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 Almost all of us agree that values, especially those that represent the ideas of democracy and freedom and also our own national self-interest and personal preservation, are vital and necessary for ourselves and the public good. When viewed in isolation, it is easy to be an ardent supporter of any one individual value that fits this criterion of benefit and probity. The problem always arises when apparently contradictory values conflict with each other. Then the question arises as to which value has priority and should be followed at the expense of the other.

The current debate that Israeli society is engaged in regarding the government's funding of dramas, that that are sympathetic to Palestinian terrorism and murder of Israelis is a case in point. We all agree that freedom of speech and expression, the ability to speak one's mind publicly or privately without fear of prosecution or punishment is a necessary spoke in the wheel of how a democratic society functions.
Yet, we also are mindful of the value that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes articulated in his famous phrase that “no one has the right to falsely shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Thus, all values must somehow be seen as being relative one to another and not absolute and sacrosanct in all circumstances.
There are those in Israeli society, and probably in every other society as well, that value one particular value – such as artistic freedom of expression – over all other values. To a certain extent this resembles the famous example of one drilling a hole under one’s seat in a boat, irrespective of what this will do to the boat and its other passengers.
It is this lack of perspective and the unwillingness to balance one's own cherished value in relation to other values and sensitivities that lies at the heart of the current discussion and dispute.
If we examine the way that halachic conclusions are arrived at, we will see that the basic pattern is to attempt to reconcile conflicting values and in most cases to determine which value has priority in the instance under discussion. In fact, all legal systems are based on this requirement to decide between conflicting values or somehow to attempt to reconcile them.
This is certainly true when dealing with private property rights that somehow conflict with the public good or impinge upon the property rights of others. It is also true regarding spiritual values. Probably the simplest and most famous example of this is that the value of human life, even when in doubt, overrules the value of observance of the Sabbath laws.
There are numerous other such examples, which abound throughout the Torah literature of the ages. One can safely say that the values of the individual at one time or another will always conflict with some of the values of public good and safety and of the well-being of others. Because of this, one should always be wary of advancing one’s own deeply held value, no matter how sacred and holy it may seem, over the values of others and the public good. This is a one of the reasons why the great rabbis of the Mishnah warned the wise and scholarly, the elite, to be careful in their statements and pronouncements. There are consequences to words uttered and dramas produced. Unfortunately, we do not operate in a vacuum or a bubble. And, good judgment and self-restraint are certainly necessary in all avenues of life and expression.
I do not know where absolute justice and wisdom lie in the current controversy over this allocation of government funds to support the arts. As is usual in Israel, and perhaps everywhere else in the world as well, the issue has become extremely politicized. This leads to statements that are foolish, if not even vicious, which itself is a violation of a primary value of Judaism to speak softly and kindly.
The self-preservation of the Jewish state and of Torah within it, are, in my humble opinion, the supreme values that should govern our outlook and behavior today. It may very well be that prioritizing these values will necessarily impinge and infringe on other values.
But that is the way life deals with us, always offering choices but rarely making clear to us the ultimate consequences of the option that will in fact be chosen. In any event, we should certainly lower the tone of the debate and attempt to come to a realistic reconciliation of these and other seemingly conflicting values. We will all have gained from such a modicum of courtesy and self-restraint.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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