In a famous Talmudic episode, the students of Beit Hillel and the students of Beit Shammai, known to disagree about most questions of precedent and law, were engaged in an especially passionate debate. To settle the matter, a bat kol, a Divine Voice, rang forth from the heavens to declare that “both these and those are the words of the living God” (Eruvin 13b), essentially telling both sides that they were right.
From this passage we learn that when deep thinking people engage in debate, there is most often wisdom and insight in both sides of the discussion. No perspective, no ideology has an monopoly on the truth; there are truths in the insights of both sides of most debates.
It is in this spirit that this month we examine a critique of many anti-racist teachers and teachings brought forth by John McWhorter, a linguist on faculty at Columbia University. In his new book Woke Racism, he questions some of the underlying presumptions of anti-racism, while recognizing that issues of race and structural racism are prevalent in our society. Whether you are able to read his book, or glean his argument from the various interviews he has given or articles that have been written about it, we hope you will join our February 24, 2022 Discussion group
, where we will discuss his arguments, and how they interact with those who advance the anti-racist theory.
As we discuss, we will keep in mind that the passage from the Talmud continues: “However, the halakha [legal precedent] is in accordance with the opinion of Beit Hillel.” Why, the Talmud asks. “The reason is that they were agreeable and forbearing, showing restraint when affronted, and when they taught the halakha they would teach both their own statements and the statements of Beit Shammai. Moreover, when they formulated their teachings and cited a dispute, they prioritized the statements of Beit Shammai to their own statements, in deference to Beit Shammai.”