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April 24, 2015  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Divisive issues too important for silence to prevail

By RABBI BETSY TOROP Cong Beth Shalom, Brandon

I worry about the State of Israel.

I worry daily – and sometimes hourly. I worry about children in the line of missiles and soldiers who risk their lives to protect them.

I worry about the physical, economic and emotional toll of living surrounded by enemies who seek our destruction.

I worry that the seemingly insoluble Palestinian problem erodes the Jewish, democratic values that are essential to the Israel’s future, and creates ever-present danger.

I worry about the power of those who deny full religious equality to women and various forms of Jewish expression.

I worry about the income inequality gap and about the treatment of immigrants. And the list goes on.

I also worry about us. By “us” I mean American Jews – those who passionately love Israel and share my concerns – and our increasing inability to talk about these concerns with civility and respect.

What does it mean that days before Pesach there are a slew of articles with titles like, “A Guide to the Passover Seder – Praise the Brisket and Don’t Mention Israel” (The Guardian) or “Three Points to Make when Fighting over Israel at the Passover Seder” (Haaretz) or “Divisive Issues May Have a Place on Many Seder Tables this Year” (The Washington Post)?

The fact that there are radically different viewpoints within the Jewish community isn’t exactly a newsflash. (After all, the idea of “two Jews, three opinions” came from somewhere!) Saducees and Pharisees, Chasidim and Mitnagdim – there have been divisions and differences amongst us for centuries. In today’s world, our differences when it comes to Israel seemingly break us into radically different camps – J Street and AIPAC, supporters of the US/Iran treaty and those who are virulently opposed, champions of the settlements and those who see them as an obstacle to peace.

These differences are not in and of themselves worrisome. What is of concern is our inability to listen – with respect and an open mind – to the views of the person who holds views diametrically opposed to our own.

Too many of us – on all parts of the political spectrum – act as if we know the truth. Too often conversations about Israel end up with shouting, labeling and accusations. We “pretend” to listen . . . but aren’t really open to having our opinion changed, or able to muster the humility needed to give space to another view. The end result is that some are afraid to voice opinions at all and “discussions” end up with some walking away feeling belittled and ridiculed. This does not benefit, and may actually harm the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Rabbis of long ago can perhaps show us the way. The Talmud (Yevamot 14b) tells of two different rabbinic schools of interpretation. (Despite areas of disagreement) Beit Shammai did not, nevertheless, abstain from marrying women from the families of Beit Hillel, nor did Beit Hillel refrain from marrying those of Beit Shammai. This is to teach you that they showed love and friendship towards one another, thus putting into practice the Scriptural text, “Love truth and peace (Zechariah 8:19).” The issues confronting Israel are too important not to discuss. No one view – left, right or center – has the luxury of certainty about the future. But at the end of the day, we must remain one family, and treat each other with love and friendship. If we can do that, than perhaps there will be one less thing to worry over.

Rabinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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