Thursday, July 13, 2017

Seeing the Other Side

Image from Bishvilaych
One  of the most troubling things I have noticed over the years is the inability of people with one set of ideals to hear what people with another set of ideals are saying. It would be a far better world if we just listen to each other and try to understand where those with opposing views are coming from. There doesn’t have to be agreement. We all have our ideals and we fight for what we believe. I am certainly one of those.

But what I try to do is hear what people that disagree with me are saying and respect their views. Sometimes I can even change my views if the opposing view makes more sense to me that the one I originally had. Perhaps that’s why I often find myself straddling  a middle course on so many issues

In the course of conversation that takes place by people that comment on my posts, I rarely see that kind of understanding. Or even civility in some cases. Instead I see stridency on both sides of an issue, sometimes crossing the lines of polite discussion into venomous personal attacks.

I believe that this is one reason we do not have Achdus in Judaism - not even in Orthodoxy. As I’ve said numerous times, agreement is not the goal of Achdus.  The goal is to respect other points of view even when there is disagreement.

I bring this up in light of a discussion on Sruli Besser’s  Facebook page. It involved a discussion about how the Charedi world treats their women. Shoshana Keats Jaskoll made the following comment in a Times of Israel article dealing with breast cancer: 
In Judaism, those who make policy for the entire community are men. Men, by virtue of being men, don’t experience Judaism as women do. This is natural.
What is not natural, however, is not listening when women describe their experience and ask for change. Communal and rabbinic leaders simply do not consult with women. They don’t allow for serious input from them, and they don’t hear from them about the consequences of communal policy and priorities. Thus, women’s needs come after a long line of other considerations and as a result, policy doesn’t take them into consideration. 
Shoshanna then goes into detail about a whole host of issues where women are negatively affected because of that – including areas of womens health. This generated responses from the many on the right essentially accusing her of Charedi bashing. 

One can agree or disagree. But the response from both sides showed zero attempt to try to understand or see the merit of the other side. Almost everyone just promoted their own point of view without granting even the slightest bit of legitimacy to what the other side was saying.

But there was one response that didn’t do that. It came from Alex Fleksher. She is not Charedi, but has expressed views that are often consistent with the Charedi point of view. (As she did on her Cross Currents post on the movie, Wonder Woman.)

I posted an article about the reaction of these two women stating that despite their similar backgrounds their views about the movie could not be more different! Shoshanna and Alex debated their views commenting on both my blog and on Cross Currents. But then she came to a realization. I will let her speak for herself (from Sruli’s Facebook page): 
I decided to really try to look at it from her perspective. And I realized that her views on shmiras einayim (the topic of my article) and possibly tsnius in general are different than mine because of the environment that she currently lives in. She is witnessing all sorts of extremes in RBS and I'm happy go-lucky in my midwest town in the U.S where no one is saying boo to me in my jean skirt.
So I shared that with her. And she really appreciated it and from then we have had some very nice shared dialogue where we've learned more about each other and are focusing on what we agree on. It was actually quite liberating removing those labels, trying to understand the other, and start finding ways we could have a positive discourse. I truly believe Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll has some valid takeaways from her article… 
This is what I am talking about! This is the kind of Achdus I am seeking. We need to understand what the other side is saying and respect it; learn from it; and even change our views if it make sense to us. But changing our views is not the goal of Achdus. Just appreciating where others are coming from.

If you are Charedi, then it would be helpful to look at the Hashkafos of Modern Orthodox and try and understand them. And if you are Modern Orthodox it would be just as helpful to try and understand Charedi Hashkafos. There is just too much blindness about the value of any other views other than your own.

I tend to see value in both sides of an issue - even as I see problems in both. I know that the great Centrist  leader,  Rav Aharon Lichtenstein respected great Charedi leaders like Rav Yitzchok Hutner and Rav Sholmo Zalman Auerbach. I believe the reverse is true as well. Even though they disagreed Hashkafically.

I only wish there were more leaders like them today. Unfortunately I think the trend is away from that as the world of Orthodoxy becomes more polarized than ever. That is clearly reflected in the discussion that took place on Sruli’s Facebook page as it is almost daily between people commenting on my posts.

My hat is off to both Alex Fleksher and Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll  (who said ‘you’re such a mensch’ after reading Alex’s  lengthy comment from which I excerpted above). If we could all do that, Achdus may actually be possible some day.