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One man’s family

Item: Last November, Israel’s Cabinet voted to create a prison-like detention center in the southern part of the country in which to contain the refugees who fled to the Jewish state from persecution in Africa. The daily newspaper Haaretz quoted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as saying that the facility is needed because the refugees are “a threat to the character of the state. As opposed to previous governments, this government is acting.” The facility can hold 10,000 inmates. There are approximately 40,000 refugees destined to be sent there.

Hypocrisy is an ancient curse.

Keeping the faith: One religious perspective on issues of the day One thing you discover in studying other cultures is that from way back in time, each has had its own way of saying that all people deserve equal consideration. Sometimes the statement is made in the negative, sometimes in the positive, sometimes in both forms.

Thus, for example, the sacred Hindu text, the Mahabharata, offers this version: “This is the sum of duty: Do nothing to others that, if done to you, would cause you pain.”

From the Udana-Varga, Buddhism teaches, “Hurt not others with that which pains you.”

The Torah puts it in the positive. States Leviticus 19:18, “Love your fellow as yourself.” The great sage Hillel, on the other hand, preferred the negative formulation. “What is hateful to you,” he said, “do not do to others.” That is the sum of Torah teachings and everything else is merely commentary, he added. (See the Babylonian Talmud tractate Shabbat 31a.)

Christianity echoes that directly and in a number of other ways, as well, such as this iteration from Luke, “And as you would that men should do unto you, do you also unto them likewise.”

In Islam, the Hadith teaches its believers, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

“Love your neighbor,” “Do unto others” – oh what a wonderful world this would be, and would have been from the first time anyone mouthed such words, if these were more than just words.

Yet the way of the world is to “talk the talk,” not “walk the walk.”

For Jews, of course, merely “talking the talk” is abhorrent. “You have wearied the Lord with your talk,” warns the prophet Malachi. (See Malachi 3:17.)

It is “walking the walk” that is important, and it is a literal requirement: In fact, that is what is meant by the word “halachah.” It comes from a root word meaning “to walk.” We are meant to “walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments,” (see Leviticus 26:2) and to do so “only on the path that the Lord your God has enjoined upon you…” (see Deuteronomy 5:30).

Sadly, some people have come to view “Love your fellow as yourself” in the narrowest sense. There even is a discussion in the Talmud (and a parallel one in the Midrash) that makes this point explicitly. (See the Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Nedarim 9:4.)

“[The Torah states] ‘Love your fellow as yourself.’ Rabbi Akiva says: This is a great principle of the Torah. Ben Azzai [disagrees. He] says: ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam [Genesis 5:1],’ this is a greater principle of the Torah.”

Ben Azzai’s point seems strange. This, after all, is the opening verse in a long list of begats describing the generations that descended from the first human. That, however, is the point Ben Azzai is making: According to the Torah, all humans descend from the same single original human. All are brothers and sisters to each other. All deserve the same respect and, yes, even love.

The Christians have a name for the “Love your fellow/Do unto others” principle. They call it the Golden Rule, in essence, the prime directive for how to live life.

History, however, should put another name to it: Hypocrisy.

Countless examples exist, but one will suffice. When we sought to flee the Nazis, the world shut its doors in our faces. The Golden Rule proved to be made of iron pyrite. Even after the extent of the Holocaust was known, Jewish refugees found the doors shut. Thus, the ship dubbed Exodus 1947 – which a British seaman re-dubbed “the floating Auschwitz” – was stopped off Haifa’s coast and its 4,500 Jews were evacuated by force back to Germany.

If a people are fleeing genocide or oppression of any kind, the last ones who should be turning their backs on them are the people who fled genocide themselves. Thank God – and no doubt because of Him – Jews have been in the forefront of the effort to save such people in places like Darfur.

Sadly, the State of Israel does not seem to be on that same page. (Alas, the same can be said for those American Jews who support a maximalist approach to anti-immigration regulations in this country.)

As noted above, there are approximately 40,000 refugees in Israel who have fled from Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Sudan, the Congo, and elsewhere in Africa.

According to Israel’s African Refugee Development Center, these escapees from persecution “have been systematically dealt with like an infestation; contained to the slums and largely refused any legal and definite status in the state of Israel. Most of them arrive in the country by foot or with smugglers, fleeing terrible histories and backgrounds – often war-ravaged countries, persecution, or other life-threatening situations.”

Regarding the detention center in southern Israel, the ARDC calls it “just another kick-in-the-face for this already bruised and beleaguered group.”

Some years ago, the daily newspaper Haaretz wrote in an editorial: “The first moral commandment of the state of the Jews is that it does not have the right to slam the door in the face of refugees fleeing genocide. A state of survivors cannot imprison those saved from the ravages of war in Sudan….Although dozens of scholarly articles have been written on the question of ‘What is a Jewish state,’ it appears that there are only a few that examine this aspect, the most important of all.”

And so it is. In the words of Ben Azzai, “‘This is the book of the generations of Adam [Genesis 5:1],’ this is a greater principle of the Torah.”

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