Jewish history is replete with vigorous debate but something is amiss when disagreement breeds animosity. Sixteen years ago we witnessed the result of such hatred, with Yitzchak Rabin’s tragic assassination. In response, R. Shlomo Aviner published a collection of his essays–most originally published before the assassination–calling for peaceful debate, titled Rosh Ha-Memshalah: Pirkei Kevod Malkhus Yisrael Ve-Eretz Yisrael (The Prime Minister: Chapters on the Honor for the Government and Land of Israel, Sifriat Chavah, Beit El 1996). R. Aviner’s heartfelt entreaty to his fellow Jews is worthy of review in this introspective time of year.
The years immediately prior to and after the founding of the state of Israel were filled with animus between the competing politico-military factions. On two separate occasions, including the sinking of the Altalena, R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook published letters calling on Jewish activists to cease from hatred and internecine violence. He beseeched his brothers and sisters to recognize that they may not be the sole proprietors of truth and to refrain from violently forcing their views on others (Li-Nesivos Yisrael, vol. 1 pp. 106, 128). These serve as the model on which R. Aviner acts.
Four themes underlie these passionate, if often repetitive, essays: 1) We are all in this together, as one people. There is no “us” and “them”. We must recognize that if we hurt someone else, another political faction, we are damaging ourselves. 2) Our disputants also think they are doing what is best for the country. Even if we disagree vehemently, we are battling ideas and not people. Yes, protest and debate the ideas but never the people. 3) Respect the office (of Prime Minister) regardless of who holds it. He is a symbol of the people, which always commands respect. If you don’t like who holds the office, campaign for one of his opponents. 4) The Redemption takes time, with surges and halts. Don’t despair because the historical drama which we are experiencing needs to play out at its own pace.
R. Aviner also addresses related halakhic questions. Political debates must be conducted strictly within the laws of slander, to which he devotes the longest essay of the book (pp. 61-82; see this post). In particular, we must not exaggerate our disputants’ positions, such as claiming that they wish to give away the entire country. Dismissive terms like erev rav and rodef (pursuer) are incorrect and counterproductive. These people wish to save the country, even if we strongly believe that their methods are wong. The prayer for the state of Israel must be recited unaltered, despite our disappointment in the country’s leaders. Jewish law applies to political disputes, demanding a cool head on a hot topic.
All of these ideas were published prior to Rabin’s assassination, as demonstrated by the month and year provided for each essay. R. Aviner is arguing that the Religious Zionist community did not entirely neglect its duty to educate against this assassination. While irresponsible voices were certainly heard prior to the tragedy, contrary teachings were also promulgated. In a discussion of who shares the blame, R. Aviner argues that you would be wrong–sinful–to blame an entire community for the actions of an individual or even many individuals (pp. 139-143). However, we must all work to atone for the assassination by spreading love and unity throughout our nation.
Sixteen years after Rabin’s assassination, we still need these lessons. We have not yet learned how to debate politics respectfully and honestly. Baseless hatred caused the destruction of the Temple and, as we can plainly see, continues to plague our nation and prevent its complete redemption. I pray that we finally learn to love each other and see the messianic fruit of our efforts.