For a class I am taking on the Arab-Israeli conflict, I have been reading “Peace and Love and Compromise” in Israel, Palestine and Peace by Amos Oz. And I think it’s fascinating—not just because of what it has to say about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but because so much of what he has to say can be applied other parts of life.
He starts out by quoting Genesis 13, 8-9: “Let there be no conflict between me and you or between my hersmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Behold, the land is before you, please part from me. If you go left I will turn right, and if you turn right I will go left.” He goes on to say that the quote explains what peace has to be like in the real world: sometimes in order to be on good terms with someone else, people need to define their respective places because we, as humans, are not perfect and cannot always get along when forced together. In his essay, he applies this lesson to the Israelis and Palestinians, arguing that they need to set boundaries between themselves in order to make peace.
But I think this applies to more than just Israelis and Palestinians. I think we can apply it to Judaism, too. There comes to a point where denominations in Judaism simply will not agree, from issues of how to interpret Halacha to issues of modernity versus tradition, etc. And that’s okay, that’s human, and what we need to do is accept those differences by metaphorically dividing up our space. People don’t have to agree to coexist.
Another quote that I love, on the nature of his writing:
I have said on several occasions that whenver I find that I agree with myself one hundred per cent, I don’t write a story—I write an angry article telling my government what to do, sometimes telling it where to go (not that it listens). But if I find more than just one argument in me, more than just one voice, it sometimes happens that the different voices develop into characters then I know that I am pregnant with a story. I write stories precisely when I can step into several antagonistic claims, diverse moral stances, conflicting emotional positions.
I’m not going to compare my writing with Amos Oz’s, because he’s incredible. But what I will say is this: I certainly know how he feels. A lot of times writing on this blog, I come out not really knowing what I think, mainly because I end up arguing for contradicting things. And that’s because different parts of me believe different things, and because I’ve started to realize that unlike in a debate, physically writing down what is “right” is very hard. Just like he talks about in his essay, it’s easy to choose between black and white, but “the real moral challenge is to distinguish between different shades of grey.” And that’s what a lot of the issues facing Judaism today—issues about how people see themselves fitting into both the modern world and the world of Jewish tradition—are: grey.
If you can, I’d recommend reading his book of essays. It’s amazing political stuff written in the artful language of a poet.