Religion & Beliefs

Fighting the Good Fight

A few years ago I dated this guy, and together we were the couple who fought. We bickered endlessly, and alone in his apartment we had huge screaming fits that often involved the slamming of doors, and the long cold … Read More

By / June 13, 2007
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A few years ago I dated this guy, and together we were the couple who fought. We bickered endlessly, and alone in his apartment we had huge screaming fits that often involved the slamming of doors, and the long cold silences we gave each other between rounds. I loved him, but somehow loving him largely consisted of meeting up and arguing for hours on end. Politics, religion, race relations, the economy, music, movies, poetry…Whenever we hung out with friends they were always pulling us aside and telling us to either break up or get married already. Fighting can be scary, and frustrating, and sad. It can also be funny, and cute, and silly. It can be a weapon, or it can heal. One of my favorite things about Judaism is that unlike Christianity with its turn-the-other-cheek anti-conflict theology, Jewish texts have always valued fights and conflicts. The Midrash is known for taking various statements about war and warfare from the Torah, and explaining them as metaphors for life in the beit midrash. Rarely is an issue presented without the disclaimer that the rabbis disagreed on how the law should be decided. As one of my high school halacha teachers was fond of saying, the right answer is always that there’s a disagreement. Disagreeing and maintaining respect is difficult, but it’s the basis for much of Jewish law. In fact, presenting a dissenting opinion is considered to be a helpful and good thing, because the discussion is said to increase the understanding and value of the Torah. One of my favorite examples of this idea comes in Bava Metzia 24a, in the story of Rabbi Yochanan and his student Resh Lakish. When Resh Lakish died (because of an argument he had with Rabbi Yochanan) Rabbi Yochanan was so depressed that the other rabbis sought out a new student to delight him. They chose Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat, who was known for this exhaustive knowledge of past traditions. For every comment that Rabbi Yochanan brought forth Eleazar ben Pedat was able to find a supporting statement in tradition. What was Rabbi Yochanan’s response?

‘Are you as the son of Lakish?' he complained: 'when I stated a law, the son of Lakish used to raise twenty-four objections, to which I gave twenty-four answers, which consequently led to a fuller comprehension of the law; whilst you say, "A Baraitha has been taught which supports you:" do I not know myself that my dicta are right?' Thus he went on rending his garments and weeping, 'Where are you, O son of Lakish, where are you, O son of Lakish;' and he cried thus until his mind was turned. Thereupon the Rabbis prayed for him, and he died.

See the complete text Basically, Rabbi Yochanan died because he didn’t have a good person to fight with. Of course, choosing our battles, and remembering always to respect the humanity of our partners is integral to fighting well. But fighting is a integral part of how Judaism is meant to function. Today, try picking a constructive fight with someone you respect and love. Listen, respond, and remember how much of our tradition is beauty that has come from conflict. PS- If you know someone in a relationship that is full of conflict but void of respect, or if you suspect mental or physical abuse, contact Shalva.