructive way resulting in a damaged relationship. Or, one can engage in machloket in a constructive way, where the relationship is preserved.

Lesson Activities:

  • Introduction:
  • Text Study
  • Wrapping Up

Lesson Activities

Introduction: Constructive or Destructive

  • Ask students to think of the most recent conflict they were involved with or
    witnessed. The conflict could be with a friend, a teacher, a parent or someone
    else. If in a classroom, consider having students write who was involved in the
    conflict and briefly what the conflict was about.
  • Survey students on the following statements. Decide how students should
    respond—by raising a hand, standing up or moving to a particular part of the
    room, if they agree.

    • The conflict I wrote about was between two students, teenagers or
    • The conflict I wrote about was between an adult and a student.
    • The conflict I wrote about was between two adults.
    • At the end of engaging in the conflict, both sides were satisfied with the
    • At the end of engaging in the conflict, both sides were unhappy.
    • At the end of engaging in the conflict, one side was satisfied but the other
      was still unhappy.
    • In my opinion, conflict is generally a bad thing.
    • In my opinion, conflict can be a good thing.

Tell students that the Hebrew term for conflict is “machloket”. In this lesson,
they will see what the rabbis thought about machloket.

Text Study: Machloket L’Shem Shamayim

  • Our first text is a mishna from Mishna Avot which is often called Pirkei Avot or
    “Ethics of our Fathers”. As with all of Mishna, it was written in about the 3rd
    century CE in the Land of Israel. The second text is from the commentary of the
    “Bertinoro”, R. Ovadiah Bertinoro, a 16th century Italian commentator. Read the
    first text together. The mishna is somewhat unclear. Ask students to offer
    questions about the text. Typical questions might be: What does “l’shem
    Shamayim” mean? How can a conflict be l’shem Shamayim? What exactly will
    endure (or continue to exist) after the conflict ends?
  • The Bertinoro asks one of these questions: what exactly endures? Read the
    second text together. Ask students what the Bertinoro means by the people
    enduring. He may be referring to the fact that sometimes people engage in
    conflict in ways that are destructive to the relationship. In these cases, the
    conflict becomes so personal that it is no longer about the thing that was
    initially disagreed upon but rather it becomes about the people, and feelings get
    hurt. On the other hand, if done properly, as can be seen from the first text,
    conflict can be a catalyst for learning and growth. This is part of the meaning of
    a machloket being l’shem shamayim, or as it may be referred to in conflict
    resolution literature “constructive conflict.” In summary, almost any conflict
    can be defined as l’shem shamayim if one engages in it constructively.
  • Note to teacher: For further reading on machloket l’shem shamayim and its
    relationship to destructive and constructive conflict theory, see
    %20a4.pdfEngaging in Machloket L’Shem Shamayim
  • Have students consider the conflict they wrote about in the opening activity and
    decide whether it was constructive or destructive. If it was constructive, have
    them write a general rule that both sides followed to keep the conflict from
    becoming destructive. If the conflict was destructive, have students write a
    general rule that the two parties could have followed to keep the conflict as
    machloket l’shem shamayim. Allow students to share their rule with a partner
    or the whole group. Some examples of principles are:

    • Try to focus on the problem and not make generalizations about the
    • Try and understand the perspective of the other person.
    • Not to interrupt others when they are expressing an opinion, even if that
      is hard.
    • Think about what the other person is saying and be prepared to change
      your opinion.
    • Consider creating a bulletin board display with the students’ ideas of the
      definition of and how to engage in machloket l’shem shamayim. Title the board,
      “Tips from Grade X on How to Engage in Machloket L’Shem Shamayim” and place
      a large copy of the mishna text in the center of the bulletin board. Post the
      student ideas around the mishna.

Resource Activity 2.4a: What is ‘Machloket l’Shem Shamayim”?
Activity Student Text

משנה אבות ה:יז
כָּל מַ חֲ לֹֽ קֶ ת שֶׁ הִ יא לְ שֵׁ ם שָׁ מַֹֽ יִם, סוֹפָ הּ לְ הִ תְ קַ יֵּם.
וְ שֶׁ אֵ ינָהּ לְשֵׁ ם שָׁ מַֹֽ יִם, אֵ ין סוֹפָ הּ לְהִ תְ קַ יֵּם.

Mishna Avot 5:17
Every machloket (conflict) which is l’shem shamayim is destined
to endure.
And that which is not l’shem shamayim, is destined not to endure.

רבי עובדיה מברטנורא, אבות ה:יז
כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקיים – כלומר שאנשי
המחלוקת ההיא מתקיימים ואינם אובדין.

Bertinoro, Avot 5:17
[The mishnah says:] Every machloket (conflict) which is l’shem
shamayim (for the sake of Heaven), is destined to endure.”
This means that the people engaged in the conflict will endure,
and will not be lost.


Click here for the PDF.

About Daniel Roth

Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth is the Director Emeritus of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution and an adjunct faculty member. He taught at Pardes for over twenty years and is now the Director of Mosaica - The Religious Peace Initiative. He also teaches graduate courses on religion and peace building at Bar-Ilan University’s Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation Graduate Program, as well as at Tel Aviv University’s International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, and at Hebrew University’s Coexistence in the Middle East summer program. Roth initiated Pardes's Mahloket Matters: How to Disagree Constructively and the 9Adar Project: Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict, known in Israel as DiburHadash: The Israeli Week of Mediation and Dialogue. Roth is a regular lecturer of MEJDI (multi-narrative) Tours and National Geographic. He was a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. He holds a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University’s Conflict Resolution Program, MA in Talmud from Hebrew University, B.Ed in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Herzog Teachers’ College, and studied for eight years in Yeshivat Har-Etzion during which time he received rabbinic ordination. Click here to read more.

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