Conflict is nothing new in Judaism. The foundational story of the Jewish people tells how Abraham profoundly disagreed with the idol worship of his father and proclaimed a belief in one God.
Jacob and Esau did not exactly see eye-to-eye. The conflict between Joseph and his brothers was so fierce that the latter sold their younger brother into slavery.
Jewish history is filled with powerful conflicts between individuals as well as competing groups. So you might ask, with all the dynamic tensions that have existed for millennia within Judaism and the Jewish people, what has enabled us to maintain cohesion through the centuries?
An answer lies within this statement from Pirkei Avot:
“Any controversy for the sake of Heaven will in the end be preserved; And that which is not for the sake of Heaven will not be preserved.” (5.20)
Disagreements are healthy, even encouraged, when people respect one another’s integrity; where the purpose of the conflict is not to destroy another person but instead to seek a higher truth. In rabbinic times, Hillel and Shammai’s methodology for debating Jewish law exemplified “controversy for the sake of Heaven.”
However, their students were not as enlightened. Indeed, on the 9th day of the Jewish month of Adar, violence broke out between these two factions leading to bloodshed.
In recent times, an organization entitled the 9 Adar project has developed some wonderful resources that illuminate how to engage in constructive criticism. These include Jewish texts that identify how to navigate sincere differences of opinion. During this troubling time, we all could benefit from examining the resources available here.