Jewish Values and Dissent

Almost every month, a few area Rabbis answer a question in the Western Massachusetts Jewish Ledger. Here is my answer to the question for the next issue:

Israel is facing a historic internal battle politically. Although the government has decided on disengagement from the Gaza Strip next month, a growing minority of Israelis disagree with the government’s position. Is dissent always a healthy part of
democracy? What do Jewish values teach us about the values, practices, and consequences of dissent?

Many well known sources teach us the responsibilities one Jew has for another. I wish to highlight one found in Genesis Rabbah: “Love unaccompanied by criticism is not love . . . . Peace unaccompanied by reproof is not peace.” Dissent is a crucial part of any just legal and ethical system. The basis of democracy is that the minority retains rights in relation to the majority even if the majority rules. Since the cessation of Prophecy, law is in human hands and the majority rules. The minority views remain important (and are included in the Mishnah for use by future generations if conditions warrant it). The inclusion of minority opinions demonstrates the presence of dissent.

Jewish tradition also teaches us that the laws decided by the government or ruling authority are the law (and override specific Jewish laws that might disagree with secular law). Therefore, any decisions made by the Israeli government are binding upon all Israelis. Israel allows for vibrant expression of minority opinions through its world-renowned independent judiciary that allows citizens (and non-citizens) to challenge the government. Appropriately for a Jewish nation, Israel has many avenues for public debate and dissent.

The obligation to allow dissent is accompanied by teachings about the procedures of dissent. We learn that although both the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai teach “words of the Living God”, the House of Hillel’s kind and modest behavior and teaching the position of the House of Shammai before their own influenced that the law follows Hillel. Since the essence of Judaism is to value life and saving a life overrides all other actions, any form of dissent must not end endanger lives. In all, whether we are agreeing or dissenting, we should follow Micah's teaching of Micah: “The Lord requires of you to do justice, love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.”

I may expand my answer at a later time.
Until then, Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce

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