Thursday, July 26, 2012

Judaism, Jews and Solving Conflict

I'm not entirely sure this makes sense yet, but I'm tired of the debate on the previous post...

This week I participated in a program involving Jewish, Christian and Muslim medical students from around the Middle East. The general program brings students of pediatric medicine to Toronto for medical studies and more; our particular segment offered them a chance to talk with clergy and chaplains to discuss ethical/philosophical questions related specifically or loosely to medicine.

One of the less medicine-related questions outlined was: "How do you consider the role of your religion in solving conflicts between groups with supposedly contradictory monotheistic/polytheistic beliefs?" We didn't actually get to this question in my session, but I did give it some thought.

To me, Judaism doesn't solve conflicts with other systems. Judaism explains why the world exists as it is. Judaism prescribes ethics and activities. Judaism inspires dreams and defines aspirations. And it doesn't spend a lot of time directly addressing the question of "solving conflicts" with those who have different explanations, ethics, activities, dreams and aspirations. If the conflict stands to harm Judaism - such as when the conflict takes place in Israel, or when a member of the Jewish people embraces or confronts those other ideas - then the approach is one of self-defense. Otherwise, Judaism doesn't really say much about resolving conflicts with other systems. Either the conflict is personal, or it doesn't figure.

On the other hand, Judaism's explanations, ethics, activities, dreams and aspirations do shape a Jew's identity, as a religious person and as a human being, and in doing so they provide Jews with the means of solving conflict.

Judaism emphasizes humility. It teaches that all ideas have a place and a value, somehow, even if we are prohibited from adopting them. It mandates gratitude. It requires education in our identity, and a great distance from adopting the identities of others. These are traits which certainly do help to solve conflicts between groups, and these traits are modeled in numerous biblical events which showcase those conflicts between systems – Yosef and Pharaoh, Moshe and Pharaoh, Esther and Achashverosh, Daniel and Nevuchadnezzar, and so on.

I suppose what I would have said to the group is that Judaism takes a defensive rather than problem-solving approach to conflicts – but it also molds Jews as people who will be able to solve them.

14 comments:

  1. But should "Judaism take a defensive rather than problem-solving approach to conflicts" that are about the other side violating the Noachide Covenant? Given a hypothetical situation where we could actually solve the conflict rather than just create a debate over something we can't change.

    Perhaps we should weasel our way in to the internal Xian conversation about the Trinity in order to promote views that do not contradict the Noachide requirements with regard to monotheism.

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    1. R' Micha-
      I think conflicting systems that undermine our mission of לתקן עולם במלכות ש-די do mandate reactions, where possible, but the question may be in defining "defensive" reaction.

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    2. How much of our reticence has stemmed from a sober view of the earthly balance of power?

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    3. Can you show a change between Tanach and later sources?

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  2. What about Yesha'yah's vision of all nations arbitrating their conflicts at the Mikdash?

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    1. Yesha'yah 2:1-4

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    2. Thought you might mean that, and the parallel passage in Michah 4. But do you see that as a means of solving conflict between contradictory systems, or or a prediction of a time when there will be no contradictory systems?

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  3. Well, if they're bringing their cases to the Mikdash, then they're still disagreeing with each other.

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    1. Yes, but I didn't think that was the meaning of the question. I understood the original question to be about conflict between religious systems - Judaism and Islam, for example.

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    2. I stand corrected in terms of Yesha'yah, but for Michah, the individual gods of each people are still there: see Michah 4:5.

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  4. We have a rather extreme example of problem solving in the Chumash: Pinchas Ben Elazar Ben Aharon. He did his problem solving at spearpoint.

    The message there is to be zealous to defend Hashem. Unfortunately, the guy on the other side also thinks he's being zealous to defend Hashem.

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    1. That was the "self-defense" model I was talking about...

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  5. I don't know about Judaism per se, but I want to make a brief comment (favorable) about Jews.

    We tend to be stubborn, argumentative, opinionated, outspoken, pushy, competitive people. Everyone has an opinion, and most of us know we're right. The result can be messy, loud, stressful and unpleasant at times, but I wouldn't have us any other way.

    We aren't satisfied with the way things are. We don't roll over. We try hard. We get things done. We fix problems. It can be painful at times, but I think we're a very effective group as a whole. I'm proud of us.

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