Disputes, wars and everything in between

Torah and Jewish mentality see disagreement as the ideal state of things, precisely because Judaism isn’t a religion of dogma and conflict.

Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum ,

Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum
Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum
Yoni Kempinski

Constant disputes have been a part of the Jewish world throughout history.

The Jewish world is one of many different opinions. It’s the world of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. It’s a colorful world, filled with diverging worldviews. Torah study, too, is based on the never-ending dialectics between parent and child; rabbi and disciple. They cross swords and express their personal views as part of their Torah study: “Even a father and his son, or a rabbi and his student, who are engaged in Torah together … become each other’s enemies … But they do not leave there until they love each other…” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 30b).

Torah study turns into a dispute. It isn’t a meeting point of peace and harmony, but rather, a place where the differences between the sides are articulated. It is only at the conclusion of the study session, after the argument has become heated, with each side expressing what they feel in their hearts, that peace can be achieved – provided that the two sides listen to each other, and engage in dialog. At times, studying, the disputes that arise, the arguments and the rationales are even more important than the conclusions themselves.

It is notable that the Torah, and Jewish mentality, do not require accord. Instead, they consider disagreement to be the ideal state. The reason for this seems to be that Judaism is a religion of discussion and dispute, but it isn’t one of dogmas, wars and conflicts. Of all things, Judaism requires us to dispute precisely because it causes the truth – both personal truth and communal truth – to be revealed. The world benefits greatly from disputes that are developed. We believe in the culture of dispute in Judaism, in the ability to present different ways of thinking while respecting and empathizing with others and avoiding feuds, a principle echoed by the author of Aruch Hashulchan:

“To the contrary, this is the glory of our holy and pure Torah. For the entire Torah is called a song, and the song becomes glorious because of the different voices within it – and this is the basis of pleasantness” (Introduction to Aruch Hashulchan Choshen Misphat).

There are two ways to resolve disputes and conflicts – either by enforcing one’s authority, or by having a dialog and persuading the other side. Those who try resolving the problem forcefully are essentially not accepting the other side as having an opinion and a right to present their own view. Generally, the use of force does not solve problems, it just pushes off the resolution of the problem to a different time or place, and sometimes, it even perpetuates the problem. Those who try to work out the dispute through dialog and persuasion try to win over the heart of their opponent out of mutual respect. The only true way to resolve conflicts is by respecting other human beings and their opinions. We need not think alike, and it’s OK to disagree. We can disagree, of course, but we mustn’t end up feuding.

This is what Rabbi Kook writes, in his remarkable use of language: “There are those who err by thinking that world peace is unattainable unless everyone shares the same opinions and character traits. Afterwards, when they see Torah scholars analyzing and investigating the wisdom and knowledge in the Torah, and when the views and methods multiply during that process, they think that these scholars have caused dispute, which is the opposite of peace. But that is not the case, for true peace cannot come to the world without the value of the multiplicity of peace. The multiplicity of peace is when all of the sides and methods emerge, and when they work out how each position has a place and a role, each according to its value, subject and place. Only by gathering all of the pieces and details, and bringing all of the supposedly varying opinions together, as well as the opposing disciplines, will truth and justice come to light.” (“Torah scholars increase peace in the world”).

Each individual brings along his or her unique qualities, and that is the real meaning of the oneness of creation. It isn’t that all creatures blend together into a bland mush, but rather that we make up an ensemble containing a wide gamut of unique entities, each of them contributing to the whole and completing each other.

I find it regretful that there are nearly no true disputes in the Jewish world – just wars and conflicts. No mutual respect, no listening, no attempt to have a dialog for heaven’s sake, one that is fated to exist. Rabbi Aharon Milevsky, who was a disciple of Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski and Rabbi Kook, and who had, for years, served as the chief rabbi of Uruguay, made the following remark when addressing his community during his farewell party: “Small people create wars. Great people create disputes.”

May it be the will of Hashem that we renew the splendor of the past and renew the culture of dispute in Israel – and stop the wars.

Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum is Director of the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Training and Placement Programs at Ohr Torah Stone. Reposted from OTS for You.



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