President Rivlin’s call for unity should be taken seriously. Regardless of our differences, we must take all steps necessary to achieve this goal.
This call must also apply to the Jewish People worldwide. In spite of the fact that world Jewry also faces similar internal issues that threaten us with extreme divisiveness, it is again necessary for all of us to do what is possible to maintain an over-all unity. In specific terms, this must demand of all Jews to quell the rhetoric. Ad personam attacks on each other serve no purpose.
Obviously, this includes a demand for people on the left to be careful, and respectful, in their references to Prime Minister Netanyahu. References to racism, for example, clearly are incendiary and accomplish nothing in any necessary promotion of Jewish unity. One may disagree, but there is a way of doing so which is proper and a way which is not. The call of the value of unity is to express disagreement in a manner, to the extent possible, which does not fracture this unity.
The fact is, though, that I know that my call to the left to be careful in their references to the Prime Minister will not necessarily be heeded by such individuals as they see me as one ‘on the other side’ and, of course, I would call for respect in addressing the Prime Minister. Therefore, if there is any purpose to my call for unity and care in how we address the other with whom we disagree, it must be found in my message to those who see me as sharing their viewpoint – and indeed this must be the focus of my message. My call must then essentially be upon those who, for example, are pleased with the re-election of the Prime Minister. The essence of my call must be that they be careful in how they address those with whom they disagree. They must be careful in how they describe Jews who support other agendas at the expense of a secure Israel.
It is for this reason that I get upset when people refer to other Jews, who have what may be termed liberal agendas, as Jewish Anti-Semites. What does such labeling do to further the call of unity? We again can disagree – strongly disagree – but it serves little purpose to voice such rhetoric of attack. There still must be the value of unity.
In furtherance of this idea, I believe it is important to consider how the tradition relates to Shaul HaMelech, King Saul. In many ways, Jews on the left who identify strongly as Jews believe that their position is buttressed by the Jewish values of chessed, loving-kindness, and rachamim, mercy. Indeed, they are correct that these values are to be inherent characteristics of Jewish identity. The story of King Saul is, however, the personification of the problems that may ensue when one follows these values too far. Yes, chessed and rachamim are very important – but still they are sometimes inappropriate and the story of Shaul HaMelech is such a story.
It is from this story that we are to learn that we must be careful not to offer mercy to the cruel for the end result may be that cruelty will then be expressed to those legitimately deserving of mercy. It is also true that, because of his inappropriate expression of kindness, Saul lost his right to be king and was punished for his misdeed. Even though these emotions are positive ones, expressing chessed and rachamim when inappropriate is still wrong. This is clearly part of the lesson from King Saul. This is something that we must also continue to articulate in debating those who we feel today are allowing their Jewish emotions of caring to misread situations and advocate for positions that ultimately are problematic. But there is also another lesson from how the tradition responded to King Saul. Although his actions were critiqued, he was still always personally respected as a Jew.
Notwithstanding the mistakes that he made – for which there were consequences – King Saul, throughout Torah literature, is referred to with the greatest respect. He misapplied value characteristics of chessed and rachamim and for this he was punished, but, in a certain way, the tradition also understood that, for this, he should still not be vilified. He was wrong but still a Jew, a righteous Jew. This should also be a consideration in our modern context when Jews, perhaps because of their feelings of care for others, are making similar mistakes. We can disagree but vilifying another is seriously problematic.
This is not to compare all Jews with more liberal views on Israel to King Saul. His boots are actually too big for any us to fill. But I think that how the tradition viewed Shaul contains an important lesson for us. Calling all who may maintain a left-leaning viewpoint a Jewish Anti-Semite does not further what should be our complete goal which must include a striving for Jewish unity. Is this to say that the positive perspective towards King Saul should be applied to all those on the left? No, this may also be inappropriate. Indeed there may be some within those ranks who indeed are self-hating. But, in articulating our arguments of debate, it must also be important for us to recognize that it may be our very Jewishness which could lead one to be caring of others even at the very expense of self. And we cannot respond to individuals when they, in fact, articulate such viewpoints, by ignoring this Jewishness. We must maintain and advocate for our positions – but with caring for all Jews and all humanity.