The Argumentative Jew

WieseltierLeon Wieseltier at the Jewish Review of Books:

Learning to live with disagreement, moreover, is a way of learning to live with each other. Etymologically, the term machloket refers to separation and division, but the culture ofmachloket is not in itself separatist and divisive. This is in part because all the parties to any particular disagreement share certain metaphysical and historical assumptions about the foundations of their identity. But beyond those general axioms, the really remarkable feature of the Jewish tradition of machloket is that it is itself a basis for community. The community of contention, the contentious community, is not as paradoxical as it may seem. The parties to a disagreement are members of the disagreement; they belong to the group that wrestles together with the same perplexity, and they wrestle together for the sake of the larger community to which they all belong, the community that needs to know how Jews should behave and live. A quarrel is evidence of coexistence. The rabbinical tradition is full of rival authorities and rival schools—it owes a lot of its excitement to those grand and even bitter altercations—but the rivalries play themselves out within the unified framework of the shared search. There is dissent without dissension, and yet things change. Intellectual discord, if it is practiced with methodological integrity, is compatible with social peace.

The absence of the God’s-eye view of an issue, and the consequent recognition of the limitations of all individual perspectives, has a humbling effect. A universe of controversy is a universe of tolerance. Machloket is not schism, and the difference is crucial.

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