In the early eighties, I was asked to debate a journalist on the subject of Israel’s rights to Judea and Samaria. I took the position that Israel has every reason to maintain these territories, while the other gentleman felt the reverse. After the debate, a mutual friend asked each of us separately how we thought the debate went. My reply was, “He’s a nice guy, but his views are dangerous.” When my debating partner was asked the same question, he gave the identical response, “He’s a nice guy, but his views are dangerous!”

Now that many years have passed, I realize that so much is lost when people are unable or unwilling to express their views in a dignified, respectful manner. Nobody likes “hotheads” except other hotheads who share their views. If someone wishes to convince the other person of the validity of his position, he will inevitably fail if it is given over with name calling, screaming , and ranting and raving. The recipient of such expressions will probably feel that he’s not dealing with a rational person on the other side. All credibility will be lost even though he may have otherwise made some very valid points.

Judaism is filled with teachings that emphasize the power of words and how to use them. Great rabbis of medieval times such as Maimonides and Nachmonides, speak of “DIBUR B’NACHAT”, or speaking in a gentle calm voice as the key to mastering not only acceptance by one’s peers, but also as the device to conquer such negative personality traits as anger and arrogance. Over and over again, we are taught that the wise man is the one who chooses his words carefully and values silence in place of speaking foolishly.

A simple lesson in interpersonal relationships is the need for communication. In every relationship, we need to learn how to be good listeners as well as learning when giving our opinion will be beneficial. In marriage we are taught that a happy marriage is one where there is good communication. But we are also taught that there is a time for such communication. If either spouse is upset with the other, communication must wait until both spouses are calm and relaxed and ready to work things out.

In Israel, there is a horrible lack of communication between the religious and the secular, the right and the left, and even within religious circles, between the national religious and the ultra-Orthodox. When the lines of communication are down, people make assumptions about the other side that are usually negative. This is quite a tragedy when we are one nation fighting the same enemy with the same struggle for survival.

If there isn’t a real effort to learn how to relate to one another in a respectful manner, we will not be able to create understanding and acceptance. The hotheads of the various groups should be the first to realize that they don’t have a chance at having their positions understood, unless they learn to change their approach. The rest of us must never forget we are a small Jewish nation in the face of some very hostile enemies wishing to destroy us. We are really one family that needs to get along. There is incredible power in Jewish unity.

Upon reflection of that debate that took place long ago, both sides were the winners. Even though we strongly disagreed with one another, we parted as friends. After all, we Jews are family!

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.