Loving the stranger, stopping the hatred

Israel has reacted with shock and revulsion to two recent attacks on Arabs by Jewish youth.

Bat Ayin youth arrested over firebombing 370 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Bat Ayin youth arrested over firebombing 370
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Israel has reacted with shock and revulsion to two recent attacks on Arabs by Jewish youth, the fire bombing of an Arab taxi near Bat Ayin and the attack on an Arab youth in downtown Jerusalem. Perhaps it took these two extreme events to wake us up and make us take seriously something that should have been obvious to us all for a long time: hatred of Arabs is common among our youth and is not only verbal by violent.
The anti-Arab cries of crowds of young people at sports events in Teddy Stadium and elsewhere have been common for years, as have "death to Arab" graffiti in our city streets. The price-tag attacks in the West Bank have become commonplace, including firebombing of mosques. Little enough has been done to stop them. Perhaps those of us not living in the territories have dismissed these things as the natural consequence of settling the West Bank, but that is nonsense. This hatred has infected the entire country and it is not confined to hot-headed youth. There is bitter irony in the fact that those things that we as Jews have suffered for centuries in other lands are now being done to others by Jews, and often by Jews who consider themselves religious.
Why should we be surprised that young people do these things when they have heard anti-Arab diatribes by official religious leaders such as the rabbi of Tsfat and he is not alone. One of our most respected political leaders, a former Chief Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, has been known to hurl invectives at Arabs in his popular sermons. Surely this has an effect on his countless followers. And who among our leaders has dared to speak up against him? It is unfortunate that some of the leaders of Habad have contributed to this, teaching mystical doctrines in which the Jewish soul is seen as different and higher than other souls. "Torat HaMelekh" is not the only religious tract that declares the life of non-Jews is less valuable than that of Jews and that this applies specifically to our enemies – the Arabs.
Anytime one group is at war with another – and we have been at war with the Arabs for a century and remain so today – hatred of the foe grows to extremes and tends to generalize all members of that group, even those who are totally innocent. Just look at the way in which America treated its citizens of Japanese origin during the Second World War. But when that fire is fueled by so-called religious teachings, as is happening here, it cannot help but bring about the tragic results we have seen.
How can we combat this evil? One of the first things that must be done is to counter the false religious teachings that create hatred and anti-Arab bias with religious teachings that expound the very opposite. There is no question in my mind but that the basic teaching of the Torah and of classical Judaism is that all human beings are of equal worth in the sight of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Anything else is a distortion.
When Genesis 1:27 proclaimed "And God created the human being in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them" it established for all time the worth of human life, all human life. That which is created in God's image, no matter how one interprets that phrase, partakes of the Divine and is therefore sacred. In the second century C.E. Rabbi Akiva explained this well, "Beloved is the human being, for he was created in the image of God. Exceedingly beloved is the human being in that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of God" (Avot 3:18).The Sages of Israel interpreted the story of the creation of Adam, one human being and only one, as teaching that this was done "in order to create harmony among human beings so that one cannot say to another, "My father is greater than your father"(Sanhedrin 4:4). They went on to declare, "Whoever destroys one human life is considered to have destroyed the entire world, and one who saves one human life is considered to have saved the entire world"(Sanhedrin 4:5,correct manuscript reading).
Long before that the prophets of Israel went out of their way to stress the importance of all nations in the sight of God. Thus Amos proclaimed that "To Me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians" and contends that just as God brought Israel out of Egypt, so he brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir (Amos 9:7). It was Isaiah who, predicting the future, taught, "In that day Israel shall be a third partner with Egypt and Assyria as a blessing on earth; for the Lord of Hosts will bless them, saying, 'Blessed be My people Egypt, My handiwork Assyria and My very own Israel" (Isa.19:24-25). It should be remembered that those nations, Egypt and Assyria, were the enemies of Israel, and yet Isaiah proclaimed them God's people and God's handiwork.
Every child in every school in Israel should be taught these passages and should also be informed of the way in which the Torah commands that we treat the stranger, the non-Jew who lives as a resident within the land of Israel. "You shall not wrong a stranger [ger] or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:20). This is repeated again even more explicitly in the very next chapter: "You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9). In both cases, proper treatment of the stranger is predicated upon the experience of having been strangers is Egypt. We of all people should never mistreat strangers as we were mistreated in Egypt and throughout the Diaspora.
The "holiness code" in Leviticus also clearly connects the treatment of the stranger to the experience of Egyptian suffering but goes beyond it in calling for love of the stranger as well as good treatment. Leviticus, which commands us to love our fellow, makes a special provision for the stranger – who is really not our fellow. He is "the other." Thus:    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, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).
When the theme of the stranger is taken up by Deuteronomy it requires the judicial system to protect the rights of the stranger: "…decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger" (1:16). "For the Lord your God….upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (10:17-19).
These ancient teachings should be inculcates in every child as Judaism's attitude toward all human beings and specifically toward the non-Jew who dwells together with us in our land, i.e. the Arab. The midrash summed it up very well," I call heaven and earth to witness that whether one be Gentile or Jew, man or women, slave or handmaid, the Holy Spirit will rest upon them according to their deeds" (Tanna d've Eliyahu 9).
Hatred of Arabs will not go away by itself and will not be eradicated with ease. It requires a concerted effort on the part of all of us and especially on the part of our religious and political leadership, not merely to condemn, and not merely to see to it that violence is punished, but to speak out against those who preach intolerance and to see to it that all our children are taught the ancient truths of Judaism that are the very foundation of culture and of democracy.