A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine — another rabbi, who is a friend of my current havruta [Jewish study partner] — was sitting with us at lunch, and astonishedly mused, “How is it possible that you two have been havrutas for over a decade?”
He shook his head at us, since he considers me the leftist of lefties, and considers my havruta, as he often says, “to the right of Attila the Hun!”
I just laughed at him.
He suggested that we must not talk politics. But, no, we often talk politics — and rarely agree. Moreover, what we believe about Jewish texts and their purpose in our lives and how we relate to them — we pretty much completely disagree on that, too. We don’t agree on politics and we don’t agree on religion, and we talk about them all the time.
So… How have we managed to not only study together, but teach together, for years?
We don’t make any bones about disagreeing with one another. Possibly, we will never agree with one another about either religion or politics. But you know, I could, after all these years, probably tell you his arguments on all of these things. And, as a matter of fact, when one or the other of us has to be away during a teaching session, whoever is there might preface a statement with, “Well, you know OtherRabbiPerson wouldn’t agree, but…”
And in fact, we (and — uh — our regular students, who were the ones who started calling it that) sometimes refer to our class as “the dog and pony show,” because we often get into arguments in class. Actually, we pretty much argue every week in class. It’s become part of the class.
And yet, we walk out of there, still havruta, still willing to engage each other and study together, and have pretty much most holiday meals together.
It’s not because I don’t believe that what we’re talking about is important — in fact, most of the time we argue about things we both care about deeply. But being able to go at it hammer and tongs with the assumption that neither of us will change our minds allows both a certain level of honesty and the possibility of kindness in disagreement that, ultimately, even though neither of us have come to agree with one another, we have, over the years, influenced one another.