Wednesday, 8 July 2020

True Unity with Diversity

Someone showed me an article about achdus, which argued correctly that it demands a unity which must include diversity -- but then presents a method of achieving this goal which is highly problematic. The result would thus not be a good and positive unity. The reality is that most people when they think of unity fundamentally associate it with homogeneity. Yes, if all individuals were the same, we would connect much more easily. But how damaging would that be to society and even the very individuals themselves. Society to work must have diversity, the strength of individuality. The challenge is in how to best achieve this. The answer within this article was not the answer.

The author was specifically talking about how people are responding to the different practices we find in minyanim in response to the pandemic. There are shuls which have minyanim which follow very strict rules in terms of the contact between people. For example, masks are an absolute requirement. There are other shuls which are much more lenient, basically preceding as they did before. This includes not a mask in sight. What bothers the author are the people in the one shul who are critical of the practice in the other shul and vice versa. We should all be respectful of each other; in other words, we should let everyone 'do their own thing.' He compares it to the embracing of different minhagim. Achdus, he declares, must mean the acceptance of different 'minhagim'* such as how we daven during this pandemic.

The truth is that Torah does indeed value the acceptance of distinction within its parameters -- Eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim Chayim. Yet, first it demands adamant debate and discussion between the variant viewpoints. As T.B. Kiddushin 30b states, at first, within the study of Torah, as different individuals present opposing viewpoints, they will be enemies one to the other. In the end, though, there is love. In that truth is at issue, we must be truly thoughtful in our opinions and be willing to strongly promote them in the face of challenge. We are fighting for the truth. We must though, also recognize that our opponent is similarly committed to his/her opinion and in this search for the truth we must also hear the other side. In the end, though, there is love because, even as we may end in disagreement, as Rav Moshe Feinstein states, we recognize that we are both committed (within the limits of our own human understanding) to God's Truth. Unity is not just about letting someone do their own thing. It demands a commitment to the search for Torah truth. It is after thoroughly debating the issue in regard to which view is right, if variance in conclusion honestly remains, we are called upon to accept such distinctions with love.

The argument over such issues as masks is not just a matter reflecting a personal, desired conclusion. They contain real concerns in thought, both in science and in Halacha. True achdus thus demands debate and discussion even as we may conclude in diversity. This is actually the diversity that Torah demands within unity. It is the honest diversity in thought and mind that marks our unique individuality which necessarily has its place within the Divinity of Torah. To reach the essence of true unity, we actually must first subject our ideas to the whirlwind of honest discussion and debate so that they have reason to stand. We do not simply accept and promote every opinion. The opinions that remain indeed then have a most important accepted place within achdus.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

* One should notice that I placed apostrophes around this word in this context as it would be improper to refer to this behaviour as a minhag. In order to achieve this status as reflected in the famous maxim minhag Yisrael k'din, which gives a custon quasi-legal standing, a minhag must be long-standing and observed in the presence of Torah scholars. In other words, it must be substantial and have withstood challenges if there were some -- implying the kind of intellectual investigation which we are discussing. What we may say, though, is that we do have disagreements in halachic practice as these various minyanim may be following the psak of different rabbonim but that should open the door to the kind of halachic debate we are advocating, not the simple acceptance of any opinion as is. This is doubly so if the practice of the minyan in this regard is simply determined by the participants without any consideration of the halachic literature on the subject.

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