Jerusalem – A Jerusalem rabbi is leading an effort to have a new holiday added to the Jewish calendar, a day dedicated to resolving conflicts constructively and to actively pursuing peace.
Rabbi Daniel Roth, director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, a division of the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies, has dedicated the 9th day of Adar as a day to promote machlokes l’sheym shomayim, managing disputes in a healthy and positive manner.
“Conflict is inevitable and a part of every page of gemara, where Rashi and Tosfos can go on forever, as well as in halacha and Chumash,” Rabbi Roth told VIN News.
“Disagreements are a natural part of Judaism and we need to be able to manage them in a way where we can learn from others instead of hurting them.”
Rabbi Roth, who is originally from Syracuse but now lives in Jerusalem, has a doctorate from Bar Ilan University on the concept of “rodfei shalom”, community members who took it upon themselves to mediate disputes.
“These men were not rabbis or judges,” explained the 38 year old father of four. “They were baalei batim, volunteers like the chevra kadisha, who saw themselves as the students of Aaron Hakohein and they were a natural part of any tight knit community. There were Rrodfei Sshalom in both Ashkenazic and Sefardic communities. Unfortunately the concept has been lost over the last several decades and the last ones I found were in North Africa’s Jewish community in the 1950’s.”
Rabbi Roth’s quest to publicize the notion of constructive conflict resolution within the realms of Judaism originally began as a single course on the subject given at the Pardes Institute, which integrated traditional rabbinic texts with contemporary conflict resolution theory. Over time, the subject matter grew and the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution was created two years ago with the goal of fostering unity worldwide by creating a global network of rodfei shalom.
“We have been training Hillel professionals on college campuses and we have another program for federation leaders,” said Rabbi Roth. “This is already our second year bringing our program into middle schools and we currently have eight schools participating this year.”
At Englewood’s Moriah School, the PCJCR program has been incorporated into this year’s curriculum. According to reports in The Jewish Week, Moriah’s Assistant Principal, Student Life, Dr. Eva Lazar-Sultanik, spent last summer studying conflict resolution at Pardes.
“We are committed to creating and sustaining a school culture which promotes the value of seeking peace,” said Dr. Lazar-Sultanik, who noted that the Rodef Shalom program is being well received by the students.
Dr. Lazar-Sultanik planned several 9th of Adar programs for Moriah’s middle school.
“Throughout the month of Adar we will be engaging in various school-wide programs learning conflict resolution skills; it will all lead up to a culminating parent-child learning program,” reported Dr. Lazar-Sultanik.
The PCJCR also offers online mini courses for upcoming rodfei shalom as well as workshops for Jewish community leaders and a special group of courses for Jewish educators and rabbinic students. Mini courses on becoming a rodef shalom are also offered throughout the year at various locations.
“All these little programs have been growing but I wanted to do something larger,” explained Rabbi Roth. “I wanted everyone involved to do something together that would promote machloket l’shem shomayim.”
Searching for a day that had religious significance but was currently unassociated with any other movement or activities, Rabbi Roth chose the 9th day of Adar, a little known fast day that is brought down in the Shulchan Aruch as Tzom Hillel V’Shammai.
“While some people may be aware of the fact that there was a conflict between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai over a vote on 18 legal issues, what many don’t know is what is brought down in the Yerushlami: that the conflict was pretty violent on that day. There are meforshim who say that 3,000 people died.”
According to Rabbi Roth, the events of the 9th of Adar were so tragic that the Gemara in Shabbos likened it to the day the egel was made.
“If you look at Hilchot Tisha B’Av in the Ohr Hachaim, the 9th of Adar is mentioned as a fast day, along with a lot of other fast days that people have never heard of,” said Rabbi Roth. “There is even a machloket about whether or not people died on this day but the bottom line is that it is a fast day that was dedicated because of a machloket that took place.”
According to Rabbi Yair Hoffman who is a frequent author on Halacha, the significance of the day is even greater, as it forever undermined the scope of Torah study.
“The 9th of Adar is a day that the very righteous would fast on account of the fact that dissent was first introduced in Jewish tradition,” explained Rabbi Hoffman. “Both parties, Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel had only the best of intentions. This was not, as some would have it, the seeds of a Jewish civil war, heaven forbid. What then was the reason that the sages inaugurated a fast? It was because the depths of Torah knowledge could no longer be plummeted and understood like before. Once the scholars were no longer in sync with each other, the loss to true Torah scholarship became permanent, and it was this loss that the 9th of Adar commemorates.”
Given the significance of the 9th of Adar, it seemed an appropriate day to dedicate to constructive conflict resolution and the PCJCR came up with eighteen ways to commemorate the day, corresponding to the 18 legal matters that caused the initial conflict. Among the suggested ways of marking the 9th of Adar are fasting, refraining from destructive speech, giving tzedaka and praying. An official website 9th of Adar website, www.9adar.org, has recipes for symbolic foods to mark the day, including Machloket Muffins and Constructive Conflict Cookies.
“Pesach wouldn’t be Pesach without our symbolic foods and much of the original conflict was actually over food,” explained Rabbi Roth, who added that children might better grasp the concepts being discussed with the introduction of foods that are in keeping with the theme of the day.
Rabbi Hoffman cautioned that adding holidays to the Jewish calendar is no simple matter.
“While it may be admirable to make special efforts to address problems that plague our communities, we must not make the error of co-opting specific dates for the wrong reasons,” said Rabbi Hoffman. “The tragedy here is the loss of scholarship; this is the understanding of Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, author of the Levush, as well as many other commentaries.”
While Rabbi Roth is still waiting for feedback on 9th of Adar programs that were held around the world in both secular and chareidi communities, he noted that for many, the notion of addressing conflict from a Jewish perspective will continue, particularly with another month of Adar coming up in just a few weeks.