In a world of constant advancement in global communications, we seem to simultaneously be deteriorating in our ability to communicate constructively, especially with those we disagree with. From politics to parking spots, Jews tend to be very good at pursuing justice, advocating passionately for what they hold to be right, fair, and true. Where we are more challenged though is in our ability to act as pursuers of peace, balancing our interpretation of justice and truth with competing interpretations. As a result we can find ourselves “crazying” those who we strongly disagree with and being outraged when the same is done to us.
To a certain extent, Pardes, for over forty years has been addressing these challenges through the three core ingredients that make up the Pardes text study experience.
(1.) Havruta (pair study): Havruta study is not only the most classic form of text study but also has been identified by conflict resolution scholars as an indigenous Jewish model for conflict resolution training since it requires, amongst others, the constant practice of deep face to face listening, and respectful communication around difference in interpretation.
(2.) Machloket (disagreement): Lying on the table in the classic Pardes text study is almost always a rabbinic text that transmits a machloket. The in-depth study of machloket requires one to see clearly how each side may be true even though they are of opposite positions and interpretations, a skill critical in conflict resolution and to the understanding of conflicting needs and narratives in society today.
(3.) Derech Eretz (ethical behavior): Regardless of the content being studied, the experience of Pardes text study is never truly complete until the ethical implications of the text on the lives of the students and society have fully been explored and argued.
Five years ago Pardes moved from meeting these challenges implicitly to explicitly addressing them when it established the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution (PCJCR). The PCJCR seeks to strengthen the Jewish culture of sacred and constructive conflict (machloket l’shem shemayim) and the pursuit of peace (redifat shalom) through the integration of Jewish texts, values, and development of middot (qualities of soul) along with contemporary conflict resolution theories and practices. To this end, PCJCR established programs that go deep and programs that go broad in effecting social change.
Going Deep: Pardes Rodef Shalom Schools and Communities Programs
Throughout Jewish history there were individuals, acting as students’ of Aaron and known as rodfei shalom (pursuers of peace), who would mediate conflicts between individuals, families and communities. However, this ancient Jewish tradition seems to have been lost around the mid 1950’s. The Pardes Rodef Shalom Programs seek to revive this critical tradition, reaffirming it as a core component of Jewish communal life beginning with our schools and synagogues. Directed by Joan Vander-Wald, the Pardes Rodef Shalom Schools Program is a joint venture of the PCJCR and the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators (PCJE). Now in its fifth year, the program currently has 15 Jewish Middle Schools participating throughout North America and across denominations each one in a manner that addresses their particular interests and needs – whether these be making rabbinic text study more meaningful to students, or promoting social emotional learning in the classroom or throughout the school using a Jewish lens. The Pardes Rodef Shalom Communities Program, directed by Rabbi Amy Eilberg, now in its second year, works primarily with North American rabbis and synagogues. This year PCJCR is partnering with the Union for Reform Judaism to offer the Creating a Culture of Constructive Conflict Community of Practice for half a dozen congregations who will participate in a 12-month cohort engaging lay leaders and clergy in addressing the pressing challenges in congregational life. In addition, this past June, 10 rabbis across denominations and around the country participated in the first Rabbi as Rodef Shalom retreat.
Going Broad: The 9AdarProject: Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict
In a similar manner to how the Pardes Rodef Shalom Programs draw inspiration from ancient Jewish traditions to go deep into effecting sustainable communal change, the 9Adar Proejct: Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict, draws inspiration from the 9th of Adar to work as broadly as possible within and between communities around the world. The 9th of Adar is a forgotten day on the Jewish calendar, when the House of Hillel and House of Shammai, who are well known as the model for how to disagree “for the sake of Heaven”, engaged in what some sources describe as a violent battle over how to relate to non-Jews. The 9Adar Project marks this tragic event through an awareness-raising week focused on promoting the values and skills of how to disagree more constructively. In North America, hundreds of Pardes alumni, as well as schools, synagogues and campuses participated this past year and plan to participate this coming year (February 19-25, 2017). In Israel, the project is known as Dibbur Chadash: Hashavua Lekidum Machloket Bonah and attempts to reach out beyond the Jewish community to promote the shared values of constructive conflict known in Islam as Thakeft Ikhtilaf. The project is a joint initiative of the PCJCR and Mosaica: the Center for Conflict Resolution through Agreement and has created a growing network of 35 Israeli NGOs to promote the project throughout all sectors of Israeli society.
Ultimately, these PCJCR programs do not aim to pursue a peace which attempts to “resolve” or end conflicts; rather the opposite is the case. The peace or shalom we are seeking is known as the “unity of opposites”, it is a shalom which each of us experience every time we engage in Pardes text study with our havruta, communicating constructively about our shared and conflicting interpretations of the texts of our tradition and the texts of our lives.
By Daniel Roth, founder and director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution.
For more information about the programs and to get involved visit www.pardes.org.il/PCJCR.