Forty Arguments for the Sake of Heaven

Why the Most Vital Controversies in Jewish Intellectual History Still Matter

by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz


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About this book

Two Jews, three arguments – as the saying goes. But what kinds of topics have Jews disagreed about historically, in the present day, and potentially also in the future? Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz surveys forty major controversies in Jewish culture, and presents how opposing sides have each laid out their arguments in good faith. 

Disagreements happen between people: Hillel vs. Shammai, Ayn Rand vs. Karl Marx, Tamar Ross vs. Judith Plaskow… but also Abraham vs. God, and God vs. the angels! Movements debate each other: Reform versus Orthodoxy, one- two- and zero-state solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gun rights versus gun control in the United States. 

The book doesn’t shy away from the fundamental questions of existence either. Is life about struggle or about peace? Should we focus on love based on emotions or love based on deeds? What is better: seeking absolute truth, or building compromise? Ultimately, what is the meaning of life?

Rabbi Yanklowitz presents difficult and often heated disagreements with fairness and empathy, helping us consider our own truths in a pluralistic Jewish landscape.

Table of Contents


On Truth 

  1. Hillel vs. Shammai: Arguments for the Sake of Heaven
  2. Absolute Truth vs. Compromise: Which is the true good?
  3. Trust vs. Questioning 

On God, Torah, & the Cosmos

  1. Rambam vs. Ra’avad: Is God some thing or no thing? 
  2. Abraham vs. God: Is God present and active?
  3. The Gra vs. the Besht: Mysticism of the Mind vs. Mysticism of the Heart
  4. Divine Torah vs. Biblical Criticism 
  5. Heaven vs. Earth 
  6. Rationalist-Monotheism vs. Mystic-Monotheism: On the Unity of God 
  7. The Mussar Movement vs. the Hasidic Movement

Moral Philosophy 

  1. Einstein, Freud, & Marx vs. The Sages: Are we Free to Shape the World?
  2. Ayn Rand vs. Karl Marx: On Wealth & Virtue 
  3. The Angels vs. God: Should humans have been created? 
  4. Past vs. Future? 
  5. A Purpose to Life vs. No Meaning to Life?
  6. Prioritizing the Poor vs. Equity Toward all Parties 
  7. Judging Others Favorably vs. Judging for Justice


  1. Yitz Greenberg vs. Meir Kahane: On Sovereignty and contemporary Jewish Political Power
  2. What is the Center? Israel vs. the Diaspora!
  3. No State, One State, or Two States: Herzl vs. Wise, Art Green vs. Peter Beinart

Contemporary Moral Issues

  1. Local vs. Global, Particular vs. Universal 
  2. Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life? 
  3. Gun Rights vs. Gun Control
  4. Capital Punishment vs. Abolishing the Death Penalty
  5. Care for the Vulnerable vs. Education: What does every community need?

Jewish Daily Life & Community 

  1. What’s the Purpose of the Mitzvot? Obedience vs. Meaning 
  2. Reform Judaism vs. Orthodox Judaism
  3. A Life of Study vs. A Life of Action: Which is Greater? 
  4. Tamar Ross vs. Judith Plaskow: Paradigm-Shifting Feminism vs. Traditional Feminism
  5. Auschwitz vs. Sinai: Which is the More Central Jewish Narrative Today?

On the Self 

  1. Love: Emotion vs. Deed, Emotion-based Love vs. Deed-based Love 
  2. Body vs. Soul
  3. Zealousness vs. Tolerance
  4. Calm vs. Tension: Is Life about Struggle or Peace?
  5. Humor vs. Seriousness

The State & Authority 

  1. Hobbes vs. Anarchists: A King vs. No King 
  2. Halacha vs. State: What is the vehicle for Progress
  3. The Individual vs. the Collective: Which Should We Value?  
  4. Hierarchy vs. Populism: Moshe vs. Korach 
  5. Spinoza vs. the Rabbis of Amsterdam: Allowing Heresy or Preserving Communal Boundaries