The ways of peace

What do some Beitar Jerusalem fans and some students at yeshivot in the city’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood have in common?

What do some Beitar Jerusalem fans and some students at yeshivot in the city’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood have in common? Hatred of Muslims in general and Arabs in particular. These football fans, who are known for their racist remarks during Saturday afternoon games, were enraged when the club actually hired Muslims from Europe – not Arabs – thus polluting its “purity of blood.” Some showed their rage by burning down the club’s office, others by walking out when a Muslim actually scored a goal for the team! The yeshiva students were enraged when a Jewish woman walked by together with a Muslim woman in their sacred neighborhood. They shouted, spat and damaged the car the women came in, threatening them with bodily harm and calling them vile names. When we add to this similar incidents of teenage gangs attacking Arabs in Jerusalem and elsewhere, to say nothing of the socalled “price tag” attacks on Muslims and Christians, we should be not only disturbed but outraged, and we should be asking ourselves where these young people have learned to hate. Perhaps Rodgers and Hammerstein were correct when they wrote in South Pacific that “You have to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate – you have to be carefully taught.” Who is responsible in our society for teaching them, and who is responsible for not condemning these acts? Unfortunately some of our rabbinical leaders are those who are encouraging and teaching this hatred in the name of Judaism and the Torah. Sermons have been preached to wide audiences, books have been published that quote sources from Jewish law, and teachers have been known to encourage these attitudes as well. It is unfortunately true that one can find in the vast corpus of Jewish legal and literary commentaries, as well as in mystical and hassidic tomes, statements that support hatred of non-Jews or teach Jewish superiority. But are these the parts of the Jewish heritage that truly represent the highest ideals of Judaism? Are these the statements that we want to teach, or should we not rather emphasize those teachings of Judaism that condemn such hatred and that state that all human beings are created in the image of God, that we are all the children of one human father and are all equal in the sight of God? Only one human being was created in the world, in order to create harmony among humans – so that one cannot say to another, “My father is greater than your father” – and to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One who created each person in the image of the first human and yet no one is exactly like another. Therefore each person can say, “For my sake was the world created” (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:4).
We are constantly turning to leaders of other religions and asking them to denounce those parts of their traditions that slander Jews and Judaism, and even to change their liturgies when they are offensive to Jews and Judaism.
Should we not be making the same demands of our religious leadership? Should we not be rejecting any teachings that contradict the basic Jewish belief in the equality of all peoples? There is no paucity of such teachings in Judaism. It is up to us to decide which parts of our heritage are worthy of teaching and passing on and which are not.
When discussing relations with non-Jews, the Sages often resorted to the idea that even if the law did not specify equal treatment, the rule of “the ways of peace” required us to treat non-Jews in a proper way. This rule is based on the idea that “all its paths are paths of pleasantness and all its ways are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Decent treatment of others is thus not only a requirement of the Torah but is also an act of kiddush Hashem – bringing glory to God and to Judaism. Teaching of hate, on the other hand, are a violation of the Torah and an act of hillul Hashem – bringing shame upon God and Judaism. Thus the concept of living peacefully with others overrides other considerations.
Relations with non-Jews today are different than they were in the centuries when Jews lived totally separately from gentiles. They are certainly different in Israel, where we are the majority and not the minority, where we have power and must learn how to use it properly. If we treat non-Jews the way non-Jews all too often treated us, we have failed to learn the lessons of the Torah all of whose ways are ways of peace. ■
The writer, former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, is a two-time winner of the National Book Award. His latest book is The Torah Revolution (Jewish Lights).