Admitting That Maybe I’m Wrong: A Supremely Jewish Value

A few weeks ago, I delivered a drasha expressing my unpopular position that whatever my political views are, I am probably more open than most people to the possibility that I might not own the truth.  I stated that we should each be more humble in  our assessment of where the truth lies, and we should consider the possibility that there might be some element of truth to the other position.  I asserted that God created man with an “ezer k’negdo,” with someone who can serve as his helper because she was opposite him by providing a different perspective.  I provided a number of examples demonstrating the importance of humility and openness about other assertions of truth, such as Beit Hillel’s practice of always prioritizing the statements of Beit Shammai to their own, in deference to Beit Shammai.  And I cited the beautiful quote by former Mayor Ed Koch, who once said, “If you agree with me on nine out of twelve issues, vote for me.  If you agree with me on twelve out of twelve issues, see a psychiatrist.”  We must temper our certainty with humility, and recognize that we do not own the truth.

Unsurprisingly, I received comments from some congregants who asserted that my remarks implied that I was endorsing a particular candidate, which they did not.  Other congregants told me that while they normally agree that we should be open to the other position, they felt that this instance is different.  Why was this different?  Some felt that there can be no legitimate argument for endorsing Vice President Biden.  After all, the democrats have demonstrated that they are increasingly anti-Israel and President Trump has done amazing things for Israel during his presidency.  According to others, there’s no legitimacy at all to endorsing President Trump.  After all, how can we vote for a serial liar who is a narcissist and has spent the last four years tearing this country apart?

Frankly, I have difficulty believing that there is no legitimacy to the other position, or that any one side has a monopoly on the truth.  There are so many intelligent Americans who don’t have a political agenda who disagree with you.  There are so many intelligent orthodox Jews who care deeply about the Jewish people and about Israel who disagree with you.  In all other areas we are open to their perspectives and we view them as intelligent people and yet in this instance we are not even open to the possibility that they may be correct?

And both sides can now claim “Da’at Torah.”  On the one hand, a group of leading Charedi Gedolim signed a letter demonstrating support for President Trump.  On the other hand, Rav Moshe Lichtenstein questioned President Trump’s mental and moral fitness.  Maybe there is a legitimate debate to be had about what should be the primary factors in determining whom to elect and maybe there is a legitimate debate as to how to interpret the facts with which we are presented in making such a determination.

Of course, the only articles that we share and those that we gravitate towards are the ones that confirm our already existing position.  Democrats post articles of a Republican who says that he won’t vote for Trump, and Republicans post articles of a Jewish Democrat who says that he did not vote for Trump in 2016 but will vote for him in 2020.  As if we think that we are being fair-minded and open-minded such that we can’t find even a single article that contains an argument that may support the other side.  And, of course, President Trump won the last debate… if you are a Republican.  And, of course, Vice-President Biden won the last debate… if you are a Democrat.

After recent events, I am convinced that we should be open to the other side, whatever that side is, not just because theologically we should be people who are open to different perspectives, but because there is a legitimate practical danger in being so closed to the other political perspective.   We’ve seen footage of some orthodox Jewish protesters engaging in violence in recent protests against government restrictions to close schools and limit attendance at shuls, and we’ve seen footage of fights during a Jews for Trump rally between Trump supporters and protesters.  It is not a far cry from delegitimizing another political perspective to delegitimizing the people themselves who hold those views, to violently attacking those with whom we disagree.

In this week’s parsha, Avraham Avinu had an opportunity of a lifetime when he defeated the four kings who had taken his nephew captive.  God promised Avraham a land and after the military victory, Avraham had the opportunity to do what any other leader at the time would have done.  He could have forced his religion upon the people of the land and a Jewish state could have been born.  We didn’t need to descend to Egypt and then return.  We could have created a Jewish state at this point!  Avraham had the opportunity to realize his dream, but that’s not the kind of person that Avraham was.  Avraham did not believe in religious coercion.  He didn’t believe in delegitimizing his opposition.  He believed in persuasion.  And the only way that you can persuade is to have a real dialogue.

For me, that’s the model.  Regardless of who wins the presidential election next week, it is my fervent hope that we don’t simply say it’s up to them to change, whether the “them” is President Trump or the “left-wing media.”  Perhaps we can model humility, dialogue and openness.  Perhaps we can try to persuade others to support our position through real dialogue, while simultaneously listening with an open mind to what they have to say.  In doing so, instead of demonizing the other side, we can actually be the catalyst to help repair the poisonous divide in our community.   And that is certainly a Jewish value.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.