Rabbi Danny Rich calls for ‘civilised debate’ in our community

Rabbi Danny Rich
6 September 2018
The Jewish News

Rabbi Danny Rich, the senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism, has criticised the Jewish community for its inability to tolerate difference within – and called for the return of civilised debate as we enter 5779. You can read Danny’s thoughts, published as part of the Jewish News Rosh Hashanah edition, below:

The Jewish community rightly and frequently celebrates its highs: the inspirational and vital work of Jewish Care, the transformative UJIA-sponsored Israel Tours, the committed daily work of rabbis and congregants in our synagogues and the solid political work of the Board of Deputies – to name but a few.

Nevertheless, the month of Elul and the coming Yamim Noraim are more suited to a time of introspection and an acknowledgement of what we have failed to do.

And perhaps, for me, the saddest low in the Jewish community as we head into 5779 is our inability to tolerate difference within. We seem unable to hold passionate but civilised conversations about, for example, Israel and Zionism, the Labour Party and anti-Semitism, Boris Johnson and his comments on the burka and so on.

Perhaps we need to be reminded of the spirit of the comment in the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 13b) concerning a dispute between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. The law had to be decided but it was also possible to declare – “Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim chayim hen – both these and these are the words of the living God.”

I was brought up in a Jewish home where difference and debate were welcomed – lishma (for its own sake), to sharpen the minds of the interlocutors and perhaps to teach something to one or more participants.

However heated or passionate the debate became, it never lowered itself to insult, anger and the questioning of the motives of any person who held a differing opinion.

It is a cause of great sadness to me that in the past year the British Jewish community, of which I am proud to be a member, has appeared unable to model such civilised debate.

Al Chet Shechatanu L’Fanecha: For the sin we have committed against You by insulting our opponents and resorting to anger instead of rational debate, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

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