The status quo has got to go

“Status Quo”. Sound like predictable stability or a sinister reminder that things are not as they should be?

The status quo of the Jewish nation encapsulates a legacy of anti-Semitism and the disconnection of Jews from our holiest site. Worse, it constitutes the disconnection of Jews from each other. And it’s been around ever since the Romans attacked our Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70.

Today is Rosh Chodesh, the start of the gloomy month of Av. Over the next nine days, until after the fast of Tisha B’Av, Jews worldwide will commemorate that invasion, as well as just about every other Jewish national tragedy.

The Talmud cites “baseless hatred” between Jews as the root cause of the Temple’s destruction. When we Jews started hating each other for no good reason, it was only a matter of time before we lost Jerusalem, the city of peace. I don’t imagine that “baseless hatred” means that people loathed each other for nothing. More likely, they believed they had good reasons to despise each other, but it was all in their heads.

Not much has changed two thousand years later. The status quo remains. We still have Jews who hate each other, and still for no good reason. Ultra-Haredim feel entitled to malign the extreme left. Marriage activists debase the Rabbinate. Secularists snub traditionalists and the religious disdain the uninformed. It’s Tisha B’Av de ja vu.

I hold strong views on certain issues. I’m sure you do too. We all have something over which we are die-hard passionate. That’s fine. Have your extreme views. Defend them vehemently. But, as the cliche goes, “play the ball, not the man”. Look at the Talmud, it is replete with no holds barred debates where the protagonists friendly when they step out of the study hall. Jewish debate is meant to be boisterous, heated, sometimes hostile, but never personal.

Today, Rosh Chodesh Av, is also the yartzeit of Aaron, brother of Moses. Aaron was the ultimate peacemaker; the one and only Jewish leader to be missed by literally every member of his community. Aaron’s secret was that he reminded people to look past their irreconcilable viewpoints and see the human being, the fellow Jew who held those views.

We need Aaron wisdom to break the toxic status quo. Instead of gunning for each other over beliefs, we should try something radical: Share a coffee or a lechaim with one of our “adversaries”, to get to know the person behind the views. Who knows? We may discover that we like each other. We may even stumble on some baseless love- the kind that families who hate each other’s eating habits, but still love each other have. After all, like each other or not, we are one big Jewish family.

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.