Mediating in the First Century BCE

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Mediating in the First Century B.C.E.
By Mark Kleiman, Esq.
Community Mediation Services, Inc.
Jamaica, New York
Conflict is the central operating feature of the universe. A basic physics principle
says that its building block, a photon of energy, has two discrete and simultaneous
characteristics: the individual character of a point and a relational character as a
wave. The stability of existence is based upon finding a healthy balance between
individual integrity and relational interdependence. It is also very clear that the more
extreme the conditions the more difficult it is to find that balance. (Life at the bottom
of the sea).
Rabbis Shammai and Hillel represented these two perspectives on living a Jewish
life. One demanded the primacy of individual Jewish ritualistic responsibilities and
nationhood as the mandate for Jews. The other focused more on the importance of
positive, healthy relationships along with observance as expressing G-d’s wishes for
a Jew. Hillel and Shammai promoted these approaches under the extreme
circumstances of political occupation. The failure to integrate Hillel’s approach
proved catastrophic.
How would we as a mediator have facilitated a discussion between the two schools
of thought? First, it requires Mindfulness of what we are feeling and thinking about
the situation, the participants and their ideas. Any biases or predispositions must be
acknowledged to determine if we would be able to act impartially so that they would
consider us neutral.
The main objective of a mediation is to have the disputants make as a wise a
decision as possible. Research discloses that the basic elements of wisdom are
knowledge, thinking and emotions. We need to explore as much information as
possible. To elicit knowledge you must act respectfully, listen carefully and make
certain you understand everything that has been said. Clarifying questions add to the
story and summarizing shows you listened and understood.
Discover what is most meaningful and valued to each party. Then reflect back the
goals you have heard from each side. “You want Jews to be observant maintaining
their identity and freedom.” “You want the Jewish nation to be at peace and
autonomous.” A thoughtful analytical approach is required to creatively solve the
Throughout, recognize the presence of emotions, their connection to that which is
important to the parties and that they form a normal context within which conflict
9 Adar is a project of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution
© Mark Kleiman
arises. Reflecting them to the parties deepens their sense of being understood and
lowers the intensity.
The final question is whether all the circumstances and options elicited could result
in a strategy in which Jewish identity would be secure while we reached an
accommodation with Rome. It proved impossible to reconcile this in the first century
There are some interesting parallels today. It appears that this conflict continues on.
Let us hope we can take some lessons from the past and recognize the value of
promoting healthy relationships.

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