Two Jews in a Room

"Consensus" by Audrey N. Glickman.  Used with permission.
"Consensus" by Audrey N. Glickman. Used with permission.

You have likely heard it before:  Put two Jews in a room and you get three opinions.

In this divided, polarized world, the realization (by both Jews and non-Jews) of that quip would definitely be a positive, it is exactly what we need:  the ability to hold more than one opinion.  We’d better propagate this approach before it’s too late.

So many of us now are polarized.  “I’m right, you are wrong.”  “Shut up and die.”  “My candidate is better than yours.”  “My religion is the only one God accepts.”  “Your kind are not welcome here.”  “My way or the highway.”  “Everything revolves around my pet issue, and nothing else.”

Who benefits when we are divided and fighting about anything and everything – guns, abortion, gay rights, birth control, climate change, hate, prejudice, and so many more artificially diametrically bifurcated issues?  The only folks who benefit are those who have a financial or a power interest in one side or the other or, worse, an interest in us being otherwise occupied fighting while they are gaining their money and power somewhere else.

When the right goes so far right and the left goes so far left that they both look the same, we have a huge problem.  We are there now.  No one “side” is “right” or “wrong.”  We must start looking for either the middle ground or a different solution to all of this, now.  We need to offer ourselves a third opinion, and a fourth and a fifth.

In some cases, the different solution would be to remove these matters from political discourse entirely.

We could, for instance, leave science to scientists and medical practice to medical providers.  That would remove from the political table the extreme arguments about vaccines, abortions, definitions of genders, and other items that don’t belong in federal, state, local, or even family politics.  We could permit folks to pursue life and happiness as they see fit as long as it violates no egregious precept (no murder or treason, kidnapping or rape, or horrid malfeasance in general).  We can offer freedom as long as it is no skin off anyone else’s nose, as long as no one else is made vulnerable.

If religious organizations wish to opine, they may do so in the public forum, must be considerate of others’ opinions – religious or not – and may not push for legislation or court cases or other governmental actions that affirm and enact their own religious beliefs, as we do not have a theocracy and we do not all agree on these matters.

None of us is more correct, none of us is more religious, more moral, nor even more “observant” (a term I detest) than the other.  And morality has no place in civil government; it is the province of ethics.

In other cases we do need at least some guidance and leadership by government, as advised by the appropriate experts.  For example, in discussing whether to continue to dig fossil fuels of various sorts from the ground (much less whether to subsidize it) when scientists are telling us the digging is killing the planet, we should not permit those profiting from fossil fuels to drive the discussion.  We really are smarter than that: in our heart of hearts we know that we can entrust devising net-zero energy solutions to engineers and scientists, and find a way to follow their lead.

Had we gotten Americans together in favor of COVID vaccines at the very beginning of the pandemic, rather than the hopeless division “for” and “against” vaccinations, imagine how many lives could have been saved.  Rather than a uniting President, we had a dividing President at that critical time.  “Inject Lysol or bleach into your veins” is not a Presidential leadership stance, and seeing how that sentiment helped to polarize us further shows us how far we have fallen.

In yet other ways, the laws themselves are the problem.  Again as Jews who have been reading and rereading, interpreting and reinterpreting  our own laws for centuries, we ought to be able to provide some context.

One might, for instance, realize that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written with an overabundance of commas, as was the Third Amendment, and was likely meant to state that citizens had to keep arms in case they were called up to war.  Back in those days, we brought our own guns to the battle.  The word “Militia” is capitalized, denoting at least to me that they were referring to the official military organization of the country.  (Again, I give deference to those who feel the authors might have capitalized many nouns in those days, and this was just one of them.  Nevertheless, since I don’t like being viewed as an enemy and being shot at with an automatic weapon, I prefer to take the broader view.  One Jew, two opinions.)

After the attack on the Capitol by a form of organized militia on January 6, 2021, who were led to believe there was due cause for military action, we all should be thinking many times before saying that anyone and everyone should have free access to the mass-killing weapon of our desire, without regulation.

As long as two persons have three or more opinions, we stand a chance at navigating out of and rising above the stormy waters, to get a longer view of the situation.

If we remain polarized, with only two points of view on any matter, stubbornly held, we play right into the hands of those who want only power and money, those who will tell us whatever they need to say to get us to ignore them and keep fighting with each other.  They are taking us for all we’ve got, they basically ignore all the laws they can get away with flouting, they have precious little morality or ethics, they do not give a damn.

I think there are more of us who agree about that common enemy than there are of them.

When interviewing candidates (or even when discussing issues with anyone), you must pose inquiries, talk with them, see whether they really listen to what you are asking them.  If they seem to be listening only for talking points so they can contribute their standard statement, think twice before voting for them.

For instance, you say to a candidate, “My sister was carrying a baby that would never develop a brain, and she couldn’t find a way to terminate the pregnancy since she was 24 weeks along when this was discovered.  Subsequently she suffered tremendously, and can never have any children.  I think abortion should be a decision solely between a patient and a doctor.”  If the candidate says nothing but, “Abortion should be legal but rare” or “Abortion in the case of rape or incest is a no-brainer” or “Abortion on demand was never a good idea,” that candidate has not listened to what you were saying.  If the candidate says anything but, “I’m so sorry to hear about your sister,” that candidate has not listened to you.

We simply cannot vote on how often candidates repeat talking points.  We can’t exist in a world of narrow viewpoints, loosely held but endlessly repeated.  We need persons in office who actually think.  It shouldn’t matter who gave them money, who gave them an endorsement based on agendas.  We should elect those who have lived life outside politics, those who come with worldly wisdom and the ability to discuss and come to consensus and move forward, without concern about re-election or retribution.  We need those who are not afraid to say “Perhaps I was wrong about that” or “Perhaps there is another way.”

Let me revise what I said earlier.  Maybe we do need to vote with a single issue in mind:  that issue is open-mindedness.  And the goal must always be the improvement of life for all, shared freedom and liberty, and mutual understanding.

Two in a room, three opinions.  Willing to discuss and discuss and discuss, openly.

We Jews have touted this ability for millennia, so let’s use it, let’s teach it.  Being able to see more than two sides to any issue and working together – in all areas of life – is the only way forward.

About the Author
Author of POCKETS: The Problem with Society Is in Women's Clothing (www.AudreyGlickman.com), Audrey N. Glickman is a rabbi’s assistant, with prior experience in nonprofits, government, advertising, and as a legal secretary. A native Pittsburgher, Audrey has served on many boards, organizations, and committees, advocating for many causes, including equal rights, secure recountable voting, preserving the earth, good government, improving institutions, and understanding and tending to our fellow human beings.
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