Ours is a tradition of argument. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out: “Judaism is perhaps the only religious civilization all of whose canonical texts are anthologies of arguments. In the Bible, the prophets argue with God. In the Mishnah, rabbis argue with one another. The Talmud, rather than resolving the arguments, deepens them.”
A well-known example is the conflict between the houses of Hillel and Shammai. Although they disagreed on the fundamental rules of kashrut and eligibility for marriage, they did not hesitate to eat in each other’s houses and marry each other’s children.
In modern times, argument has been the hallmark of the Zionist movement since its inception and is pursued with passion in Israel’s often-tempestuous Knesset.
It is quite possible that, paradoxically, argument – not just the acceptance of dissent, but openness to, and encouragement of, contrary viewpoints – has played a key role in holding the Jewish People together and ensuring its continuity.
After all, exposure to a range of perspectives is central to learning. And just as learning is a core part of being Jewish, it must be a key purpose of any worthwhile Jewish publication.
So it is sad – and unsettling – that Mira Sucharov’s column will no longer appear in the Canadian Jewish News. While I’ve never met Sucharov, and I don’t agree with everything she writes, my sense is that hers is a thoughtful and articulate voice. As she noted in her final column: “Readers are free – and even encouraged – to disagree, of course. We don’t write for echo chambers.”
Totalitarian regimes are echo chambers by definition. And unfortunately, the current leaders of two great democracies, America and Israel, also appear quite uncomfortable with dissent. This is perhaps best encapsulated by the priceless comment made by Israel’s culture minister, over the recent public broadcasting fiasco, whereby the prime minister was accused of trying to control the media by closing down the broadcaster’s news department: “It’s inconceivable that we will establish a (broadcasting) corporation that we won’t control. What’s the point?”
Disagreement over Israeli government policy should never be confused with a lack of commitment to Israel’s security. On the contrary, it is clear from the past seven decades that highly divergent views over such policies have been voiced by many who are deeply committed to the security of Israel.
Those who attempt to silence dissenting voices generally betray their own insecurity. And by weakening the analytical rigour and tough spirit borne of argument, they may ultimately undermine Israel’s security and the future of the Jewish People.
At a time when public discourse is increasingly impoverished by shrill voices and hollow echoes, it is hoped that The CJN will continue to seek out articulate and diverse voices to enrich its important conversations.
Stephen Pincus is one of Canada’s leading business lawyers and a member of the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel.