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Subjects to debate

Judaism loves a good argument, but not just any argument. As the Mishna teaches, “Every argument for the sake of heaven will in the end be of permanent value, but every argument not for the sake of heaven will not endure.”

What is an argument “for the sake of heaven”? According to Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, “It means not shutting out the voices of those with whom you disagree. It means modernists not calling their opponents fundamentalists, and conservatives thinking twice before calling the other side heretics.”

Unfortunately, one-sided screeds and name-calling blossom on the web like weeds, choking out useful dialogue. You see it in Jews calling other Jews “anti-Israel” because they disagree on how best to achieve security for Israel. You see it in bitter arguments between Republicans and Democrats, who think the other side is not just wrong on the issues, but flawed in their very souls.

To combat this tendency, even just a little bit, NJJN has created a new, free weekly e-newsletter we’re calling “Responsive Reading.” Each week, we scour the web for stimulating essays on Jewish life, Israel, spirituality, culture, and politics. At the same time, we match them with equally provocative responses.

In recent weeks we’ve found a stimulating essay lamenting the “enabling” role played by Jews in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and a response suggesting that critics magnified the “marginal” anti-Jewish elements at the protests. We featured an interview with Israeli philosopher Rabbi David Hartman on the rightward lurch of the fervently Orthodox, or haredim, and an essay by a haredi writer who insists charges of “religious coercion” have been overblown.

That’s not to suggest that there are no right answers. Rather, the goal of “Responsive Reading” is to show the range of opinions when it comes to issues of vital Jewish interest. Think of it as a way to hone your own arguments, to enjoy the tussle, and perhaps to acknowledge the wisdom on the other side. You may disagree, but we think “Responsive Reading” will be of permanent value.

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