Jewish Sources on Conflict Management: Realism and Human Nature
in “Conflict and Conflict Management in Jewish Sources”, Michal Roness, editor. Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation, Bar Ilan University, 2008
29 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 24, 2017
This paper attempts to provide a foundation for the development of a systematic Jewish approach to mediation and conflict resolution, anchored in the analysis of behavior, as distinct from theoretical norms and messianic longings, as reflected in Jewish texts – the Bible, Talmud, early and modern commentators and philosophers. These sources provide numerous quotes, examples, analyses and legal rulings, which form the components of a coherent approach. The overarching framework, I argue, differs fundamentally from the idealist and altruistic prescriptions for dealing with conflict, but rather presents a hard-headed “realist” understanding of human nature and social interaction, including the inherent role of conflict. The following analysis argues that, in terms of practice, the Jewish approach to social friction does not require perfecting or changing human nature. The emphasis on realism in conflict – not as a distant ideal but as a description of and guide to actual behavior – is clear from Genesis, in which the Jewish tradition presents human beings as far from perfect (“man’s heart is evil from his youth” – יצר לב האדם רע מנעריו “). The core Jewish approach to social and interpersonal conflict emphasizes measures to manage the impact of the inevitable power struggles and other quarrels that are part of any society. Instead of demanding an idealized form of human nature to prevent or resolve conflict (which is relegated to distant messianic imaginings), the goal is to contain the negative impact of the inevitable quarrels within Jewish communities, and to prevent a process that escalates and deteriorates into bitter personal discord, destructive behavior, and Sinat Hinam – unfounded hatred.
Keywords: Jewish, conflict resolution, realism, Biblical, Talmud, conflict management, dispute resolution, Marc Gopin, messianism
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