As the new year 5784 begins, it is important to learn the lessons of what made 5783 one of the most divisive years in Jewish history.
That is saying a lot, of course, because the Jewish people have been around for nearly 4,000 years. As Amotz Asa-El revealed in his recent book The Jewish March of Folly, there have been no less than 12 civil wars in the history of the Jewish people.
There have been disputes nonstop through Jewish history. Pirkei Avot offers guidance about how best to resolve them.
“Every dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, will in the end endure, but one that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not endure,” the text says.
The example given of a dispute for the sake of heaven is that of Hillel and Shammai, whose camps were constantly at odds but respected and deferred to each other. Hillel was quoted as saying in Pirkei Avot that lessons must be learned from Moshe’s brother Aharon, who “loved peace and pursued peace.”
The peace referred to here is not with the enemies of the Jewish people but our own internal divides.
Fast forward to the current dispute in the Jewish State over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s legal overhaul. Proponents and opponents of the deal have made their voices heard in the Knesset, in the streets of Israel and cities around the world, and now in the Supreme Court.
The plan’s opponents scored a victory before the 25th Knesset left for its first recess in March. Its proponents won a victory of their own before the Knesset left for its current recess in July.
Both sides need to decide on their own now that there will be no more victories of one side over the other and that from now on, key decisions on the country’s future will have to be made by consensus.
The Left should have learned that before it forced through the ill-fated Oslo diplomatic process whose 30-year anniversary has been marked this month. The Right has been learning the limits of its power since an exclusively right-wing government was sworn in last December.
Last week’s proceedings at the Supreme Court presented the strong views of both sides. The negotiations that took place behind the scenes concurrently give hope that long awaited compromises can finally be reached soon.
For those talks to bear fruit, they should be conducted quietly, out of the public eye, and at the highest levels trusted by both sides. Mutual recriminations in public by Netanyahu and his current main political alternative Benny Gantz do not accomplish anything. They need to respect each other like Hillel and Shammai, not spar on TV.
Netanyahu was right to expedite compromise efforts ahead of a meeting with President Joe Biden in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. But he should have taken into account other Americans long ago – namely the Jewish community in the U.S.
American Jewry is extremely divided now, dragged into Israel’s hyperpolarization over judicial reform. To be frank, we American Jews already had our share of internal rifts before, and we didn’t need another hot potato.
It was the plan’s opponents who dragged us in, organizing protests across America from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge. Even if the demonstrators meant well, the protests have made Israel look terrible, creating a tremendous chillul Hashem.
Many American Jews who intended to visit Israel as the 75th birthday of the Jewish State has been marked canceled their plans due to the negativity surrounding the dispute.
We anxiously await the disputes being settled in Israel, so we can have an easier time getting along in America.
It is time for Netanyahu, Gantz and other Israeli political elites to set aside their differences or make way for less stubborn leaders who can.
I openly endorsed Bezalel Smotrich and his Religious Zionist Party before the last Israeli election. As an American Jewish leader, I faced criticism for taking that step.
It has been my friend Simcha Rothman of Smotrich’s party who has been the driving force pushing the legal reforms through the Knesset. Rothman, who chairs the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee, has had his share of successes, and he has had his share of failures.
I have told him that I believe the time has come to stop fighting and begin compromising. I say that now here to his political opponents as well.
The time has come for both sides to act like Aharon, Hillel and Shammai. That means making a serious effort at pursuing internal peace that, with G-d’s help, will endure and will enable 5784 to be a better and a more united year for Israel and the Jewish people.