In American society, especially in our diverse Jewish community, we value robust and vigorous debate about pressing issues. Such debate is one of the greatest features of our democracy and one of the hallmarks of our people. We revel in our tradition of debate: A frank and civil exchange of ideas helps to inform our decisions, provoke new ways of thinking, and sometimes even change our minds.
And yet today, the expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience. Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults, and outrageous charges. Such incivility serves no purpose but to cheapen our democracy. When differences spiral down into uncivil acrimony, the dignity of individuals and community is diminished, and our precious democracy is weakened. People holding diverse views cease to listen to each other. Lack of civility makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to open minds, much less find common ground.
To help ensure a civil and productive conversation, we remind everyone here, speakers as well as audience members, that we gather as a community to discuss and debate, but not to degrade. Our goal is a civil and constructive discussion.
This goal has deep roots and support in Torah and our community’s traditions. Our Sages understood and appreciated the fruit of arguments that were conducted l’shem Shamayim, “for the sake of Heaven.” They fervently believed that great minds, engaged in earnest seeking and questioning, could find better and richer solutions to the problems they faced. They refrained from insisting on uniformity. They sought to preserve and thereby honor the views of the minority as well as the majority. This they did through the great teaching, Eilu v’elu divrei Elokim chayim, “both these and those are the words of the living God.”
Robust, vigorous debate about the pressing issues of the day is vital and essential in a pluralistic society, including within our diverse Jewish community.
Deep divisions are to be expected over how to address many issues including but not limited to the domestic economy, the environment, health care, American military involvement abroad, the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the existential threats posed to Israel by terror and Iranian nuclear ambition. A frank and civil exchange of ideas helps to inform and distill consensus. In recent years, however, we have been witness to an increasing challenge in general society and in our own community. There is greater political and socio-economic polarization, the deterioration of civil interaction, decreased sense of common ground among individuals with divergent perspectives, greater tension around global issues and their impact on American society. At times divisions spill over into racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of prejudice and bias. It is cause for great concern.
The ACCESS 20/20 Weekend Civility track brought together dozens of emerging leaders of different ethnic and religious backgrounds from the U.S. and abroad in order to discuss the troubling rise in “uncivil” political discourse, and to provide hands-on training in how to engage in civil exchange and even disagreement. The conference aimed to sow the seeds for a reversal of current trends, which reward divisive political rhetoric and punish those who attempt to moderate the conversation.
The conference goal was also action-oriented: almost 100 people signed a "civil engagement pledge" -- a copy of which is below. We'll be listing the signatories shortly. We hope that the pact will have a longer life, with participants going to organizations to which they belong in order to encourage them to sign on as well.
Submitted by Haya Thu Apr 21 2011 15:04:00 GMT-0400 (EDT)
Resolution on Civility
January 16, 2011
The Jewish religious tradition stresses the importance of civility in every aspect of human interaction. Three times a day we end our most important prayer with the fervent words of Elokai N'tzor, asking Divine assistance to "guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceit" and ask "may my soul be silent" in response to those who "verbally abuse" us.
This goal has grown far more difficulty in our contemporary world where instant communication, social networking and a drastic coarsening of public dialogue have impacted on our community as well. Public debate in American Jewish life, and even in Orthodox Jewish life, have been cheapened by the polarization, demonization, ha l f truths and raised voices that all too often characterize contemporary public discourse.
Submitted by Haya Fri Apr 15 2011 11:26:00 GMT-0400 (EDT)
The Year of Civil Discourse Initiative
The Year of Civil Discourse (YCD) Initiative is an innovative project of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Community Federation, in close partnership with the Northern California Board of Rabbis. Its focus is to elevate the level of discourse within the Jewish community, and increase the ability of Jewish institutions to have more respectful and informed conversations about Israel and other contentious issues. YCD was developed in response to growing tensions within the community, including issues related to Israel programming in synagogues, JCCs, Hillels, and other community institutions. This program will bolster the ability of local institutions to increase civility among members and to build consensus on challenging issues within the larger community.
From America’s heartland in Wisconsin to Liberty and Church Streets at
Ground Zero in Manhattan, a rising drumbeat of hatred and fear is luring
people to abandon religious tolerance, civility, reasoned discourse and
mutual respect. The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee is urging
people to stay true to the democratic ideals and religious principles that
ennoble all of us.
On Tuesday, September 7, JCPA President Steve Gutow joined in Washington, DC with religious leaders from across the country to attend an emergency summit in response to rising anti-Muslim sentiment. The summit was hosted by the Islamic Society of North America and included Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, Michael Kinnaman of the National Council of Churches, and Rev. Rich Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. The statement they released is below.
Religious Leaders Denounce Anti-Muslim Bigotry and Call for Respect for America's Tradition of Religious Liberty
As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation’s capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community. We bear a sacred responsibility to honor America’s varied faith traditions and to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all. In advance of the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we announce a new era of interfaith cooperation.
Whereas political discourse has become increasingly rancorous and disparaging, replacing reasoned argument with demonizing invective and ad hominem attacks;
Whereas public debates too often descend into what novelist Thomas Mann calls, “The politics of accusation and moral annihilation,”;
Whereas Jewish law and ethics have deep-rooted concerns about the power of words to harm. We learn from Proverbs, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” We learn from Rabbi Israel Salanter, “Be vigilant in protecting the honor of all people, especially those with whom you disagree.” We learn from countless examples in the Talmud how to conduct vigorous debate without abusive language, thereby exemplifying the principle of kavod ha-briyot ;
EAST JEFFERSON, LA
FAITH STATEMENT ON CIVILITY IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE
NOVEMBER 20, 2009
By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel, sent his servant to the market to buy some good food. The servant returned with tongue. Then he sent him to buy some bad food and again he returned with tongue. Rabbi Shimon asked, why when asked to bring “good” and “bad” food, he brought the same tongue? The servant replied: “It is the source of good and evil. When it is good, there is nothing better, when it is bad there is nothing worse.”
My friends the power of the tongue and the opportunity for men and women to share their views freely and openly is one of the greatest blessings our country offers to us. However, when public debate devolves into name calling, debasing those with whom you differ, even calls for violence against those with whom you disagree, then all good people of faith must rise up.
Alarmed by 'rancorous and acrimonious' debates,
Governing Board issues a call for civil discourse
New York, September 25, 2009
Alarmed by the intensity of angry and sometimes violent language coming out of public meetings on healthcare and other issues, the National Council of Churches Governing Board has called for "civility in public discourse."
The Governing Board issued its open letter, which was initiated by the NCC Health Task Force, during its meetings here September 21 and 22.
Citing God's call in Isaiah 1:18 to "reason together," the NCC letter affirms the value of "vigorous, principled debate" but insists that the arguments "be tempered with a profound sense of the dignity and worth of each person."
We have been bound together by ahavat Yisrael, our love for our people and the State of Israel. In appreciation of our differences we have also valued Machloket, argument. It is part of our DNA. Filled with passion and conviction, however, the tenor of our arguments has sometimes caused us to descend into intra-Jewish anger, hatred, and even violence. Our Sages labeled these eruptions sinat chinam, "causeless hatred" and concluded that they have only led to catastrophe.
Religious Leaders Join in Call for Honesty and Civility in Politics
Saperstein and Edgar: Tactics that attack candidates for their childhood, use unattributed accusations to denigrate the good name of public figures, or manipulate religious fears for political gain represents a politics that divisively erodes the commonweal, corrodes our national discourse, and violates those key values of honesty and civility that should be at the heart of that discourse.
DATE: January 25, 2007
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Dan Webster, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
Rachel Slomovitz, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
O- 202-387-2800/ email@example.com
Washington DC- In a statement released today, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, called for greater honesty and civility in our nation’s politics and expressed concern about recent political attacks using unattributed sources and based on a candidate’s childhood.
The United States faces daunting challenges as we approach the close of the 20th Century. Those challenges include an urgent necessity that we as a nation find better ways to talk with and about each other. Too often in politics and government, we have relied on stereotypes, slurs, and innuendo to make our points more memorable, more “news-worthy,” more striking.
Indeed, as people of faith and goodwill we know that incivility can often be an effective political weapon against ideological opponents. When religion and politics intersect, we see vividly the growing trend of many to baptize a political stance in the language of religious doctrine. Elevating partisan positions to a form of non-negotiable religious convictions in a manner that makes civil interaction difficult threatens the sanctity of religion and undermines the ideals of our democratic society.
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Statement on Public Discourse
The undersigned, presidents and executives of the member organizations of the Conference of Presidents believe that regardless of position or perspective, organizational leaders, government officials, rabbis, communal leaders, concerned individuals, have a stake in assuring the civility of debate and behavior. We must assure the acts or statements of an individual or individuals are not used to characterize or criticize larger segments of the Jewish community.
Encounter is an educational organization that cultivates informed Jewish leadership on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We do not take specific positions regarding the outcome of the conflict. We do, however, hold a set of values that underlie all of our work, including organizational programs, alumni activities, and staff and board interactions. Our vision is one of genuine peace: an environment of safety and equity that embraces the full dignity of all.
Encounter cultivates resilient mutual listening and curiosity, between Jews and Palestinians as well as between Jews and other Jews with divergent worldviews.
Kavod/Dignity & Integrity:
Encounter affirms the fundamental dignity of all human beings, and encourages deep respect for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of all people.
How good and pleasant it is when the people of God live together in unity.—Psalm 133:1
As Christian pastors and leaders with diverse theological and political beliefs, we have come together to make this covenant with each other, and to commend it to the church, faith-based organizations, and individuals, so that together we can contribute to a more civil national discourse. The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “ put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
I affirm the positive role that religion plays in the democratic process, acknowledging that religion best contributes to our public life when it works for reconciliation, inspires common effort, promotes community and responsibility, and upholds the dignity of all human beings.
I repudiate the use of religion as a weapon to demonize those whose religious or political beliefs are different from mine and I will challenge anyone or any organization asserting that a particular candidate is sanctioned by God.
(JCPA’s Task Forces on Israel, World Jewry, and International Human Rights; Jewish Security and The Bill of Rights; and Equal Opportunity and Social Justice)
Chair: Susie Turnbull, Vice-Chair EOSJ Taskforce
Moderator: Dr. Steven Windmueller, Hebrew Union College
Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC of San Francisco
Dr. Karen Abrams Gerber
Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, Avodah
Susie Turnbull, Vice-Chair of the EOSJ Taskforce introduced the session. She explained how timely the issue of civility in discourse is, especially considering recent debates on healthcare and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She noted that the hallmark of community relations is an open and respectful process. Susie then introduced the panel of speakers.