Sunday, September 03, 2017

The Truth Is…

Trump rally (Cross Currrents)
One of the reasons I am such a big fan of Rabbi Avi Shafran, is that, like me he is a seeker of Emes - Truth. Although we do not always arrive at the same conclusions about what Emes is, that does not diminish the fact that we both seek it as an absolute good. And that as a result we both sometimes take unpopular positions.

Seeking truth does not always produce concrete conclusions about what it is. In fact, I would say that often it ends up in not being able to be determined. This often happens to me when there is evidence supporting both sides of an issue. I often find myself conflicted listening to both sides of an argument. Even at those times where I take a position on things, I remain with a measure of doubt about whether my views are right in light of the arguments against them.  To me, the essence of truth is intellectual honesty and not blind obedience to a particular side. There is a lot of grey in this world, perhaps more so than there are things that are clearly black and white.

Rabbi Shafran has made a similar argument in an essay published in Hamodia (republished on Cross Currents).  Using the current political climate, Rabbi Shafran makes this very point.  He see a lot of grey – as do I.  To put it the way he did: 
(I)n most cases, things are not entirely as they are portrayed by either the New York Times’ editorial page or talk radio personalities. And only a careful hearing-out and honest consideration of all sides of an issue, be it immigration or free trade or Confederate statues or even a potential peace process in the Middle East, has a chance of yielding an informed, objective position. Mindless team spirit is no path to emes. Sometimes, even, as conservative columnist David Brooks recently observed, “The truth is plural.” 
I could not agree more. The sad fact of life is that Rabbi Shafran is himself the victim of some truly venomous attacks based on his principled opinions - when they depart from popular partisan Orthodoxy. So much animosity is directed towards him that it almost doesn’t matter what he says about any given issue. If his name in mentioned in any context – as it is here – one can be assured that he will be attacked – reminding everyone how evil some of his opinions were on a given issue. Partisan orthodoxy almost demands smearing your opponents.

I’m sure that will happen again here. In part some of that animus comes from an antipathy for Agudah, for whom he is chief spokesman. Bashing Agudah is part and parcel of a left wing  political Orthodoxy that refuses to see them as a force for good – successfully representing for decades the interests of all religious Jews in this country – regardless of Hashkafa. That is completely ignored.

I for one recognize the valuable contributions of Agudah. Even as I have disagreed (sometimes strongly)  with some of the policies they have on certain issues. But disagreement should not mean disrespect nor should it mean a black and white rejection. The human search for truth rarely breeds black and white conclusions.

In this article he articulates the destructive place in which even many Orthodox Jews now reside in this respect.  It is almost as though intellectual honesty has been abandoned. People are either listening to Rush Limbaugh or the New York Times – each believing that the words they hear or read in their ‘bible’ or ‘modern day biblical figure’ is the truth incarnate to the exclusion of any argument from the other side. Every opposing view is illegitimate.

I see it all the time – even among some of my closest friends. This became most evident during the last Presidential election -  and continues today. To the Trump supporters, he can do no wrong. The ‘fake’ news media lies about him. He is a great American being vilified by his enemies and prevented from implementing all of the great promises he made during the campaign. To the Trump haters, he can do no right. Every word he says is spun in negative terms. Using the ‘respected’  media  reports about him  as ‘proof’ of how terrible he is.

The same thing is true about Trump’s predecessor. Obama is seen as the devil by Trump supporters and as one of the most honorable Presidents in American history by Trump haters. There is no room for grey on either side for either man. This is not a search for truth. This is blind obedience to partisanship.

This doesn’t mean one can’t decide they agree more with the polices of one man versus their opponent. Because that too is in line for a search for truth. One must decide whose views most closely align with their own and the support them. But one must also recognize the negatives of one’s own candidate and recognize the positives of the other. This is my approach to both Obama and Trump.

Unfortunately the momentum among even my own Orthodox coreligionists is towards the extremes – and rejection that includes smearing their opponents. This is the opposite of seeking the Truth. It is an abandonment of it.  Which makes the search for Emes more elusive than ever.