Mediating in the First Century B.C.E.

Conflict is the central operating feature of the universe. A basic physics principle says that its building block, a photon of energy, has two discrete and simultaneous characteristics: the individual character of a point and a relational character as a wave. The stability of existence is based upon finding a healthy balance between individual integrity and relational interdependence. It is also very clear that the more extreme the conditions the more difficult it is to find that balance. (Life at the bottom of the sea).

Rabbis Shammai and Hillel represented these two perspectives on living a Jewish life. One demanded the primacy of individual Jewish ritualistic responsibilities and nationhood as the mandate for Jews. The other focused more on the importance of positive, healthy relationships along with observance as expressing G-d’s wishes for a Jew. Hillel and Shammai promoted these approaches under the extreme circumstances of political occupation. The failure to integrate Hillel’s approach proved catastrophic.

How would we as a mediator have facilitated a discussion between the two schools of thought? First, it requires Mindfulness of what we are feeling and thinking about the situation, the participants and their ideas. Any biases or predispositions must be acknowledged to determine if we would be able to act impartially so that they would consider us neutral.

The main objective of a mediation is to have the disputants make as a wise a decision as possible. Research discloses that the basic elements of wisdom are knowledge, thinking and emotions. We need to explore as much information as possible. To elicit knowledge you must act respectfully, listen carefully and make certain you understand everything that has been said. Clarifying questions add to the story and summarizing shows you listened and understood.

Discover what is most meaningful and valued to each party. Then reflect back the goals you have heard from each side. “You want Jews to be observant maintaining their identity and freedom.” “You want the Jewish nation to be at peace and autonomous.” A thoughtful analytical approach is required to creatively solve the problems.

Throughout, recognize the presence of emotions, their connection to that which is important to the parties and that they form a normal context within which conflict arises. Reflecting them to the parties deepens their sense of being understood and lowers the intensity.

The final question is whether all the circumstances and options elicited could result in a strategy in which Jewish identity would be secure while we reached an accommodation with Rome. It proved impossible to reconcile this in the first century B.C.E.

There are some interesting parallels today. It appears that this conflict continues on. Let us hope we can take some lessons from the past and recognize the value of promoting healthy relationships.

9AdarLOGOfullThis post is part of the 9 Adar project, an initiative of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, part of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.

Click for more 9 Adar posts about Constructive Conflict.

About the Author
Mark Kleiman, Esq. began his career as an attorney in Family Court for the Juvenile Rights Division of The Legal Aid Society. Recognizing the system as inadequate to deal with family issues, he founded and has been executive director of Community Mediation Services, Inc. in New York City since 1983. Since then he has developed court diversion programs across the city in the areas of juvenile justice, community and family mediation, education, child welfare, youth development and homelessness. Programs include: the Court-funded community mediation program for Queens, a Fatherhood Program, Homelessness Prevention Program, a Restorative Justice Program for Delinquents as well as the first New York City-wide Family Court Custody Mediation Program. Mark was a founding member of both the New York City and New York State divorce mediation councils, a former board member of the New York State Dispute Resolution Association (NYSDRA) and former board member of The National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM). As a founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders, he has established a partnership between CMS and Mosaica, the community mediation program in Jerusalem as part of MBB’s Israel Project. An Office of Court Administration certified trainer, he co-authored the court’s first custody/visitation mediation curriculum. He also co-wrote a conflict resolution curriculum for Americorps volunteers for NAFCM. Mr. Kleiman has created the Values-Centered Mediation model, an approach to mediation, and has trained over 750 mediators in this model. He is the 2011 winner of NYSDRA’s Lawrence Cooke award for Innovation in Mediation and the 2013 Association for Conflict Resolution’s John M. Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award.
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