It is election day in Israel, and an opportunity to tell the beautiful and moving story of Achnai’s oven.
Towards the end of the first century, a few decades after the big Jewish rebellion against the Romans, the sages of the “Sanhedrin” (The highest court in Jewish law) had to determine whether a certain oven “the oven of Achnai” is appropriate to use according to the Jewish law.
With the exception of one sage, Rabbi Eliezer, all sages declared that the oven can become ‘impure’ and therefire it is not appropriate for use.
Rabbi Eliezer who was convinced that his position was right declared: “If the rule is as I say [That Achnai’s oven is in fact pure], then let this carob tree prove it!” Then the carob tree flew out of the ground and landed thirty yards away.
The sages were not impressed: “One does not bring evidence from the carob tree!”
Rabbi Eliezer continued: “If the rule is as I say, then let the stream of water prove it.” And the stream of water flowed backwards.
“One does not bring evidence from a stream of water,” replied the other sages.
“If the rule is as I say then let the walls of this house prove it!” continued Rabbi Eliezer, and the walls began to fall inward. Rabbi Yehoshua, Eliezer’s main opponent, censored the walls for their interference and they did not fall but neither did they return to their previous position.
“If the law is as I say then let it be proved by Heaven,” continued Rabbi Eliezer and indeed a voice from Heaven came and asserted that Rabbi Eliezer was right! Rabbi Yehoshua stood up and said (quoting Deuteronomy 30:12) “It is not in Heaven, ” (לא בשמיים היא) and a later sage explained further (quoting Exodus 23:2): “it is for the majority to decide!” (כי אחרי רבים להטות). And so it was.