Tolerance, the Golden Rule and Burning Churches

Burning churches and throwing incendiary objects into people’s homes while they are sleeping is not the Jewish way. We are all more or less familiar with the expression “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. The specific reference in the Torah is found in Leviticus chapter 19:18 which instructs us, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. To love your neighbour as yourself is inherently universal, ethical and moral in nature. The Torah also refers to the stranger among you thus extending the Golden Rule (as it is often referred to) to others beyond neighbours and kin. The Talmud, the body of Jewish legal and ceremonial law notes that “love of the stranger” appears in the Hebrew Bible thirty-six times more than any other verse in the Torah. For example in Leviticus 19:34-35 we read, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself”. These commandments are unambiguous and should guide us in dealing with people who are different from us. This is also evident in the following command, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:20)”. The prominent teacher Shimon Ben Azzi also advocates that loving one’s neighbour as oneself needs to be more inclusive based on Genesis 5. It describes Adam as a man created from many different coloured soils and that he was neither Jewish, Christian nor Muslim or for that matter black or white. Adam was a representative human. He represented all mankind.
While these are biblical commandments, in fact the Golden Rule is about tolerance, acceptance and the ability to put oneself in some else’s shoes and understand what it feels like to be discriminated against. This applies to people from all backgrounds including people of secular persuasion or no religion. It is a universal language relevant to everyone.
Tolerance is only necessary when difference or diversity is present because it is only when confronting diversity that our acceptance of others is truly tested. I argue that tolerance ought to be placed within the moral domain and viewed as a moral virtue or duty and that it is more related to human rights than prejudice. To be tolerant is to be ethical, moral and to value human rights. Tolerance of human diversity ought to be embedded in the moral domain and value system and not viewed as “putting up” with others different from us.
By the standard of both Jewish and Western morality we need to embrace the concept of universal principles when it involves neighbourly love and question and reject hatred of others different from us. Many recent philosophers have linked tolerance with respect, equality and liberty. They argue that we should regard tolerance as a positive civic and moral duty between individuals, irrespective of colour, creed, culture or religion. In other words, it is a moral obligation or duty which involves respect for the individual as well as mutual respect and consideration between people. Tolerance and acceptance of difference between people makes it possible for conflicting claims of beliefs, values and ideas to coexist as long as they fit within acceptable moral values. Justice Aharon Barak, Israel’s Supreme Court President from 1995 to 2006, argued that tolerance consists of two parts. The first part is the responsibility not to act with intolerance and the second is the responsibility to protect tolerance and advance it. What he did not argue for is that tolerance needs to be reciprocal. In “Theory of Justice”, John Rawls argues that “An intolerant sect has no right to complain when it is denied an equal liberty” to others and this is also relevant for individuals. Tolerance needs to be about reciprocity- give and take. It cannot be one-sided. While Israel faces many problems, these are not resolved by individuals making their own rules about what is right and wrong. There is nothing that can justify the burning of churches or throwing incendiary objects into homes of sleeping people by individuals who take it upon themselves to act as moral or political arbiters. This only leads to more hatred and division.