To Confront Cancel Culture on Left and Right, Take a Page from the Talmud (Tisha Be’av 5780)
… Horrified by the intolerance that had brought about the destruction of the Temple, the rabbis then set out to rebuild Judaism on a different foundation: a culture of pluralism and respectful dissent. It was going to be the exact opposite of the intolerance that had led to the loss of the commonwealth.
… Although many of the Sanhedrin leaders had belonged to the different sects, they ceased referring to each other as Pharisees or Sadducees, but as “rabbis.” Recognizing that the Jewish people included many views and opinions, they consciously determined that nobody in particular would have “the truth”; rather, Talmudic discussions would be a never-ending process of getting a step closer to truth but never achieving it.
Thus, the Talmud grew as a stylized collection of debates and arguments among sages, in which respect for the adversary was a central value. But how did the Talmud not become a free-for-all? How did the rabbis prevent outlandish opinions from reaching its pages?
This is particularly poignant today, when we try to find our bearings between a toxic porridge of dogmatism, echo chambers and cancel culture on both the political left and right. Today, opinions are judged or silenced, never debated. Self-appointed inquisitors determine the limits of acceptable discussions; Twitter mobs terrify people into silence and lives are destroyed for any little violation of the dogma.
Could the Talmud offer us a way out? The idea of the Talmud is simple: any opinion is valid, but it has to be substantiated with the same “standard of proof”; it has to acknowledge and respect dissent and it has to be submitted to a “peer review” process.
If we used this principle, much of the extreme discourse of today would be unacceptable, not because it’s intrinsically abhorrent, but because it’s based purely on hatred and demonizing the opponent.
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Tisha B’Av images by 4 of our members:
Ken Goldman: “On the 9th of Av Jews the world over mourn the destruction of the temple and other catastrophes through the ages – but always a little glimmer of hope is mixed in with sadness as the Commentaries say that on this day the Messiah will be born!
With that in mind at midday people would was their floors in anticipation of his imminent arrival!
Floor washing mop with the words of redemption affixed – perhaps to redeem the floor washers?
Berit Engen: “Hashiveinu, Hashem, eilecha, and we will return” (Lamentations 5:21), Linen Yarn Tapestry, 2018.This is the fourth of four tapestries in the following series: “Inspired by Eicha: Sounds of Wailing and a Glimpse of Return”. Ice-blue is a lonely color, the dark hues denote destruction and despair, and the willow foreshadows sitting exiled by the rivers of Babylon. The green is a reminder of the quiet cycle of day and night in spite of historic turmoil. Our distant past shines in a recorded memory and illuminates a future whose outcome relies on a plea to God fulfilled and a promise kept by us.
Marc Provisor: “Return Us – HaShiveinu”. Oil on Canvas – 70x40cm, 2019.
Zalmen Glauber: “The Kotel”. Aqua Resin, Plaster, 2020. Tisha b’av. Remembrance of the destruction of the First and Second temples in Jerusalem.