I am in Israel this week, as of today (Thursday) safely ensconced with my colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute. But I spent the first part of the week with seven of my rabbinic colleagues from Brownstone Brooklyn, and five Jewish professionals as well. We came on a mission with UJA-Federation to explore issues of pluralism here, but also to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a number of different vantage points. The rabbis among us took turns offering brief teachings relevant to our discussions. This is the teaching I offered this morning. It is the locus classicus, if you will, in Talmudic teaching, regarding not only the validity of different opinions, but our obligation to HONOR them as well.
Rabbi Abba said in the name of Shmuel: For three years there was a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, the one school asserting, “The Halakha (law) is according to our views!” The other school asserting, “The Halakha is according to our views!” Then the Bat Kol (Divine Voice) came forth and said: “Eilu v’Eilu divrei Elohim Chayim – These and these are the words of the Living God, and the Halakha is according to Beit Hillel.”
Since both are the words of the Living God, what entitled Beit Hillel to have the Halakha fixed according to their rulings? Because they were kind and humble, and they taught both their own rulings and those of Beit Shammai. And even more, they taught the rulings of Beit Shammai before their own.
Developing the ability to tolerate, and yes, even honor divergent perspectives is a lifelong process for all of us. I do believe that in many situations, there comes a point at which we absolutely must articulate our position and stand by it. Remember that ultimately the community did accept the rulings of the School of Hillel. Nevertheless, the process of deliberative and open discussion, and acknowledgement of the validity of other opinions, became part and parcel of Jewish tradition. Perhaps the point of greatest agreement on our mission this week has been our willingness to respectfully disagree. It has brought us closer as colleagues and as friends.