Have you ever heard of 9 Adar? Even Jews who observe every single holiday, fast day and day of remembrance on the Hebrew calendar have probably never heard of this Jewish fast day.
Although we can find mention of 9 Adar as a fast day in almost every rabbinic book, no Jew who has lived during the last 2,000 years seems to have ever actually observed it. According to tradition, 9 Adar was the day on which initially peaceful and constructive disagreements between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, the two great schools of thought during the Mishnaic period, erupted into a violent conflict over 18 points of law. According to various sources, as many as 3,000 students were killed in the fighting.
Rabbi Daniel Roth, director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution in Jerusalem, thinks Jews can no longer afford not to mark 9 Adar (though it need not necessarily involve fasting). He believes it is high time that Jews take pause from the traditional rejoicing during Adar to commemorate a historical day of destructive conflict, and turn it into a day that reminds us of the need for more constructive, mindful and respectful interactions.
Roth is not alone. His program is partnering with more than 40 American and Israeli organizations and institutions from all points on the religious and political spectra to commemorate the first-ever Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict on 9 Adar, which falls on February 9 this year. With a small pilot project last year and a major launch this year, Roth hopes that going forward, 9 Adar will be observed by Jews worldwide on an annual basis.
According to Roth, the need to focus on constructive conflict is far from theoretical. 9 Adar should be taken as a cautionary tale. There is a timely and pressing need to examine how the model of machloket l’shem shamayim (dispute for the sake of Heaven) between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai devolved into a Jewish civil war.
“Today, a lot of conversations are stuck. There is a tremendous amount of stuck-ness,” Roth tells The Times of Israel. “When things are tense over ideological issues, people forget their best listening skills. They become rodfei tzedek (pursuers of justice) instead of rodfei shalom (pursuers of peace).”
Others agree that the Jewish cultural love of disagreement and proclivity for arguing has taken a dangerous turn. “The sources on 9 Adar teach us that we will end up with bloodshed if we don’t work to resolve conflict peaceably and in a way in which everyone walks out stronger and the community is strengthened,” notes Nurit Bachrach, director of Mosaica: The Center for Consensual Conflict Resolution.
Mosaica, which works with mediation centers throughout Israel to resolve community-based conflicts, plans on disseminating practical ideas and helpful tips on conflict resolution through blogs and other types of social media all week.
Bachrach emphasizes the need to counteract aspects of Israeli society that work against constructive conflict. “First of all, we live in a place where boundaries are not clear — both physically and personally,” she explains. In addition, things move very quickly in Israel, and people don’t necessarily listen to one another. “You can also add in to the mix the fact that Israelis are very competitive. No one wants to be perceived as a ‘frier’ (sucker).”
According to Dr. Marc Gopin, director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, it is not merely Israeli culture that is the problem. He explains that there are geopolitical forces at play, as well. As the world becomes more diverse following the end of colonialism and the breakup of large autocratic blocs like the Soviet Union, conflicts become more polarizing. Israel is not immune to these trends.
“With the establishment and growth of Israel, the Jewish people have gained power and sovereignty and been engaged in nation building,” he tells The Times of Israel. “As a result, we are seeing conflict avoidance, demonization and polarization emerging as serious Jewish problems.”
Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, who spearheads the Civility Campaign of the New York and Washington-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs, points to the Jews’ lack of security in the world as a major factor in the loss of the ability to successfully negotiate.
“The ability to negotiate requires a sense of security in the world,” she says. “Having a fight-or-flight consciousness makes it hard. This existential threat, this mentality that ‘if you don’t agree with me, we’ll all get killed’ animates both the left and the right.”
JCPA’s Civility Campaign is working to help American Jews “do conflict well,” as Weintraub puts it. The initiative seeks to convene, inspire, and empower Jewish community institutions and their leaders to engage in and model for others civil discourse on the most challenging issues — with Israel the foremost among them.
According to Weintraub, the uptick in polarization of the American Jewish community is a reflection of increased polarization in the American political culture as a whole. In her work with Jewish groups, she sees open antagonism, but avoidance even more. “Avoidance is the most common dynamic, because there is intimidation and fear about harming relationships,” she says.
Schools are also among Pardes’ partners marking 9 Adar, as educators recognize the urgency to impart skills for constructive conflict to future Jewish leaders. Some, like the Moriah School in Englewood, New Jersey, are also participating year-round in a Rodef Shalom accreditation program run by Pardes.
At Moriah, some 700 students in kindergarten through 8th grade are involved all this month in activities focusing on social skills, global citizenship, diversity, and community building.
According to Dr. Eva Lazar, Moriah’s assistant principal for student life, much of the school’s special programming this month focuses on what it means to be an “upstander,” a person who goes beyond being a bystander and stands up against injustice and tries to create peace.
Lazar is especially excited about student-led programs. For example, 5th graders are working with kindergartners on peaceful play and social decision-making. Middle school students are preparing to lead activities on active listening and healthy self-advocacy during a parent-child learning event, at which Roth will be the keynote speaker.
9 Adar may have been a forgotten — or suppressed — date for millennia, but that does not mean it is too late to look back to the past for the sake of the present and the future.
Official recognition of 9 Adar on the Hebrew calendar is not the ultimate goal for Pardes and its Jewish Day of Constructive Conflict partners. More important is the realization that, as Gopin puts it, “We can take advantage of this old Jewish narrative.”
“It’s great to have a day to highlight this critical component of our culture and identity, but ideally, constructive conflict should be basic to all our interactions all the time,” Roth says.
For resources and recommendations for how to commemorate 9 Adar, go to 9adar.org.
Read opinion pieces and blogs posts on 9 Adar and constructive conflict by a variety of contributors to The Times of Israel.