Forgiveness-Political Differences

When a Loved One’s Politics Feels Like a Betrayal

In civil engagement, Judaism offers a way forward.

My grandfather, who is almost 90, and I have held divergent political views for as long as I can remember. It was something we used to joke about. But now that I have kids, it no longer feels like a laughing matter. I worry that my kids’ futures are at stake, largely because of a political agenda that he supports. And that’s created a rift, albeit a small one, between us.

As the High Holidays approach, how can I let go of the hurt and betrayal I feel when I think about — or hear him talk about — his political views?

As harmful and painful your grandfather’s political positions may be for your children to hear and experience, the most important lesson you can give your children in this fractured era is the idea that civil, respectful debate is the greatest strength and asset we have as a community and as a country.

Jewish tradition has given the world a model of sincere individuals conducting heated debates leshem shamayim — for the sake of heaven. Moreover, our Talmud tells us that when debate is stifled, the entire community suffers a much greater loss, and the Torah itself loses out.

We are a people of “arguing with God” (one explanation for the name Israel), and our leaders from Abraham to the Woman from Shunam, have demonstrated that even a perfect God, or a righteous prophet (Elisha), must be open to respectful debate. So with the blessing of our Tradition, engage with your grandfather as machloket leshem shamayim — quarrel for the sake of heaven. The stakes are higher than ever; our differing opinions are more caustic than ever; and, therefore, open, civil debate is more important than ever.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin is the former president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school. He is the founder and spiritual leader of a new Modern Orthodox congregation in Detroit, Kehillat Etz Chayim, and is the founder of the new non-profit organization, The Detroit National Center for Civil Discourse.

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