Judaism’s Antidote to Cancel Culture

The bulk of the Talmud comprises records of various arguments among rabbis, and its narrative portions contain numerous examples of these sages maintaining respectful relations despite the ferocity of their disagreements—as well as tales of the dangers of taking disagreement too far. Drawing on these traditions, David Wolpe shows how they can provide an alternative model of civic discourse that stands in contrast to our current age of censoriousness, intolerance of contradictory ideas, ad-hominem attacks, and “cancellation.” Take for instance, this story about the two leading sages of the 3rd century:

When the great Rabbi Resh Lakish dies, his brother-in-law and intellectual sparring partner, Rabbi Yoḥanan, is inconsolable. The other rabbis seek to comfort Rabbi Yohanan by sending Rabbi Eliezer ben Pedat, a very fine legal mind, to engage and perhaps distract him. It does not go well. . . . “Finally, Rabbi Yohanan bursts out, ‘Are you comparable to the son of Lakish?  . . .  [W]hen I would state a matter, he would raise 24 difficulties against me in an attempt to disprove my claim, and I would answer him with 24 answers, and the halakhah by itself would become broadened and clarified.” (Tractate Bava Metzia 84a).

One cannot really understand the truth if one does not understand the arguments and views that can be urged against it. Just as we appreciate our blessings when we feel the lack of them, we sharpen our perception of truth when we are confronted by arguments that appear to contradict it; . . . openness to others, including those with whom we might vehemently disagree, is also essential for creating a robust and living culture. Totalitarian regimes strangle dissent; they produce, in Nabokov’s memorable phrase about the Soviet Union, “poker-faced bullies and smiling slaves.” Thriving cultures cannot draw narrow bounds to speech.

And although rabbinic authority is a key element of the halakhic process, tradition also recognizes that authority is not everything:

Argument from authority, including “lived experience,” is never sufficient. Despite the reverence for teachers in the Jewish tradition, for example, there are limitations. The great Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin puts it this way: “A student must not accept his teacher’s words if he has an objection to them. Sometimes a student will be right, just as a small piece of wood can set a large one aflame.” Many teachers throughout history have refused to give their students the space to disagree, but Rabbi Ḥayyim realizes that to silence someone is not to answer him.

Read more at Sapir

More about: Cancel culture, Hayyim of Volozhin, Judaism, Talmud

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy