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The Case for Conflict in Communal Life

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Publication Date: October 2008

Author(s): Steven M. Cohen

Topic: Culture and religion (Religion and religious groups)
Social conditions (Community life and organization)

Keywords: American Jews; Leadership; Communal Organization

Coverage: United States


One of the central tenets of faith of Jewish communal life is that American Jewry almost always adopts policy through achieving consensus. Public dissent and open conflict are studiously avoided. But the consensual model results in a variety of bad side effects. Among them are uninspired and undifferentiated policy and leadership, inability to incorporate dissident groups, an ill-informed Jewish public, concentration of influence in the hands of a self-perpetuating clique of well-off individuals with adequate spare time, and the failure to excite the inspired allegiance of large numbers of Jews to Judaism through devotion to one of many ideological streams. This situation can be remedied by individuals now entering young leadership ranks of organized Jewry, individuals whose political consciousness was partially shaped by the era of participatory democracy. The basic underlying principle of such reform is that restrained conflict is always healthy and that even unrestrained conflict (resulting in rupture) may sometimes be healthy. This principle has a number of concrete implications and applications. The article suggests avenues for reform and discusses the Tzedaka Collective as a case study and alternative conflict model.


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