National Brotherhood Week?

How do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways…

Every Saturday afternoon when I recite the special prayer we only say that time of the week, when I come to the line "who is like your people Israel, one nation in the land?" it makes me feel like stopping and crying.  Or laughing.  One nation?  One people?

Gideon Levy had a recent piece in Haaretz where he wrote:

The Haredim hate the gays, the gays hate the Haredim; the settlers hate the leftists, the leftists hate the settlers; the Ashkenazim hate the Mizrahim; the Mizrahim hate the Ashkenazim; the seculars hate the Haredim; the Haredim hate the seculars; the rich hate the poor, the poor hate the rich; the Yekkes hated the Ostjuden; the Ostjuden hated the Yekkes; Hapoel fans hate Maccabi fans, Maccabi fans hate Hapoel fans – and everyone hates the Arabs. And everyone is sure that the whole world hates us for no reason.

Which is, of course an echo of Tom Lehrer's famous song, National Brotherhood Week:

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
And the Catholics hate the Protestants
And the Hindus hate the Moslems
And everybody hates the Jews

It is especially apropo to reflect on this sorry state of affairs this week.  In this week's Torah portion we read a passage which says "lo titgodedu," "you shall not make any gashes or any baldness between your eyes for the dead."  The rabbis in the Talmud understand "lo titgodedu" to mean "do not cut yourself into factions."  They talk about how wonderful it is that the families of disciples of Hillel would still marry into the families of disciples of Shammai, even though they had very different ideas on halacha (Jewish law).  They respected each other, and if there was someone who they knew did not meet the other groups criteria for being eligible to marry someone, they would share that information.

It's not that way anymore…I think if the daughter of a secular family were to marry into a Haredi family, the secular family would suddenly get religious, and would sit shiva (observe the mourning rituals) for their wayward daughter.  Not that any Haredi family would accept a secular person into their midst!

The lack of tolerance gets worse and worse.  Every week now there are Haredi protests against a parking lot that the municipality chose to open on Shabbat for the convenience of visitors–many of whom aren't even Jewish.  It's as if their new Shabbos routine is wake up, go to shul, daven, have a l'chayim at shul, have a little cholent, study a little Torah, take a nap, and then stroll down to the parking lot and throw rocks at police and the secular.  This is how we are supposed to act on Shabbat?  Throwing rocks at people? 

And the horrid news in Tel Aviv about the shootup at a gay center.  The police are saying "well, it might not be a hate crime, it could have been personal."  OK, I'll buy that, gay people can have enemies too.  But maybe the 15 people who were wounded indicates that something more than a personal grudge was going on here?

The Talmud's caution about "lo titgodedu" — don't create factions that can't tolerate each other — is right on important advice.  We are more powerful together than separate — as Ecclesiastes says, "the three-fold cord is not easily broken."  With all the external threats Israel faces — militant Palestinians, a nut case in charge in Tehran, a down economy, swine flu, you name it — we don't need to make it worse by bickering amongst ourselves.

We don't have to — and we shouldn't — all be the same, all practicing Judaism in the exact same way.  Diversity is a good thing.  Why can't we all accept that great teaching of "different strokes for different folks." 




Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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