Wednesday, January 27, 2010

a model for debate and discussion

Its probably not new, but I first noticed it recently on jrants -- there is a blog for Reform judaism. Of course I don't suggest giving up reading me for the divrei torah over there : ) -- The reason I bring it up is because I found what I think is wonderful feature on the Union for Reform Judaim website called "Eilu v'Eilu" that I wish we could borrow and make part of some sort of Orthodox forum. The goal of "Eilu v'Eilu" is to raise an issue and have two differing views presented, followed by a chance for rebuttal by both sides, some responses to questions, and a concluding summary -- about four posts/responses in total on each issue. The responses are brief; there are no multi-page essays, but simply short position papers outlining the gist of an argument followed by a short response to the other side. From looking over their archives it seems to me that while the idea is good, the implementation suffers from a major weakness in that most of the respondants take positions that are none too far apart. For example, two Reform rabbis reflect on the benefits of intermarriage and the responses are then contrasted. I guess perhaps perhaps no one is left in the reform movement willing to object to intermarriage and defend that position, which would make for more interesting/entertaining reading. (If you are interested in that sort of thing, there is always the book One People, Two Worlds.)

I think it would be wonderful if we in the Orthodox world would borrow this same idea and, whether done through a blog or some other medium, have representitives of different POV presenting and discussing their opinions. Of course, there are some hurdles. This idea would require some moderator to choose respondants capable of addressing the issues and not stack the desk with a world-class expert on one side and some yokel on the other. The second problem is that some will oppose such a forum on the grounds that responding to the other side itself is a concession -- it grants the other side legitimacy as a bar plugta that demands or is worthy of response. (Ironically, whether this argument amounts to nothing more than political posturing or has merit on principle in an issue itself worth discussing.) Thirdly, and it pains me to write this, I find that especially on the right there is a lack of ability to communicate ideas effectively in a way that speaks to the concerns of others. One of the sacrifices made in avoiding a liberal arts education is the ability to write a decent essay. So there are obstacles, and these obstacles would likely prove difficult for the major organizations to overlook, but that is no reason for others to not want to participate. My personal opinion is that organizations like Agudah would be better served by inviting those outside their community (e.g. the bloggers that serve as their current whipping horse) to their convention just as YU would be better served by inviting outside right-wing Roshei Yeshiva an opportunity to weigh in on debates central to modern orthodoxy. Much of what passes for "debate" by major organizations is really analysis of various narrow shades of the same argument bouncing around an echo chamber instead of real discussion.

So much for my pipe dream...


  1. Thanks for the link. It looks like a very interesting and productive format.

  2. Rb Gifter z"l pointed out that you cannot know what the golden middle way of the Rambam is until you have understood what the extreme is.

    He quoted from Reb Mottel Pogramansky z"l who was seen to be acting in an extreme manner, Reb Motel explained to the questioner that they did not know what the extreme right is, therefore they thought he was acting in an extreme manner but really he was in a centrist position.

    If you raise a debate forum you will suffer from the same problem, just as in the case of reform it is obvious that they are centrist left after discussing positions which are both left.

    At the end of the day, kesheim sh'ein parzufeihem domos zu le'zu kach ein deoseihem domos zu le'zu. The ikkar is to live in shalom, not to agree to something that is inappropriate for your mehalech.

    pc :-)

  3. Very interesting idea. Thank you for raising it.

  4. First find people willing to listen to the other side...