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Truths You Can Use

A classic Jewish joke… When two Jews gather together, expect at least three opinions. Our tradition embraces debate and discussion. Argument becomes a vehicle to truth.


I confess, however, a frustration with the debates of today. In Judaism the purpose of debate is to find the truth. In politics the purpose of debate is to score points.

As we enter the final presidential debate, perhaps the following lessons from Jewish tradition can enrich the discussion. Here a few to consider:

1. Respect the other’s point of view, even if you vehemently disagree with it: Two early rabbis–Hillel and Shammai–disagreed on almost everything. Yet, when a ruling was made, the other assented. The losing position was recorded, in case changing circumstances demanded a new approach.

Later Jewish sages described the disagreements between Hillel and Shammai as “arguments for the sake of heaven.” They were not about scoring points. They were about finding what is true and enduring.

2. Use civil language: The media thrives on conflict. The sharper the words, the bigger the headlines. Society, on the other hand, thrives on relationships. The closer our bonds, the stronger we are.

Politics today is weakening those bonds. Anger has become a political weapon. Our harsh words perpetuate it. We see it on the Right and the Left. Each can use a refresher with the Book of Proverbs, which says brilliantly, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

3. Stop the Spin: Newt Minow, one of the creators of the Presidential Debate Commission, advised viewers to turn off their televisions immediately after the debate and decide for themselves who spoke more persuasively. I couldn’t agree more.

Jewish tradition teaches that parties to a contract need to understand clearly its terms and conditions. The importance of our decisions demand we understand what they mean and why they make them. The same is true in politics.

The spin may be entertaining, but it is not enlightening. We are smarter than the spinners, and the future rests in our hands.

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