BIRKAT KOHANIM at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Compromise is one of the most vital components of any enlightened community. Allowing for the views of others – in a genuine attempt to be inclusive rather than exclusive – allows for growth, coexistence and harmony between diverse segments of society. Indeed, rabbinic judges are bidden to seek compromise whenever two litigants approach them in a dispute, so that both sides can emerge with some amount of satisfaction and respect
This virtue is particularly important today, on the eve of the Ninth of Av. For Tisha Be’av – the most tragic day on our calendar, known as the Black Fast, as opposed to Yom Kippur, the White Fast – was characterized by a profound lack of unity among Jews. Whether it was acts of violence, as in the First Temple’s destruction, or “baseless hatred,” which led to the fall of the Second Temple, we clearly exhibited an intra-Jewish animosity that proved to be our undoing. The Babylonians and the Romans may have been the actual executioners, but it was we ourselves who were the engine that powered our own destruction.
And yet, having said that, we must be careful not to raise compromise to the status of a demigod that must be worshiped at all times and in all places. For while compromise can indeed be the cement that holds a nation together, compromising one’s essential beliefs and values can strip that very nation of its power and purpose, creating not communal consensus but uncontrolled chaos.
TWO ISSUES currently on the front burner highlight this dilemma.
Recently, Culture Minister Miri Regev resigned as chairwoman of a ministerial committee for the holy places, following her refusal to approve upgrades to the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. Though this contradicted her previous position on the issue, she now says “her conscience does not give her quiet” over men and women praying together at the Kotel. While she acknowledges that every person is permitted to visit the site and offer his or her personal prayer to the Creator of the world, one should “respect the site and the heritage of Israel.” She added, “We have returned to the holiest of our places not in order to disgrace it.”
Needless to say, Regev was lambasted by all the princes of pluralism. But this is the price one pays today for taking any partisan stand, even one based on principle. Is she – or anyone who feels strongly that the Kotel’s traditional status quo should be maintained, and that it not be turned into a political playing field – the villain in the story? Did the Women of the Wall not know full well, in advance, that their provocative act, garbed in “sacred cloth” as it was, would cause deep divisiveness and mar the tranquility of this unique, holy place?
Just how accommodating must we in Israel be to the needs or demands of Diaspora Jews, the overwhelming majority of whom will not live here, and who are currently presiding over a soaring, suicidal intermarriage rate in their own house? When push comes to shove and ideologies clash, must we be the ones to bend, or they? In short, is pluralism really worth the price we are asked to pay for it?
And then there is the great kashrut controversy. The Tzohar rabbinical organization is currently battling in the courts to break the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kosher supervision. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing; competition generally leads to lower prices and higher quality and efficiency. But what are the ramifications of a Tzohar “victory”? Once the rabbinate – charged since the creation of the state with maintaining a distinctly Jewish character in certain key areas, such as life-cycle events, kashrut and holiday observance – is stripped of its status, what might follow? Reform and Conservative – even Humanist Judaism – supervision of food establishments? Multiple levels of kashrut in the army, or in government institutions? While the rabbinate certainly needs to improve its standards and competence, it now provides an acceptable baseline of kashrut for the average consumer. Will that uniformity be lost in the shuffle of countless alternative new symbols?
In discussing the Temple’s demise, the Talmud (Shabbat 119b) lists multiple reasons for the tragedy. These include the failure to provide primary Jewish education, rampant Shabbat desecration, and the lack of shame between fellow Jews. But another opinion, that of Rabbi Yitzhak, holds that Jerusalem was destroyed because “the small and the great were equated together.” This cryptic phrase implies that not everything in life is equal. Some people, in their respective fields – such as the military or medicine or Torah scholarship – are simply more advanced or qualified than others. Some causes, such as health, security or education, outweigh other societal needs. And some crusades, high-minded and sweet-smelling as they may appear to be, may bring more harm than healing to the public welfare.
Unity does not mean unanimity of thought or deed. Unity means we connect to our fellow Jews and citizens in common cause, and care for their needs and well-being no less than our own. But my individuality is not compromised; my passionate position on any given issue is my right to hold, even when it contradicts your own viewpoint, even when it goes against the grain of political correctness. I may be wrong, but that, too, is my right.
They say that contemporary society is tolerant of everything – except intolerance. But the ability to accept that as well – as hard a thing as it may be to swallow – is something we need to ingest on this most somber of fasts, if we hope to ever find redemption.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org
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