Sunday, May 15, 2005

Decisions, Decisions

I've been placed in a number of situations recently where I've had to clarify my views on making decisions.

  1. My kids - in first and second grades - came home from school and told us how their teachers told them how terrible the prime minister and education minister were for firing all those teachers. I tried to explain to them how there were two sides to the story, and while of course it was important to give money to teachers, it was also important to give money to the police, sick people, roads, etc.
  2. Someone noticed that I didn't go to Gush Katif on Yom HaAtzmaut, and tried to infer from that my opinion about the disengagement plan. We had a long talk, discussing many points (plenty of which I've discussed here before), but the bottom line for me was that the situation, and my views on it, are complicated. I can't simply say I'm for or against the plan - primarily because I don't have all the information in front of me.
  3. A potentially controversial issue for our synagogue was discussed with me by a fellow member of the board. He felt it was best to have the entire membership vote and decide, and I felt that difficult decisions of that nature are best decided by the elected representatives.

What's in common here? I think it relates to the old distinction between truth and peace. There are many truths, all of which are desireable. They coexist and often conflict with one another. Only God knows how to truly reconcile them. We, as people, can only try to balance them out - often at the expense of the two conflicting sides. That's the effort to make peace.

Do I want to leave Gaza? Of course not. And I obviously don't want to fire 4,500 teachers. But I'm not in the position where I have to make those decisions. Because if I was, I'd have to take into consideration other concerns (international pressue and budget realities, for example.) My "opinion" or "gut feeling" simply isn't that relevant here. A judge needs to judge on facts, on evidence. But of course this approach is complicated, and therefore not too popular...

And this is why I think that on most issues, a referendum isn't the way to go. It's nearly impossible for a mass group of people to make difficult decisions, to take all sides into account - to make "peace" from "truths". If you had three referendums - to spend more money on education, to lower taxes, and to reduce the national debt- all would pass, but no policy could come out of it all.

I do want to make one point clear though. When asked why Shas didn't support holding a referendum on the disenagement, Rav Ovadia Yosef said something to the effect of "how can an old lady decide an issue like this? It's up to the experts!". In the case of the disenagement, I support the referendum, not because I think we're better qualified than the polictians who have access to often classified information. But here, by having a referendum, Sharon would be forced to explain his case in a way that hasn't been done until now. And while it might not change the minds of many people, I believe it would lower the tensions that might otherwise lead to violence.

One of the great things about learning Torah is you don't always have to make a decision. You don't need to decide whether Rashi or the Ramban is right on Chumash, or whether only the Rambam or R' Yehuda HaLevi is right in philosophy. Both can - and are - right. I often find myself the same way with political parties here. I see things on both the left and the right that make sense - eilu v'eilu. But when it comes to making a final decision we aren't left with that luxury. So at the mininum - we need to take all sides into account, examine all the evidence. And occasionally say - we don't have enough information to make a decision. That's not cowardice - but actually bravery.