Why ‘constructive disagreements’ are important
Faith is a verb. It is not enough to read religious doctrines if we don’t live their teaching.
Our communities have become increasingly divided. Even within faith groups interactions are fraught with tension. While many are afraid to speak — fearing backlash — others have become emboldened to speak even more forcefully, doubling down on their position in the face of objections. To put it mildly, conversations are strained or simply not happening.
Could our faith guide us to disagree constructively?
This past year I participated in a Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies fellowship, training future Rabbis to have these difficult conversations based on our religious texts. Using this training, I taught a course called ‘Constructive Disagreement’ through the Women’s Leadership Institute in Scottsdale, teaching others how to have difficult conversations.
The Jewish Bible shows disagreements are nothing new. According to Rabbi Yanai, every statement God said to Moses was said with 49 reasons to understand it one way and 49 reasons to understand it another. Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai are two schools of Jewish learning who vehemently disagreed with each other. It is written in the Talmud that Beit Hillel’s teaching dominated because Beit Hillel would teach their approach along with Beit Shammai’s. We are taught to respect multiple points of view.
The Torah highlights when disagreements are ‘for the sake of heaven’ or not. As written in Mishnah Avot, any disagreement that is for the sake of heaven will continue to exist, but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not endure.
To quote Rabbi Sacks, ‘the Sages were drawing a fundamental distinction between two kinds of conflict: argument for the sake of truth and argument for the sake of victory.’
We are taught the value of seeking truth.
The Jewish Bible exemplifies how to manage disagreements. When Korach challenges Moses’ leadership, Moses reaches out to discuss their dispute. In spite of fearing his brother’s vengeance, Jakob embraced Esau. We are taught to seek out peace.
Famously noted in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Disputes and disagreements have been around as long as humanity. Societal tension and strain has occurred before, too. Religious texts showcase disagreements, exemplify how to approach them, and offer a pathway for peaceful interactions within disagreements. We need only look to our traditions and model the behavior being projected.
Faith is a verb. It is not enough to read religious doctrines if we don’t live their teaching. We cannot simply pray for the welfare of others without giving charity that improves their lives. And we cannot avoid discourse when we know there are disagreements. Rather, we must engage with respect, seek understanding, and strive for truth.
Only by having ‘Constructive Disagreements’ can we learn from each other and grow, together, as a people. It is through our disputes, when they are for the sake of heaven, that we must engage.
Karolyn Benger is a student at Yeshivah Maharat (2026) and former Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Phoenix. Karolyn has taught at Emory University, Georgia Tech, and Emerson College. She is a board member of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, was a member of the Valley Interfaith Project’s 3rd Monseigneur Ryle Public Policy Faith Leader Institute, and is a mentor in the Women’s Leadership Institute.