My rabbi’s Rosh Hashanah sermon this year concerned the important topic of healing the widening rifts in the Jewish community, which have broken out especially over the nuclear weapons deal with Iran. The problem he was talking about is not so much that there is disagreement about the advisability of this deal. Considering how troublesome and untrustworthy an adversary Iran has been, one would expect strong disagreements among supporters of Israel about how we should deal with that adversary.
Such disagreements wouldn’t be a particularly new thing among members of the Jewish community. As the rabbi pointed out, ferocious conflicts among factions of the Jewish community have existed from the time Joseph fought with his brothers, and on and on through the ages. The resolution and the continuation of these conflicts have defined and often strengthened the Jewish people. Quoting from the scholar Yehudah Bauer, “quarrels and disputes are the engine that drives [our] culture forward, backward or sideways. That is its elixir of life.” Or as the Rabbi said: “Add to the mix the fact that we Jews are by nature and nurture an edgy, argumentative, opinionated, critical, and self-critical lot, and the result is conflict.”
The danger does not lie in these endless disagreements; it lies with elements on each side of the debate who question the motives of those with whom they disagree. It lies with those who resort to violence instead of debate. And it lies with those who seek to drive conflicting voices out of the community.
We don’t have to agree all the time to preserve the unity of the community. We do have to treat those with whom we disagree as members of the same team, and recognize that all elements of this large, unruly Jewish community share common interests. Otherwise, we are in danger of losing the things that have defined and preserved the community in the first place.