The Blessing of Diversity versus the Curse of Multiplicity

| Written By:

In an article in the Hebrew journal Eretz Acheret, IDI Vice President Yedidia Stern discusses the tension between two civilizations - western-liberal and traditional-Jewish - in Israel, and asserts that the agents of influence in Israeli society prefer to present these two values as mutually exclusive alternatives that are set up for a culture war.


"Jewish society in Israel is essentially based on two civilizations: western-liberal, and traditional-Jewish. A substantial portion of all Jewish communities in Israel—secular, traditional, religions, and ultra-Orthodox—identify, from the outset and certainly retroactively, with both cultures. For example, a large portion of the secular and religious populations consume select symbolic and material products of Jewish culture and even of the Jewish religion. The religious have adopted values that are central to Western culture, such as equality, self-realization, liberty, and a regard for science and the rule of law. Even those on the fringes of ultra-Orthodox society, who conduct their lives in religious seclusion, in effect internalize cultural dualism at a personal level. Indeed, most of the Jewish people living in Israel carve out their lives from the rich mines of both cultures. 

In a pluralistic society, open to the validation of the "other's" truth, dualism is a tremendous blessing. Diversity enables every one to construct his identity within a dialogue with the other culture. It has the potential of generating intercultural discourse, which can lead to dynamic growth in each culture. And yet, dualism poses the danger of serving as a catalyst for harmful competition for funds, ideational influence, and political power. The damage caused by competition is likely to be particularly problematic in a monolithic society, since it focuses on a single goal: silencing the voice of the other. Moreover, when zealots of truth do not merely hold by a hierarchical ordering of the truth (our truth over that of the other), but also refuse to tolerate the other's truth, competition can escalate into confrontation. 

Looking out at our society, in the present day, one sees not see the radiant aspect of the blessing that diversity brings, but rather the sadness and pain of the curse of multiplicity. The agents of influence in both cultures prefer to present them as mutually exclusive alternatives, set up for an unavoidable struggle: a culture war. They skew the relations between the two cultures, presenting them not as process but as a situation in which one side must prevail. 

Take note: even in a pluralistic society that has an open market of ideas, it is possible that every culture have its own array of authorities; espouse its own values and unique priorities; be characterized through separate symbols, ethos and myths, and promote independent arrays of meaning. However, every culture must do so in a manner that is not imperialistic, and based on an assumption that there is also a place for another "good" aside from itself. In our society, the emphasis on separatism, and self-characterization, were intended to serve a condescending and patronizing approach of exclusive truth. Both cultures, through their agents of influence, convey to their target audience—whether directly or indirectly—a sense of the illegitimacy of the other culture. 

How is it possible to function given two non-identical ideological and cultural systems, when the living environment is hostile and aspires towards an unequivocal and an outcome lacking in complexity? How does the individual/community/people that is subjectively committed to both, handle the tension between the two?"