In a political atmosphere in which otherwise reasonable opponents often demonize and lie about each other, Rodef Shalom Congregation will hold a panel discussion Tuesday, "Civility in Political Discourse."
"Jews embrace debate. It's part of our culture and heritage and we thrive on the idea of good disagreements, but we have boundaries and expectations in terms of how we treat each other. Debate should be respectful and manageable, but that is not part of the larger discourse that we are watching in that election cycle," said Rabbi Scott Aaron, the community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning in Squirrel Hill, which is co-sponsoring the panel with Rodef Shalom in the Shadyside synagogue.
The panel, which is free and intended for the general public, begins at 7 p.m. in Rodef Shalom. A second panel, focusing specifically on traditional Jewish teaching about civility, will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. Pre-registration is requested only for the Thursday panel and is available, along with information from Danielle Kranjec at email@example.com or 412-521-1101, ext. 3204.
Activists on both sides of the aisle have crossed the lines of civility, Rabbi Aaron said, citing attacks on Mitt Romney's Mormon faith and on President Barack Obama's heritage.
"When you have people calling their opponents not just wrong but evil and a threat to our shared culture and democracy, that is very threatening," he said. "There really is no line anymore in terms of respectful discourse."
Two of the three panelists were recommended by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. Gilbert Kahn is a professor political science at Kean University in New Jersey known for his work on political rhetoric about the Holocaust. He will examine the larger issue "of painting this broad stroke of evil on someone with whom we disagree," Rabbi Aaron said.
Jonathan Tobin, the senior online editor and chief political blogger at Commentary magazine, will offer a national perspective on political discourse. The third panelist, Steve Hallock, director of the school of communications at Point Park University, was chosen because he's a local leader "who has spoken out clearly on media, elections and ethics," Rabbi Aaron said.
The religious community "has an obligation to be talking about civility," he said. "Nothing gets more heated than discussions on religion. Regardless of our backgrounds, if we don't engage in this American culture with respectful discourse, we run the risk of America becoming like other parts of the world in which people cannot co-exist and work together for the common good."
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.