There is an apocryphal story about Yeshiva University’s unsuccessful attempt to start a crew team. It seems the coach had trouble convincing the rowers they needed eight rowers and only one coxswain telling everyone else what to do.
We Jews come from a long line of dissenters. It started with Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of Knowledge. It continued with Abraham, who convinced the Almighty to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if there were ten righteous among the inhabitants. Abraham won the argument, but alas…there weren’t ten decent souls to be found!
Moses had a particularly contentious relationship with God, who quickly became impatient with his “Chosen People” soon after he brought them out of Egypt. They kvetched about the food and complained bitterly about their 40-year journey in the desert. More than once Moses had to persuade God not to let the Israelites die in the wilderness.
Even the Talmud, the compendium of Jewish law compiled almost 2,000 years ago, is a record of ancient rabbis’ arguments about the correct way to practice our faith. Most Talmudic scholars agree that the wisdom of the Talmud is found in the stream of discussion leading up to the resolution. The debates sharpened the rabbis’ minds as they were forced to think with clarity and precision.
Jews are not afraid to argue; it is part of our cultural DNA and that’s a good thing.
So I was shocked when I read that J Street, a left-leaning organization that describes itself as pro-Israel/pro-peace, was not given a seat at the table of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. The conference, which is composed of 50 American Jewish organizations, was created a half century ago to effectively articulate to the administration the concerns of the American Jewish community, particularly regarding Israel.
J Street is a bit too far to the left for me, but they are supported by an increasing number of younger American Jews who have become impatient with the slow pace of Israel’s negotiations with its
Palestinian neighbors. The issue is not whether one agrees with J Street’s positions. Many American Jews are also uncomfortable with some right-wing Zionist organizations. The question is whether the Conference, which claims to represent American Jews, can abide dissent within its ranks.
American Jews are a diverse and opinionated group. We discuss, we disagree, and we often argue…that’s what Jews do! Having strong opinions is a reflection of our passion and commitment; it means we care about Israel and the future of the Jewish people.
The opposite of discord is not harmony, it is disengagement and alienation. And that is a far greater threat to the well-being of our Jewish community.
Rabbi Robert Goldstein