Love the stranger as yourself

"The Israeli educational system has begun teaching its students to respect people who are different, but it still needs to invest more in this area."

mideast christians 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
mideast christians 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Over the past few days, we’ve been witness to incidents in which Christian clergy have suffered terrible harassment. Although it is clear that the parties responsible for this horrible behavior belong to a tiny group of fanatics who have no fear of God, we should all be revolted by this behavior and condemn it loudly and clearly.
Israeli law enforcement authorities must act decisively and in a timely manner to uproot and completely neutralize this phenomenon.
There is no room to offer even a tiny amount of leniency to the rioters who believe that spitting on their fellow man is the correct way to behave.
Not only because this deviant behavior could lead to an increase of anti-Israel sentiment, which can already be strongly felt in many countries around the world, but because it could also ignite latent anti-Semitism.
Since its founding, the State of Israel has championed the democratic rights of freedom of religion and worship for all its citizens.
Freedom of religion and worship are not just empty slogans, but a way of life. We Jews know what it feels like to be persecuted and to undergo torture. In the not-so-distant past, one-third of our people were murdered just because they had a different faith. As a result, we are extra-sensitive, tolerant and respectful of others.
It’s not by chance that our Jewish sages warn us that we must be careful when we speak of strangers. This commandment is mentioned 36 times – more than any other commandment or prohibition. Our sages wrote, “No other commandment in the Torah – not to love God, and not to keep the Shabbat.
Not to circumcise our sons and not to refrain from eating non-kosher foods.
Not the prohibition against lying or stealing. None of these is mentioned as many times as the commandment to treat strangers with respect.”
The sages recognized that people must fight hard to overcome their tendency to act in a domineering fashion towards people who are weaker than we are. We must remind ourselves to take extra precaution and to actively protect people who are defenseless and who have no shelter.
A line from the Torah (Leviticus 19:34) commands this clearly: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.”
The commandment is clear: Love the stranger in your land. It’s not enough just to respect him. It’s not enough not to refrain from humiliating or spitting on him, from cursing or harming him.
Judaism is a way of life and not a theatrical show in which a small number of disgusting people wrap themselves in prayer shawls, pretend to be immersed in learning from holy books but close their hearts to these important words.
We shouldn’t let some of the commandments pass us over without leaving any kind of mark.
The Israeli educational system has begun teaching its students to respect people who are different, but it still needs to invest more in this area.
This will make our community a better place, and the sooner the better.
The writer is the former spokesman of the Jewish Agency and of the World Restitution Organization (WJRO).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.