The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Diversity in Judaism is common in our history and liturgy. One can visit many synagogues and observe that the order of davening and the text of siddur vary from shul to shul. When I’m in Israel I often attend the services in a Sephardi shul where the prayers and the sequence of taking the Torah from the ark and replacing it are vastly different from what I’m accustomed to.
Perhaps this is the strength and uniqueness of our people. We recognize that we stem from as many as eighty nations and by definition are dissimilar – but while there are disparities in how we practice our Judaism, we have a common thread that binds us all together.
Unfortunately, though, there are Jews who insist that their particular way is the only way and that anyone who expresses Judaism differently is wrong – even a heretic or an apikoras. Such behavior is dangerous and in fact splinters our people, causing rifts, anger and frustration.
The very fact that the Haggadah we recite on Pesach speaks to four distinctive personalities is proof in itself that our sages realized that people are different and that they articulate their belief in God in many ways. One person is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one can’t even ask any questions. These four types of Jews are indicative of the diversity of our people, yet all are included in the Passover experience, for all are considered Jews.
Similarly, when we take the etrog, lulav, hadassim and aravot in our hands to recite the bracha on the holiday of Sukkot, it is an action that many of our sages say symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people and the joining together of all types of Jews.
Some might be more observant as represented by the etrog, which has both beauty and fragrance. Some will be devoid of any ritual observance as represented by the aravah, which has no pleasant aroma and no innate splendor. Finally, some can be placed on the intermediate levels of observance as represented by the lulav and hadas, one of which possesses beauty, the other, fragrance. Yet we embrace all of them as both a symbol of harmony and the representation of the diversity of our people.
Jews today are quick to judge others and label them as frum or not frum, acceptable or unacceptable, kosher or treif. We merely observe their outer layer without understanding who they really are. We tend to quickly categorize them by how long they pray the Shmoneh Esrei, or whether they wear a black hat, or if they use paper plates on Shabbos or disposable tablecloths.
Based on these observations we reach conclusions – as absurd as it may sound – on whether they may marry our sons or daughters or whether they are genuinely religious and are truly following the laws of our Torah.
Don’t get me wrong: Everyone has the right to accept any chumra – stringency – so long as he applies it to himself and not insist that all others must follow. It becomes objectionable when these stringencies form the basis for judging others and when those who impose them assume an inflexible and rigid posture toward everyone else.
There is a reason the Talmud in numerous places declares “koach d’heterah adif” – the power of permitting something is preferable. Anyone can go ahead and impose or accept chumrahs – but should doing so be the basis for defining who is and who is not a Torah-observant Jew?
I seriously doubt these issues are important in Hashem’s evaluation of us. What is essential is whether we use our knowledge of Torah to include all our brothers and sisters in the collective experience of being Jewish; whether we judge others favorably; whether we look for the good in all people.
The most renowned sages of our people embraced all Jews regardless of their affiliation or their levels of observance because these tzaddikim understood that all Jews have something to contribute to our shared history and experience.
When did the ritual appearance of a Jew become the sole determinant of his piety? When did we assume that the outward appearance of an individual defines the depth of his religiosity? If that is our criterion, then I fear some of our greatest leaders would have been rejected by certain segments of our community.
Who gives us the right to judge another Jew? Only God has the right to assess the goodness and the wholesomeness of an individual. Our job is to open our hearts to others and appreciate their good qualities.
Diversity very often can be the strength of our people. It charges each Jew to realize that despite our differences, we have so much more in common in recognizing that everyone plays an essential role in our great nation, our history, our destiny.
About the Author: Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-368-5149.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Consider the Pope’s desperation, reading daily reports of the slaughter of Christians by Muslims
The contrast between a Dem pretending to love Israel & a Dem who truly loves Israel is CRYSTAL CLEAR
Pentecost, derived from the Greek word for 50, is celebrated 50 days after Easter.
We take a whole person approach, giving our people assistance with whatever they need.
During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai
20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse
Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise
Many Black protesters compared Baltimore’s unrest to the Palestinian penchant of terrorism & rioting
She credited success to “mini” decisions-Small choices building on each other leading to big changes
Shavuot 1915, 200000 Jews were expelled; amongst the largest single expulsions since Roman times
Realizing there was no US military threat, Iran resumed, expanded & accelerated its nuclear program
“Enlightened Jews” who refuse to show chareidim the tolerance they insist we give to Arabs sicken me
Somewhat surprisingly, the Vatican’s unwelcome gesture was diametrically at odds with what President Obama signaled in an interview with the news outlet Al Arabiya.
The recent solid victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party produced something very different.
A leader that has lost faith in his people cannot lead his people and conquer the land of Israel.
He always impressed me with his brilliance and erudition. But it was his warm remarks and his sincere concern that made me want to please him.
In the midst of all this name calling by these so called leaders stands a man who is steadfast in his beliefs and is prepared to deal with any outside pressure to get his point across.
“Well, you are also part of this class! If someone drills a hole in the boat, the boat will ultimately sink, and even the innocent ones will perish as well. The whole class must be punished!”
Teachers, as well as administrators, must be actively involved in the daily prayers that transpire at a school and must set the bar as dugmaot ishiot, role models, on how one must daven.
If the Maccabees found enough oil to last for one day, then why was the first day considered a miracle?
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/diversity-the-uniqueness-of-our-people/2006/12/13/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: