Arguing has always been an integral part of Jewish tradition, going back to Abraham’s debate with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham didn’t win that one, but his ancestors have carried on his and other Jewish prophets’ knack for argumentation, according to Loyola University professor Devorah Schoenfeld.
“We love to argue,” Schoenfeld said at the 12th Annual Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue Feb. 10 at the University of Toledo. Her topic was “Disagree: The Power of Sacred Dissent.”
She displayed copies of the Talmud, a Jewish text in which Scriptures are surrounded by commentaries and interpretations by rabbis.
Arguing, challenging, and asking questions are “life-giving” activities, Schoenfeld said, and she encouraged participants in interfaith dialogues to discuss their differences and not be afraid to challenge one another’s beliefs.
“When I have somebody who challenges me, who confuses me, then I have the possibility of growing,” she said. “If I have a partner who just tells me I’m right, then I stagnate; then I die. It’s tragic.”
An assistant professor of theology/Judaism at Loyola University in Chicago, Schoenfeld was the keynote speaker at the dialogue, which alternates among religions in leading the annual dialogue. Peter Feldmeier, professor of Catholic studies, and Ovamir Anjum, professor of Islamic studies, both of the University of Toledo, presented brief responses from their own traditions’ perspectives.
Schoenfeld gave the audience of about 65 people an assignment: to read a selection from the Talmud aloud to a partner, then discuss, interpret and take a stand on the text.
Reading aloud and debating the meaning of a text is taught in yeshiva, or Jewish schools. “In a yeshiva, it’s not quiet; it’s not a library,” Schoenfeld said, adding that reading aloud and listening are important parts of the process of interpretation.