web analytics
September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



The Soul of the Stranger

African refugees in Israel

Photo Credit: Deborah Sinai/Flash90

Israel faces a genuine dilemma about the best way to handle the influx of African refugees and migrants. Many people are already debating the policy decisions that will need to be made in this regard.

Of greater concern to me than the specific arguments in this debate, is the shocking naked racism and hatred for Africans that it has exposed across all levels and sectors of Israeli society. From elected officials to people in the street, from the highly educated secular upper class to yeshiva students to the working poor, numerous Israelis seem to share a lexicon and intellectual framework which denigrates and dehumanizes Africans, belittles their suffering, and trivialized their plight. This in and of itself should sound an alarm for all of us that something is seriously amiss in the core of our culture and society. When the tone set by such speech boils over into outright acts of physical brutality, how can we fail to realize that we must, as a society, engage in introspection and self-evaluation?

I hesitate to write the following lines because I believe everything I have to say should be self-evident. There is something inappropriate about writing a formal religious discourse about a matter of values that should be so elementary as to require no explanation. In light of the apparent need for this article I have elected to compose it; I do so with a heavy heart. I also regret that I have little novel to write. Most of what can be said on this subject should be familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with Jewish texts.

The Torah tells us that God chose Abraham because he was confident that he would instruct his descendants to follow a path of righteousness and kindness (Genesis 18:19). The midrash (Devarim Rabba 3:4) takes this further, and says that there are three distinctive characteristics of the Jewish people: they are meek, merciful, and perform acts of kindness.

The Torah reiterates on many occasions that Jews should be especially sensitive and caring towards the stranger in their midst, for we ourselves were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Rashi (Exodus 22:20) understands that the salient feature of a “stranger” is that he is displaced from his homeland. That is why he is deserving of special compassion, and that is the basis of the comparison between strangers in Israel and the Jews’ status in Egypt. Other rabbinic interpretations focus this message on the convert to Judaism, but Rashi’s simple reading of the verse stands: in a majority Jewish country, we must be especially sensitive to the rights and feelings of minority groups, because of our own unique history of oppression in alien societies.

Performing acts of kindness in a discriminatory manner is seen as a sign of corruption. The chasida (commonly translated as stork) is singled out as a non-kosher bird, even though its name means “the kind one,” because, according to our rabbis, it is kind only to its own species. The kindness for one’s own species is transformed into a perverse act when it is part of a pattern of abuse towards outsiders.

Above and beyond imploring us to perfect our actions, our rabbis were concerned with the nature of our speech. They repeatedly implored us to speak respectfully to, and of, every person. In tractate Avot, they reminded us to greet every person first and with a welcoming face, and that the most honored person is the one who accords others honor. The right path that a person should choose, they instructed there, is one which engenders the respect of God by those who observe it.

In tractate Yoma (86a) they went much further, singling out the public disgrace of God’s name as one transgression that cannot be atoned for, even through repentance on the Day of Atonement. What constitutes such a transgression? A person known to be devout and pious, who does not speak gently with others and conduct his affairs with integrity. Outrageous racist statements, parroted from the most disgraceful historical antecedents, certainly run afoul of this teaching.

Building Israel as a utopian Jewish nation should not entail inflicting suffering on others. Rambam (Hil. Melachim 12:4) writes that the sages and prophets did not desire the messianic era of Israel “in order to conquer the entire world, or to oppress the gentiles…,” rather only “to be free to study the Torah and its wisdom without persecution and interruption, and thus merit the world to come.”

About the Author: Rabbi Aharon Frazer lives in Alon Shvut, Israel, and is an active volunteer supporting Blessing's Day Care. http://www.facebook.com/BlessingsDayCare


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

3 Responses to “The Soul of the Stranger”

  1. Anonymous says:

    You're right. And most of us agree with you with our hearts. But our minds tell us that it's not so simple. We are & want to remain a Jewish state. There's a limit to our resources, financial & geographical. We want Jewish values to predominate. We want our schools to be teaching Jewish stuff. At least 20 percent of our population is moslem — in some places much more. We're not trying to be a melting pot or a haven for those seeking a better life, although we'd like to be, if we could. We know what it's like to have nowhere to run. But we're not permitted to kill ourselves in order to save someone else. Not simple, this problem.

  2. Chayim Goldberg says:

    "and you shall love the stranger…"

  3. John DeLancy says:

    You, Israel, are Or L'Goyim. You are a light to the nations. Goyim like me and the South Sudanese and other Christians will come to you and mob you. 10 of us will grasp your Tallit and say, "we will go with you, because we have heard that Ha'Shem is with you." At that time, please teach us. We _WANT_ to learn the Torah. Please teach us. We are also poor and uneducated. All that you will get in return for teaching us is that we will know Torah… and Ha'Shem will bless you for teaching us the Torah. We love you, Ha'Shem is your Supply. You never _have_ to teach us. If you do teach us, you will be blessed.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Police set up roadblocks throughout the Sharon region and beyond to track down terrorists believed to have infiltrated the area.
Arab Terrorist Attack Foiled Near Netanya
Latest Indepth Stories
0.5-Shekel-hatasham-RJP

The War projects to lower Israel’s 2014 GDP 0.5% but will have little influence on foreign investors

The_United_Nations_Building

It is in the nature of the Nations of the World to be hostile towards the Jewish People.

champions

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are actually fighting to “liberate Jerusalem and all Palestine.”

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

More Articles from Rabbi Aharon Frazer
African refugees in Israel

From elected officials to people in the street, from the highly educated secular upper class to yeshiva students to the working poor, numerous Israelis seem to share a lexicon and intellectual framework which denigrates and dehumanizes Africans, belittles their suffering, and trivialized their plight.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/the-soul-of-the-stranger/2012/07/01/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: