The Sanctity of the Jewish Conversation

by Robert Hyfler

Jews talk. We learn by talking. Our talking leads to actions. Our actions can and do change our world for the better. Devoid of conversation actions exist in a bubble of self-delusion. Reflection and critique is the essence of a solid reality check. The Jewish conversation is sacred and like all that is sacred must be protected, sheltered, and enhanced.

The Jewish conversation is a moral discourse not a data driven discourse. While numbers and data can inform our conversation they tell us nothing about our mission, our basic values and very little about the “ought” and the “why” of our actions. Even a numbers geek such as Nate Silver will tell you that there is an overload of data and factoids and we spend too little time identifying that data which is most useful.

The Jewish discourse is positive, forward thinking and inclusive. It eschews fatalism, nihilism, group and generational triumphalism and notions of “creative destruction”. It speaks to a better day and the renewal and enhancement of our social relationships. It trumpets the line, attributed to A.J. Heschel, that to be a Jew one must be an optimist against one’s better judgment.

The Jewish conversation is multi-generational. Venerable institutions and long held ideas must be open to the challenges of new voices. Those new to the conversation require the lessons of history and experience. You cannot transcend your reality unless you challenge its basic assumptions; you cannot understand those assumptions unless you are fully prepared to immerse yourself in its logic and structures. The past and its traditions are not destiny but they are always prologue.

The Jewish conversation is about substance over style. Defining our responsibilities to others far outweighs the perfection of technologies and experiments in new modes of decision making and group interaction.

The Jewish conversation rejects jargon. The torah was written “b’lashon Bnai Adam”, the language of ordinary people, to convey openness and accessibility. When each school speaks in its own found vocabulary it leads to the corrupting influence of gurus, priestly guardians and the idolatry of verbal secret handshakes and shorthand. The phrases we use should begin discussions not end them or pre-select participants.

The Jewish conversation must take place within a safe space. Virtual or real, those spaces must be absent of deferment to title, power relationships, gender manipulation and, most of all the threat or possibility of repercussions. One can be the type of realist who believes that decision making and operational efficiency demands a level of hierarchy. However the same realism dictates that the conversations leading to adaptive change requires none.

The Jewish conversation is about respect and honesty not simple civility. It is disrespectful to those we disagree with not to call things as we see it. No one appreciates to be pandered to or patronized. There are silly ideas, lazy logic, and just plain wrong headed suggestions. If you have done your homework, and if you have linked your passions to reasoned arguments, the directness of your language should not diminish the quality of the discourse. We are all big kids and we can take it.

The Jewish conversation should not be deferred. If you have something to say, believe others will listen, and most of all, are the only one with the insight and courage to say it don’t deny the conversation its due. There is more to a life worth living than a gold watch.

I am sure there are those who will take exception to the above (and are invited to do so) as I am sure there are those who think my list incomplete. That too is part of the Jewish conversation.

Bob Hyfler can be reached at bobhyfler@comcast.net