Author: Michael Hattin
Organization: Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
The 9th of Adar commemorates a dark day in Jewish history when a series of Halakhicdisagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai led to conflict and bloodshed. Like many other organizations and communities, we at Pardes will commemorate the day with special learning sessions and activities that will remind us how to disagree amicably. Hopefully, we will take the lessons learned and try to apply them to our daily lives as well.
At Pardes, much of our learning takes place in the Beit Midrash among havruta pairs who intensively study for extended periods of time. Two people sit together, read a Torah text together, discuss its content together and support and challenge each other’s interpretations of that text. Occasionally, the discussion can become heated and emotional as different views are exchanged, analyzed, questioned and sometimes discarded. Matters are only intensified by the fact that many of the Torah texts that we study contain multiple views and preserve records of ancient disagreement and dissension.
By its very nature, then, havruta learning of Torah texts represents a wonderful opportunity for developing and honing the most critical of skills: the ability to argue and to disagree with another’s views while maintaining reverence and respect. In havruta learning, we do not strive for concord and for the reduction of multiple views into one monolithic truth. Rather, we seek to foster fruitful discussion, thoughtful analysis and meaningful application while maintaining our dignity as well as the dignity of our interlocutor.
I invite all of us to check in concerning our havruta dynamic during the week of 9Adar – to listen not only to the content of our discussions but to our language and tone as well. Sometimes we need to pay extra attention to how we navigate the difficult tension of analyzing, questioning, challenging and sometimes rejecting each other’s views while maintaining an attitude of reverence and love.
May this year’s 9th of Adar initiate further insightful discussion of Torah and serve as a potent reminder that healthy disagreement is central to our learning and communal experiences.