Tisha b’Av: Appreciate Disagreement

Though conflict is uncomfortable, it does not have to be destructive. In the end, learning to appreciate another’s point of view, even if we disagree, brings us together as a community.

What can we learn from Tisha b’Av, which has come to represent numerous tragedies in Jewish history? Baseless hatred (sinat chinam) was concluded to be the reason that the Second Temple was destroyed on the 9th of the month of Av, in 70 CE.

Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez (oil on canvas, 1867)
Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez (oil on canvas, 1867)

As the occupants of Jerusalem grappled with the increasingly vulnerable situation they found themselves in after four years of war and with ever-growing insecurity in the besieged city, it would be nice to think that everyone got together and supported one another. But it was not so simple. The Zealots, who refused to consider negotiation with the Romans, would not tolerate anyone who was open to discussions. This violent dispute is among the examples of sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, identified as the cause of the Temple’s destruction. It may seem like an oversimplification to say that not honoring each other’s viewpoints could lead to the destruction of the world as we know it, but many wise teachers have come to the conclusion that this was the case some 2000 years ago.

The resulting shift in Jewish society away from a religion rooted in territorially-based scarificial rites ultimately led to the Rabbinic Judaism we observe today. For Jews of the time it was devastating. In our daily prayer book, we read from the Talmud (Avot D‘Rabbi Natan 11a) of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai comforting his disciple who looked at the Temple ruins and broke into tears. “Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining atonement even though the Temple is destroyed… through deeds of loving-kindness.”

This philosophy bears strong significance today. Rabbi Sharon Brous notes,

Rabbi Asher Lopatin teaches in the name of the Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv): the problem is not having strong ideas, but dismissing other people’s ideas as heresy.

What a powerful teaching. Truly, if we do not respect the different ideas among our fellow community members, we will have a hard time communicating with them in a holy way. Though conflict is uncomfortable, it does not have to be destructive. In the end, learning to appreciate another’s point of view, even if we disagree, brings us together as a community. So, as Tisha B’Av approaches, let’s seek to cultivate compassion for those with whom we disagree, so that we can embody this important teaching.