Disputes that Unite

A lesson from the Talmud for today's Jewish community.

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All of which demands that we evaluate contemporary Jewish disputes with considerable sobriety. I have argued that the rabbis could tolerate and respect dispute because of their common sense of history, purpose, and fate, and because of the lives they shared. If we are honest, it will be difficult to claim that the same can be said of large segments of the Jewish community today. Our size and diversity make it difficult for us to share our Jewish experiences in any immediate sense. The size of the world we live in allows us to live separated lives--Israelis from American Jews, Orthodox from liberal Jews, dati (religiously observant) Jerusalemites from secular residents of Tel Aviv. With different experiences, we will interpret our covenantal commitments differently (or not at all), we will develop different opinions regarding the purpose of Jewish existence and the fate of Jews and Judaism in the next century.

Leap Of Commitment

Our only hope is a "leap of commitment." Given the diversity of the contemporary Jewish community, we must commit to one another not merely because it is pragmaticallv necessary, but as an act of faith. The problem with the purely pragmatic approach is that, though many of us would agree that we need the cooperation and support of Jews unlike ourselves, selected Jewish groups might conclude that they can survive without other Jews: Haredi without secular, Israeli without American. Pragmatism is a cold, uncaring calculation. But if we believe that we are all children of Abraham and Sarah, all receivers of the Torah of Moses, all fellow survivors of the massacres of Hadrian and Hitler, then we will be less quick to dismiss others who interpret their covenantal commitment differently. Of course, belief is not enough. If we do not act with covenantal commitment, we should be dismissed by those who have taken up the yoke of the covenant. But if we act on this faith, struggling seriously with the responsibilities of Jewishness, we will be compelled to respect our differences. We will disagree, but as covenantal partners.

I am aware that this is an idealistic vision, a dream that many will dismiss as beyond reach. It is for this reason that I offer it with sober hesitation. Still, the "realistic" alternative is too awful to speak.

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Dr. David Kraemer

Dr. David Kraemer is Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is a Senior CLAL Associate at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.