Friday, November 02, 2007

Creating a Safe Atmosphere for Dialogue

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz has a very important article that discusses the importance of encouraging and allowing for the greatest degree of participation in public dialogue, as opposed to intimidating people, intentionally or otherwise, into silence. Chazal tell us that one can learn from everyone, even from the smallest person, so we should not intimidate people, but rather, encourage participation to the greatest extent possible.

This is a topic which is near to my heart, and I think that it is also the first such article I have seen which made this point in the Charedi press(I will stand corrected if I'm wrong). If so, I give a big yasher koach to Rabbi Horowitz !

First, a little humor:

In my hometown of Monsey, New York, there are several weekly newspapers that are mailed to the community free of charge. I never cease to be amazed when people decline to sign their names in letters to the editor about mundane matters. Here are the types of letters that appear week after week:

“I would like to thank the Town officials for doing such a wonderful job plowing the streets after last week's snowstorm” E.R.

“I really enjoy the Dvar Torah column every week.” Name Withheld.

Whenever I read one of those letters, my first reaction is, “Wow, you are really going out on a limb there! No wonder you didn’t want to post your name on that letter.”

The article continues:

What is most troubling is that the only voices that are being silenced are the moderate ones. The kanoim, those in our community with the most extremist views, comfortably thunder their macho’os, protestations, in very public forums with nary a concern, while those who have more mainstream views are intimidated to express them.

Rabbi Horowitz concludes:

We desperately need forums where these matters are candidly discussed in an environment of mutual respect with an eye towards generating solutions to these challenges; where all views are encouraged and appreciated and where those who care enough – and have the courage – to ask tough questions are venerated for their dedication to the future of our children.

I would just add that each community and publication will have it's own limits of acceptable tolerance, of the limits of elu velu . The specific focus of Rabbi Horowitz's article is regarding educational matters such as helping troubled teens, where there is indeed a greater leeway for discussion and different opinion. As opposed to certain social or educational issues, an idea on a more haskafically/theologically significant topic, such as on Science and Torah will obviously not get printed unless it is acceptable by the vaad ruchani(rabbinical board) of the particular publication. I can understand that.

However, within certain limits, one can try to have more tolerance even on hashkafa topics. The idea is not to extend the limits of elu v'elu on core issues, but rather to find more tolerance within them on the non-core issues. The problem becomes, of course, if every small topic turns into a core issue; however, Not Everything Is a Ten.

It is also important to distinguish between agreeing with an idea, versus merely hearing a person out, and trying to understand where they are coming from. Participants need to think with nuance, and to carefully distinguish between various ideas, and to ask for clarification. Obviously, not all forums lend themselves out to this to the same extent , but all discussion should see nuance as a value.

I indeed believe that the image of the Torah community would be improved, were we to take this to message to heart.

Finally, there are, recent, positive examples where more than one Charedi publication has made an effort to encourage a participation of a wider range of ideas. I believe in giving credit where it is due, and perhaps such an example will be a subject of a future posting on this blog.

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