Pardes 360: Why I grew up only playing with Democrats and why that was wrong

Posted by Amy Eilberg on February 15, 2016
Topics: Pardes 360

Full disclosure: I was raised to be a passionate Democrat and, as a small child, I saw the Democrats as “the good guys” and the Republicans as “the bad.”

Over the years I have learned a lot about Jewish principles of speech and relationships, especially “mahloket l’shem shamayim,” conducting disputes in a way that is both constructive and sacred. I now realize that demonizing large segments of the electorate locks me into a position of constant judgment toward the political “other” and shuts me off from potentially fruitful relationships with people who think differently than I do.

It is hard for me to bear the current state of public discourse in the U.S. This season’s political debates are saturated with personal insults, contempt and derision. It seems clear to me that Donald Trump, in particular, consistently defies the most basic norms of civil discourse. But I try to remember that people on the other side of the political divide may be as horrified by my language and beliefs as I am by theirs.

Surely some political positions are truly objectionable and wrong. Tone matters: scorn and ridicule must not be the default form of civic communication. But it is far too easy to shut off possibilities for dialogue and learning. As engaged citizens, we are obliged to stretch to seek out the truth.

In the famous Mishnah, Ben Zoma teaches: “Eizehu chacham – halomed mikol adam” – “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” (Avot 4:1) Rav Shlomo Wolbe, a Mussar master of the 20th century, teaches that we are to carry ourselves as learners in every situation of our lives, learning from all with whom we interact, and from our own reactions to them.

Rather than instinctively turning off the radio when I hear a view I find objectionable, it would be more righteous to practice hitlamdut (curious desire for learning), anava (humility) and kavod (respect for others as well as myself). At best, I might learn something. At least, I would cultivate my own capacity to recognize the divine in the other, and to practice the art of mahloket l’shem shamayim, even at campaign time.

Pardes360 is a series of responses to world current events by Pardes faculty in 360 words (or sometimes a few more). The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not reflect an institutional stance. To read other Pardes360 articles, click here.

About Amy Eilberg

Amy is the director of the Pardes Rodef Shalom (Pursuer of Peace) Communities Program, helping synagogues and Jewish organizations place the pursuit of peace in interpersonal relationships at the center of their communal mission. Amy is the first woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Click here to read more.

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