"From Moshe till Moshe, there arose none like Moshe." (famous Jewish folk saying)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What happened to Tolerance?

I was reading a blog from a young lady who has some very interesting insights. Unfortunately, she has had some very unsettling experiences that have reflected poorly on certain members our faith. In the past, I have noticed that these types of events open the floodgates of negative sentiments. The feelings these strong emotions generate seem to put the entire idea of tolerance on hold. To this, I would like to share the following thoughts.

Several months ago I was traveling thru rural Pennsylvania Dutch country. I was somewhat startled when waiting at a red light, a horse drawn buggy pulled up next to me! It was surreal. I have never seen this before except years ago in the movie Witness, starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. It reminded me of the following true story.

One hot summer day, a modern Jewish person happened upon a man dressed entirely in black. Black hat, long beard, long black coat and white shirt, the works. He noticed as well that the woman he was with was also dressed in an extraordinarily modest way. Hair covered, long dress and long sleeves. The modern person sneered. He looked at the man and in wild excitement, started berating this “old fashioned” Jewish man. “Can’t you get with the program? It’s the 21st Century. Can’t you see that you are behind the times? No one dresses the way you do anymore. It’s 100 degrees out here. For G-d sakes, shed a few layers and take a shave!” This went on for a while. When he finally had a chance to take a breath, the man with the black hat, long beard, and long black coat who had been listening quite intently with the extremely modest woman at his side, responded, “Um, Speke’ de Duetch?”

To his shock and horror, the modern Jewish man realized his error immediately? He thought he had confronted an ultra Orthodox Jewish Chassid. But really it was an Amish man and his wife. “Oh my goodness,” he said, “I am so sorry. Please, please accept my apology. I really do admire your adherence to your ancient traditions. It is so honorable that your people have withstood the temptations of modern society, maintained the purity of lifestyle and your heritage. I have the utmost respect for your people and the lifestyle you have chosen to live. Please forgive any disrespect I may have shown you and your people.”

The man with the black hat and long black coat who had been listening quite intently, with the extremely modest woman at his side only smiled and took the hands of this modern Jewish man.

In broken English, he said the following. “To your own people, you have lost respect and admiration for age old customs. To your own people you discourage maintaining the integrity of ancient traditions. Yet, to a stranger you honor their beliefs, commitment and religious faithfulness.”

As the man with the black hat, long beard and long black coat and the extremely modest woman drove away in their big black Buick with a New York licence plate, the modern Jewish man noticed a bumper sticker on the back of the car, which read, “We want Moshiach Now!”

There is an amazing article by Marvin Shick that demonstrates this better than I can. But unfortunately, I have seen time and time again that the call for religious tolerance is a one-way street. I don’t like the word tolerance in the first place. We have a mandate to tolerate anyone to our left, but once we venture to the right, which is anything beyond our center, the concept of tolerance seems to disappear. You drive on Shabbat, that’s OK. Your Gay, welcome to the club! You want me to dress modestly in your neighborhood, GO TO HELL! Um, hello? People of tolerance should respect and admire the passions, wishes and differences of anyone created in the image of G-d. Actually, people of tolerance should respect and admire the passions, wishes and differences of those who act with the spirit of someone who has been created in the image of G-d.

My blessing to myself and to anyone who may read this (bless me back) would be, may we learn to respect one another. May we have the courage be sensitive to other people’s sensitivities, even when it may make us uncomfortable, and may we always see the good in people who are intrinsically good, because we are all created in the image of G-d.

Comments:
It does seem that it's easier to be tolerant of people when they aren't a part of our community.

For example, some Jewish women get angry when a religious man won't shake their hand, but if a Buddhist monk declined to shake their hand because his monastic vows forbid him to touch women they'd probably be very understanding.
 
Tamara, I couldn't agree with you more. I have a theory about this and when I have time I’ll commit my thoughts to print. Thanks for reading and your input. DM
 
I think you misinterpreted the comment. It seemed to be about a case where the bus was only full - i.e. the only free seats were next to men. The woman said she'd force them to stand up *otherwise she would have to stand.*

If that's the situation, I think she's right. If the man doesn't want to sit next to women, he has to pay the price of standing up if the only free seats is next to him. Why should the woman be forced to stand if she feels that its ok to sit next to men? Its not right to take on chumros at other people's expense.

If there are free seats not next to ultraorthodox men, then I agree with you.
 
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