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In Theory

January 24, 2008

According to Rabbi Irwin Kula, who last year was eighth on Newsweek’s list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America, social life in America and political discourse are being dominated by extremes — fundamentalists vs. secular fundamentalists — and as a result, the moderate middle, and even truths that are common to all religions, are drowned out.

Do you agree? And if so, what are the consequences to religious and moral thought?

I agree that to some extent extremism has begun to spiral out of control in America — and that as a result, hard-line views have come to dominate certain segments of our society and turn many discussions into heated arguments.

This is a deeply unfortunate trend, since embracing and advocating absolutist positions is seldom beneficial to the common good and can eventually lead to a polarized environment where people grow deaf to anything other than their own views.

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Our great country was founded on the central principle of acceptance — particularly when it comes to those who hold opposing views.

In order to develop and flourish, our nation requires a foundation of kinship and unity of spirit among its citizens regardless of individual religious or political affiliations.

Constant political conflict and religious strife does no good for anyone and will ultimately harm our shared aspirations.

It is incumbent upon all of us, especially those who hold leadership roles, like the clergy, to encourage an atmosphere of tolerance and camaraderie.

Of course we all have our differences, but it is critical that we focus on what we have in common rather than what we don’t.

We must learn how to respect opposing views and discuss them civilly without diatribe and condemnation.

Freedom of speech and freedom of worship are two of the hallmarks of American democracy; unless someone is promoting violence or hatred that threatens the basic moral tenets of our society, we must be able to carry on a dialogue with open hearts and open minds.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN


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