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Our disputes must be ‘for the sake of heaven’

By changing Israel-related discourse from polarizing to unifying, we are bringing a new way to engage with Israel.

Rabbi Daniel Gordis says he finds it impossible to understand why Rabbi Sharon Brous writes that he “brought the discourse on Israel to a new low.” In the latest episode in this Star-Trek-long saga of correspondence, he lists examples of many disputes; one of them is that of Korach and company and Moses. Here is what Pirkei Avot has to say about Korach:

Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure; one that is not for the sake of Heaven is not destined to endure. Which is a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven? The dispute(s) between Hillel and Shamai. Which is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company.

Why is Gordis comparing his dispute with Rabbi Brous to one the sages condemn? Could it be that Gordis wants to eliminate her voice and govern the boundaries of the conversation about Israel? Is he sending her ideas to be swallowed up by the earth, like Korach in the Book of Numbers?

I don’t think these were Gordis’s intentions. He has proven many times that he believes that arguments are at the core of the Jewish tradition. But, with the ethos he carries, he ought to be more careful before he calls one a traitor or labels her philosophy treason.

Rabbi Gordis is right when he says that in our history “the most critical issues have often been debated fiercely, and in public.” But these issues were, and can be debated, for the sake of heaven.” Micha Yosef Berdichevsky said, “My existence is made of contradictions.” Inner tension and dispute can be empowering and everlasting. If it is for the sake of Heaven – it is destined to endure. Without going into a lengthy rant about the importance of pluralism, I want to remind us that Israel was established by the mutual effort of people with extremely different views.

Take my family for example: In the 1940’s my late grandfather traveled to the U.S. to raise money for the Irgun from entrepreneurs like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Yet, hanging in his dining room was a photograph of him with the Irgun’s sworn enemy, David Ben Gurion. In my three years and eight months of military service as a combat soldier in the IDF Special Forces, I trained and fought shoulder to shoulder with people who identify themselves as liberal, progressive, conservative, nationalist and even vegan.

Personally, I partly agree with Gordis. At certain times we make our community the priority. When my mother in Jerusalem answers the phone calling me to back to military service for Pillar of Defense, or when my army buddies are training to be sent to Gaza, I first think of the people I care about. Even so, I do not find Rabbi Brous’s comments offensive. I might argue with her, but I would never throw her out of our tent.

Quite the opposite. What really troubles me and my friends is how to strengthen the foundations that hold the canvas of our tent. When I first arrived at Brandeis University last year I found a rather divided campus regarding Israel related issues.

At Brandeis the ground is rapidly changing. A grassroots movement that started on our campus with the clear mission of changing Israel-related discourse from polarizing to unifying is now bringing a new way to engage with Israel. How? By reclaiming one of the most fundamental aspects of Zionism: vision.

When we, students of various backgrounds and ideas, discuss visions for Israel’s future – instead of treating the country as a courtroom suspect who is either good or bad – we are able to work together. This is happening through bVIEW events (Brandeis Vision for Israel in Evolving World) all throughout this semester and will climax in a student-led Boston-wide conference this January.

Unlike many of the conversations we have read or witnessed over the past few weeks, bVIEW is creating productive conversations that are for the sake of heaven.

It is difficult for me to fathom exactly why we need another dispute that is not of the sake of heaven right now. Rabbi Gordis believes that “our most sacred responsibility in life is to strive to leave the Jewish people in a better place than it was when we were born.” For me the first step in this endeavor is to shift the discourse, and our political culture, to a Beit Midrash – a house of study – that is more like Hillel and Shammai. One that is destined to endure.

Here is “Heartache – A Message from Rabbi Brous,” that was posted at IKAR

For the original post by Daniel Gordis, click here.

For the rebuttal from Sharon Brous, click here.

For a response by David N. Myers, click here.

For a response by Adam Bronfman, click here.

For a response by Ed Feinstein, click here.

For a response by Gil Troy, click here.

For the rejoinder by Daniel Gordis, click here.

Sivan Zakai argues that debates like this have harmed Jewish education in the US – click here.

About the Author
Natan is a novelist and an MA student at Hebrew University