Hillel is gearing up to host the Summit on the University and the Jewish Community, which begins on Monday in Washington, D.C., and aims to explore our role in promoting civil discourse and civic responsibility. By examining issues from student leadership to religion on campus, Summit attendees will return home with a stronger sense of how Hillel and the university community together can shape the conversation on connecting students with the broader world around them.
Jewish tradition offers us strong instruction on the importance of interacting with society as a whole and engaging in dialogue with others, including those with whom we disagree. As one example, Pirkei Avot 2:4 quotes Hillel ben Gamliel as instructing, “Do not separate yourself from the community,” pushing us to build connections with those around us.
Traditional texts are filled with examples of debate and discussion between individuals with divergent points of view. When we exchange ideas with people having different opinions, there is an obligation to do so with respect and a higher goal in mind. We learn from Pirkei Avot 5:17 that “[a] controversy for Heaven’s sake will have lasting value.” In contrast, a disagreement not for Heaven’s sake, such as one with power and control at its heart, has an adverse effect on those who embrace unseemly and improper goals.
In welcoming opportunities to debate and discuss in a civil and respectful manner, we recognize the productivity that can emerge from disagreement. As Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav said, “If all the sages were of one mind, there would be no room for creating the world.”
By working to build bridges and connect with one another, we can aspire to the call of Rabbi Jeffrey Summit: “Be so connected to the people around you that you try to see the world through their eyes, where their happiness becomes your happiness, where you can’t sleep well, if you do nothing, while others go to bed hungry.”
Some things to think about:
• What are some public disagreements in modern times? Do those engaged in these debates hold by the principles outlined above?
• What are the ways in which these principles affect how we treat each other in the workplace and in our communities?
• How can these principles contribute to discussions about civil society on campus?
Rabbi Seth Goren is a project consultant with the Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.
For more news like this and up-to-date briefs about Jewish campus life, subscribe to our free eNewsletter Hillel Campus Report.