Holding Multiple Views Simultaneously

Holding Multiple Views Simultaneously

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Did you know that every single opinion cited in the Talmud is respected? This is a Jewish value that we would do well to follow in America in contemporary times. The rabbis of the Talmud listened to all sides of a matter and were inclined to make their joint decision (which became Jewish law, called the “Halakhah”) based on majority opinion. However, just as in the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the minority opinion was still respected and remains a valid point of view. There may come a time in history when the minority opinion makes more sense.

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Actually, when we examine how Jewish rabbis/judges exercised the law so many centuries ago, we find that American law has many resemblances to rabbinic law.  As contemporary lawyers will appreciate, the rabbis argued vigorously and persuasively, enjoying the different points of view and, indeed, the argumentation itself, just as if they were in a debating club.

But the situations they tackled were serious ones, even if sometimes they were hypothetical, and the decisions they made had consequences of which they were keenly aware. Sometimes there was not enough evidence to make a decision, and the discussion was termed “Undecided” and tabled. Sometimes rabbis who had greater scholarity or prestige carried the day, but what is essential to remember (as I was taught in rabbinic school) is that these were loving disputes, with the argumentation presented in order to make the best decision. Acrimony was usually avoided because the rabbis recognized that there could be multiple truths, depending on one’s perspective and knowledge of a situation.

What I am stressing is that every point of view, sometimes expressed with hyperbole to make the point, was given consideration. That is why only one point of view out of many, a single sound byte, cannot be cited as the conclusive rabbinic position. It is all too easy to take words out of context and manipulate them to suggest what was never meant. With this in mind, it is essential not to take a statement made in the Talmud out of context (all too often done by its detractors) because it will not reflect the whole Talmudic view on a particular situation.

The Talmudic method is to listen to all sides of an argument before making a decision, respecting everyone’s point of view, taking from each what is valuable, and then deciding on a well-considered position. It’s a useful method for our current U.S. legislators to emulate.

©️Rabbi Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.