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Ahavas Israel Is Not "Inclusive"

"Inclusive diversity"--meaning "creating an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are encouraged and embraced"--is appropriate at work. But it is not appropriate for a religious Jewish environment, such as a shul, yeshiva or camp. Rather, simple love and compassion is appropriate, combined with an emphasis on beliefs and behaviors that are consistent with what the Torah teaches us.

Why can't religion be inclusive too? It's not rocket science: A religious Jewish environment is based on the Torah, which is God-given and as such not at all a model of "inclusive diversity." The Torah is very definitive about privileging certain people, and certain views, based on certain behaviors.

As a God-given body of law, the Torah is not subject to negotiation. It can only be interpreted based on certain generally accepted principles. And when it comes to religion, we only honor as valid the interpretations of people considered both legitimately Jewish and halachically observant.

Unfortunately, most Jews today are not familiar with their religion, their culture or their history beyond the superficial. Also unfortunately, what they do know, or think they know, is not reflective of actual Torah scholarship but rather some watered-down, Westernized version of our history. Just like Americanized Chinese food, it doesn't have the same taste at all.

The story of "Pinchas the zealot" is a very good example. Many people think of Pinchas as an extreme, radical fundamentalist whose actions were ill-advised. But just the opposite is true.

For some context: The evil sorcerer Balak, a Moabite, ganged up with the Midianites to try and undercut the Jews by having a prophet curse them. But in the end, God forced this man to bless the Jews instead. Unfortunately, the Moabites and the Midianites found a way to get the Jews in trouble anyway--by luring them into immorality, and subsequently idolatrous practices. 

Finally, Pinchas saw a Jew and one such woman engaged in the act in the holy tent. Where Moses and the elders could only weep in sorrow, Pinchas immediately slaughtered both of them, an act so just that God blesses him in Numbers 25:10-13 with the eternal priesthood--noting that the Jews would otherwise have been slaughtered by Him as a punishment.

The message from the Bible is clear. From God's perspective, sexual immorality is not something to be "learned from" or "leveraged." Your job as a Jew is to eliminate it from the people. Period.

As a Jew, operating in a religious Jewish environment, there are times when you simply cannot honor everyone's choices equally.

But the Jews are kindhearted, and they keep on trying to. In fact, in the Torah, this theme of misplaced mercy comes up over and over again. And it is at the heart of Parshas Matot, which we read this week in shul.

To recap: In Bamidbar (Numbers) 31:2, God commands the Jews to violently attack the Midianites, in an act of revenge for their effort to defile the people's morality. In the course of the war, the warriors at first spare the lives of the Midianite women who held orgies with the Jewish men to take them into immorality and idolatry. But Moshe rebukes them, again, directing them to do things that would surely offend a modern Western secular democratic audience (Bamidbar 31:15-18):
  • First, Moses tells them to kill the women, as well as the male children. Today we would call this "genocide."
  • Then they were given permission to take the foreign virgins "for yourselves." This is a position that today might be be considered comparable to ISIS kidnapping Yazidi women and taking them as sex slaves.
Of course nowadays we do not behave as harshly as they did in Old Testament times. But still, the actions taken then reverberate with us as we understand that God does not entertain positions that are based on political correctness.

Throughout Jewish history, the line between harshness and mercy has been a frequent topic of debate among Orthodox rabbis. In ancient times, Rabbi Hillel (more lenient) and Rabbi Shammai (stricter) exemplified this debate, and it continues in various forms till this day.

But at the very least, the line between Orthodox and non-Orthodox was clear. You knew an Orthodox person when you saw one," and assumed that any variances in opinion were at least grounded in the same set of rules.

When the Conservative, Reform and other denominations came on the scene, their operating framework was clearly not Orthodox, allowing Orthodox people to maintain a clear distinction between the different strains of belief among the Jewish people.

But the same is not true with today's "Open Orthodox" rabbis. Some of them are indeed Torah-true. Others, based on the actions they promote, are clearly not believers in the Torah, despite calling themselves authentically Orthodox.

It is not loving to lie like this. If you're an Orthodox rabbi, you owe it to people to act like it.

Otherwise, please do everyone a favor and let someone else wear the brand.

Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Creative Commons photo via Pixabay.