The late Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, (d. 2020) head of Yeshiva University (whose yahrzeit fell last week) used to remark that he knew of only one joke in the Mishna: the statement that “rabbinic scholars increase peace in the world!”
Yet, the late Rav Kook (d. 1935) addressed this question. He said it was not so much the men, as their method. The Mishna’s statement about peace refers to the approach of Torah study.
Peace is obtained not by suppression of contrary views but by allowing them to be expressed and then having an intense discussion about them. Peace is earned by tolerating differing opinions even if they are not accepted.
Early on in my rabbinic career, I saw this in action. I attended a Chief Rabbi’s Pre-Yamim Noraim Conference at the King David Suite at Marble Arch synagogue. The then Chief Rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits z”l, had expressed views on the Arab-Israel conflict that differed sharply from many of his colleagues, especially prominent figures in Israel. The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Goren z”l, called on Anglo-Jewry to “spew this dangerous man from our midst.”
As might be expected, the conference was heated and Rabbi Jakobovits was interrupted repeatedly. He then said – and this is what has remained with me – “I am not saying, Kablu Daati, that you have to agree with me, but you do have to listen to me!”
I learned from Rabbi Jakobovits the importance of being able to disagree agreeably.
It was a theme that Rabbi Jakobovits’ successor, Jonathan Sacks, returned to repeatedly.
In an interview in the Sunday Telegraph, published a few months before his death, Sacks bemoaned the “no-platforming” that is occurring in universities:
“There is this new concept of ‘safe space’ where you are to be protected from views that may be hurtful to you. I have exactly the opposite definition of safe space. Not mocking, but challenging. Listening respectfully. That is what university should be about. You listen to views opposed to your own because you know that the people opposed to you will listen respectfully to you.”
Rabbi Jakobovits and Rabbi Sacks lived by these values. They are the attributes of true Torah scholars across the ages. When we can aspire to implement these qualities in our own lives, we will merit the blessing of peace from above. Amen.