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Our Love Is Stronger Than Our Opinions

Published: in Jewish News by .

We are connected virtually to like-minded people who all reinforce our perspectives.

The post Our Love Is Stronger Than Our Opinions appeared first on Jewish Journal.

As a pulpit rabbi in Orange County, I am exposed to many congregants who are painfully estranged from family members due to different perspectives on many social issues, but most recently, the COVID-19 vaccine. My family is not exempt from these challenges and we have struggled deeply with the criticism and lack of contact with family members around our desire to respect CDC guidelines around masks, social distancing and vaccinations.

After over a year of not being in contact, a family member sent me a video of a doctor speaking about the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccines, the hospitals’ over-inflated numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the government’s role in spreading false information about the pandemic. I assume she sent this video to me because it’s very important to her that I understand and even come to agree with her point-of-view, which is different from mine.

I began my response to her by affirming that she was reaching out to me because the information to which she is exposed and the sources of authority that she trusts believe that our country’s handling of this pandemic, and even our very government, is dangerous and needs to be fought. I briefly shared that based on the sources of authority that I trust, I see vaccinations as the solution to bringing our country out of this pandemic.

Instead of launching into my perspective on the pandemic and justifying my position, I tried to share what has been in my mind and heart regarding these kinds of discussions, and the divisions they create among people we love. I shared that we live in a country that is more divided than I have ever experienced in my lifetime, and maybe since the Civil War. I believe that this division is due to people living in an information bubble with their own news sources and social media feeds in our internet-based world.

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We don’t have regular BBQs with our neighbors who hold diverse perspectives, giving us different ways to think about issues. Instead, we are connected virtually to like-minded people who all reinforce our perspectives. This is true on the left and the right.

And all of the news sources and social media feeds that we watch have one agenda—to make money. And they do that by keeping us watching. They keep us watching by getting us riled up. No matter what happens around the world—whether with COVID, vaccines, Israel, or something else—each source will present it in ways that make it a moral issue to which there is only one appropriate response. And anyone who has a different response is presumed to be an idiot, morally bankrupt, or part of the problem.

And what is so painful is that we have even begun to view our beloved family members as being on “the other side” if they don’t share our information and opinions. I have seen this tear apart members of my congregation, and I’m seeing it in our own family.

Truth is a slippery thing. In our separate media and social bubbles, there are entirely different sets of facts about what is true. Who do you trust? Each one of us can say,“Of course, it’s obvious, my set of facts is correct and the rest is just manipulated fake news.” But based on what? It’s important for all of us to reflect on why we put our authority in certain places and not in others.

Truth is a slippery thing. In our separate media and social bubbles, there are entirely different sets of facts about what is true.

Our sages have had some fascinating discussions and teachings in the Talmud about the tension between truth and peace. When interpreting Torah, they can interpret a pasuk (a verse) in an infinite number of ways, creating countless midrashim or interpretations. Which interpretation is the “true” one? Many opposing and different interpretations are given validity on the same page of the Gemara. We need to listen to them. But in the countless arguments between Hillel and Shammai, the halacha always sides with Hillel. Why? Because Hillel always stated the opinion of Shammai before his own. Because Hillel allowed his students to eat with Shammai’s, even though they disagreed about Kashrut. Because Hillel’s interpretations increased connection, love, and peace regardless of whether they were what the Holy One intended when the Torah was given.

But in the countless arguments between Hillel and Shammai, the halacha always sides with Hillel.

So while I do my best to get as much information from as many perspectives as possible, both in news and relationships, and I have to make decisions and choices based on my best analytics of the information I have, I am aware that none of the “facts” can lead me to “the truth.” Instead, I’m more interested in how to interpret the information that surrounds me in ways that increase more connection and peace with the people I love and with whom I’m connected.

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I’m sick and tired of these issues getting in the way of expressing our love for each other in all the beautiful ways we know how to do. I believe that it is vitally important that we learn the art of listening and sharing with each other about issues around which we have deep differences. Our sages knew how to do this. They knew how to stay connected with each other and have arguments l’shem shamayim—for the sake of heaven. And I am committed to helping my congregation learn this art of dialogue. But while we are learning this art, my hope is that we can prioritize and focus our conversations with the people we love on what gives us meaning, joy, connection, inspiration, or how we are dealing with sadness and isolation—the real stuff. And through the strengthening of our connections, I believe we will find ways to understand each other.


K’vod Wieder is the rabbi of Temple Beth El of South Orange County where he initiated the successful program, “Can We Talk?!: How To Build Relationships Through Disagreement.” He is working on an upcoming book, “The Torah of Relationships.”

The post Our Love Is Stronger Than Our Opinions appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/337516/our-love-is-stronger-than-our-opinions/

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