Some Implications of Elu v'Elu
Working With Different Types of People
Argue Like A Jew: The School of Hillel
Argue Like A Jew: How Not to Argue
What kind of diversity does this blessing focus on?
Why do you think we have a blessing for diversity?
What resonates with you in this description of the way that the Hillel argued?
How can you apply these practices in your own life?
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Jewish Living, New York: Random House, 2000, pp. 186-7:
Significantly, the heavenly voice ruled in favor of Hillel and his disciples, even in areas of ritual dispute, for moral reasons: he and his followers were “kindly and humble.”
The wording of the passage suggests that Shammai’s followers had grown somewhat arrogant. Certain that they possessed the truth, they no longer bothered to listen to, or discuss the arguments of, their opponents. Their overbearing self-confidence led them to become morally less impressive (the language of the Talmud suggests by implication that they were not “kindly and humble”) and probably led them to become intellectually less insightful (after all, how insightful can you be if you are studying only one side of the issue?)
Because the School of Hillel studied their opponent’s arguments, when they issued a ruling, they were fully cognizant of all the arguments to be offered against their own position. Thus, their humility not only led to their being more pleasant people, but also likely caused them to have greater intellectual depth.
We can all learn a lesson from the behavior of Hillel and his followers: Don’t read only books and publications that agree with and reinforce your point of view. If you do so, and many people do, you will never learn what those who disagree with you believe (at best, you will hear a caricature of their position, presented by people who, like you, disagree with it). It would be a good thing in Jewish life if Jews in the different denominations, or in different political camps, started reading newspapers and magazines of the groups with which they disagree, on a regular basis.
If you seldom hear, read, or listen to views that oppose your own, and if almost everyone you talk to sees the world just as your do, your thinking will grow flabby and intolerant. That is often the case with ideologues on the right and left, both in religion and in politics.
As this text teaches us, humble people are not only more pleasant human beings, but in the final analysis, they may well be the only ones who will have something eternally important to teach.
The blessing in this Midrashic source gives voice to the profound realization that there are as many different perspectives on the world as there are different people in it. For Moses, this presents a challenge for leadership; a capable leader needs to somehow speak to these many difference perspectives. How do you think one can lead or make connections with others in a way that reflects and respects the many differences between people?
From Freedom of Expression and Protection of Minority Rights in Jewish Law by Prof. Menachem Elon http://cms.education.gov.il/EducationCMS/Units/Owl/English/Pedagogic/Jewish/
“Just as people’s faces are not the same, so their opinions are not the same; everyone has their own opinion … At the hour of his death, Moses asked the Holy One Blessed Be He: Sovereign of the Universe, each person’s opinion is open and known to you, and everyone has different opinions. When I leave them, please appoint them a leader who will accept each person’s opinion”.
This represents the Jewish doctrine of leadership and governance – for people to tolerate one another, and for all groups to tolerate the opinions and views of the next group. The big secret regarding to tolerance and listening to other people and the great strength inherent to the right of individuals and of communities to express opinions is it not just that they are crucial for sound and enlightened government, but that they are vital to its creative force.
As a follow-up to the previous source, consider this paragraph about the foundations of the legal system in Israel today. In this passage, the prominent jurist Professor Elon argues that the story about Moses helps support the idea that protecting people's ability to express their views is foundational to a "sound and enlightened government." Have you experienced a time when you had to listen to other people with whom you disagreed? Does this idea about the need for tolerance and expression resonate with you?
Another take on the leadership of Moses, this time from the Talmud, tells of Moses' confusion and sense of alienation when he realized that generations later, a Jewish leader would explain the Torah in a way that was completely foreign to him. However, when Rabbi Akiva claims the revelation to Moses at Sinai as the source for his idea, he is reassured. Though the view is not his own, knowing that there is a shared starting point and belief makes him feel included. What elements make you feel comfortable engaging in a conversation with people whose beliefs differ from your own? When do you feel that you can share, and when do you hold back?
In the time period described in the Mishnah, Jewish law was decided by majority rule. Nonetheless, it is important to preserve the voice of the minority opinion; it may ultimately sway the court. This insistence on recording multiple minority opinions characterizes many of the core books of the Jewish tradition, and speaks to the openness to dialogue and respect for multiple positions. Have you had the experience of expressing a minority position? What do you see as the value of giving weight to multiple perspectives?
המקום בו אנו צודקים (יהודה עמיחי)
The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
Yehuda Amichai, the famous Israeli poet, beautifully describes the potential for growth that can exist only when we are willing to move away from "the place where we are right." Being open to hearing the other side might mean relaxing our determination to insist on being correct, even if only temporarily. What experiences or images does this poem evoke for you?
Talk It Out
- Why does Rabbi Yochanan recruit Reish Lakish and become his learning partner in the beginning of the story? Doesn't he have plenty of other candidates who are Torah scholars - why does he choose a bandit?
- It seems that Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish were successful learning partners for many years. What finally breaks their relationship?
- What was so awful for Rabbi Yochanan about learning with Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat?