A Talmudic Approach To Orlando

Friday, 17 June, 2016 - 11:31 am

When the news broke about the shooting in Orlando we were celebrating the holiday of Shavuot. Without access to technology we only got some slow drips of information. When I looked at my phone after the holiday ended on Monday night, I was struck by the loudest cacophony possible to experience from soundless text posted by folks on social media.

You had the group that insisted that we need to see this solely as an act of radical Islamic terror. You had the group that insisted that we need to see this solely as a result of the accessibility of guns in this country. You had the group that insisted that this be seen solely as an act of hate against the LGBTQ community. And so on and so on with everyone shouting their opinions as if anyone actually convinced someone else to change their mind based on a post or tweet…

In the meantime 49 people were murdered and many more injured in the biggest mass shooting in America. If our goal is to effectively address the situation and get a real dialogue going on the issues, then shouting (by typing) at each other on social media or regular media isn’t going to accomplish much.

Let’s take a page from the Talmud in how to deal with divergence of opinions on important issues. The Talmud is filled with Halachic disputes between sages. Perhaps the most famous disputants are Beit Hillel (school of Hillel) and Beit Shammai (school of Shammai). They argue about hundreds of cases. In the vast majority of cases the Halacha follows the opinion of Beit Hillel, as the majority of sages supported their opinion in those cases. In explaining this phenomenon, the Talmud declares that the reason why Halacha so often followed the opinion of Beit Hillel is because they were humble and they cite the view of Beit Shammai before citing their own view.

The question is, humility is very nice and being polite is also very nice, but what does that have to do with verifying truth and determining Halacha?

One of the commentaries explains it in this manner. When Beit Hillel cite Beit Shammai’s opinion first it is because they truly wished to hear the opposing view and seriously consider it before offering their own. When one is seeking the truth one is truly open to hearing what the other person has to say and will seriously consider that opinion before either accepting or rejecting it.

Contrast this approach with what we have in our society today. We have sides that are entrenched, each so stuck with their agenda that they don’t pause for a moment to consider the possibility that the other side may have a legitimate contribution to the discussion. These agendas color the ability to seek truth wherever it may be found, as the saying goes, “don’t confuse me with the facts.” Or, I may add, “don’t confuse me with logical arguments.”

It may actually be, that in our situation there is legitimacy to many of the arguments and the answer lies somewhere as a blend of the solutions. But if we don’t stop shouting for long enough to consider the view of another, we may never resolve these issues and more and more people will be victims of our inability and unwillingness to cooperate.

Malkie and I are grateful to all those that participated in our son’s Upshernish in person or through good wishes. For a selection of photos of the event - To see the video that we showed at the event –

Heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Malka Lew upon the passing of her sister, Jody Rau. May Hashem comfort you and her children, Billy & Leslie Rau and the family in your loss among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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