Sto­ries for the Sake of Argument

Abi Dauber Sterne; Rob­bie Gringras

  • Review
By – September 12, 2022

It’s rare that a text can accom­mo­date both indi­vid­ual study and class­room learn­ing. Yet in their lat­est edu­ca­tion­al resource, Sto­ries for the Sake of Argu­ment, Rob­bie Gringras and Abi Dauber Sterne do just that. Their book is an invalu­able plat­form for stu­dents and teach­ers alike to explore some of the thornier and more divi­sive ques­tions that Israelis and Amer­i­cans face daily.

Each chap­ter of their impres­sive and thought-pro­vok­ing book explores one moral quandary in depth. To do this, the authors tell three dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of stories.The first, which they call warm up” sto­ries, explores gen­er­al eth­i­cal issues, like whether a com­mu­ni­ty can lim­it the num­ber of pets a per­son owns even if it caus­es one res­i­dent sig­nif­i­cant pain, or whether a per­son can ben­e­fit from a nurs­ing home that’s been set up by a local gang­ster through dis­hon­est means. The sec­ond cat­e­go­ry, called Israel,” delves into some of the most heat­ed mod­ern-day issues in the coun­try. This includes whether an Arab Israeli should be made to sing Hatik­vah,” or whether racial pro­fil­ing is ever right. Final­ly, the duo explores a set of alle­gories, sto­ries that are meant to sym­bol­ize larg­er, more abstract frame­works for eth­i­cal wrestling. One pow­er­ful alle­go­ry asks whether a man who lives abroad should have a say in how his broth­er keeps their child­hood home. It rais­es the all-impor­tant ques­tion about whether dias­po­ra Jews should demand a say in what hap­pens in Israel if they only vis­it occasionally.

What makes this book so user-friend­ly is that Gringras and Sterne do not leave the read­er to pon­der their sto­ries on their own. After an open­ing few sen­tences sum­ma­riz­ing the main issue at hand, fol­lowed by the text itself, the authors offer guid­ing ques­tions and back­ground infor­ma­tion that suc­cinct­ly sit­u­ates the story’s issues, eth­i­cal ten­sions, and stick­ing points. The chap­ter con­tin­ues with fur­ther ques­tions that go deep­er than the orig­i­nal set, now that the read­er is more accli­mat­ed with the nar­ra­tive land­scape. The authors con­clude with a set of open-end­ed ques­tions called Thoughts to return to after a night’s sleep” — and indeed, these thought­ful­ly con­struct­ed sce­nar­ios will stay with read­ers long after they’ve fin­ished the chapter.

Pep­pered through­out the book are quotes about the impor­tance of argu­ing. Apt and per­fect­ly placed, they come from a wide vari­ety of voic­es, includ­ing Oscar Wilde, Michelle Oba­ma, and Michel de Mon­taigne. In addi­tion to being enter­tain­ing, these voic­es give cre­dence to Gringras and Sterne’s over­ar­ch­ing the­o­ry: that debate serves every­one, pro­vid­ed that both par­ties enter it open­ly and respectfully.

Although it may be a depar­ture from the main focus of the book, one of the most pow­er­ful ele­ments appears in the last twen­ty pages, when Gringras and Sterne invent a nar­ra­tive between two char­ac­ters, Alex and James. Their dis­cus­sion dis­tills all argu­ments per­tain­ing to Israel into four parts: secu­ri­ty, col­lec­tive iden­ti­ty, free­dom, and ter­ri­to­ry. Such a dis­tinc­tion helps frame hard con­ver­sa­tions not as plat­forms for opin­ion and emo­tion, but as oppor­tu­ni­ties to think crit­i­cal­ly about some of the most com­pli­cat­ed issues on the planet.

It’s no acci­dent that Gringras and Sterne choose to end their book with a call for hope. When we argue well, they seem to say, we wel­come a brighter future. Our hard­est ques­tions need not stop us.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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