This summer, while attending Shabbat worship at a temple in Great Barrington, Mass., I found myself engaged in a monthlong discussion on the issue of tolerance and intolerance within the Jewish community.
It began with a d’var Torah on the distinction between the Hebrew words savlanut and sovlanut. The words are spelled exactly the same way but with different vowels; one means patience and the other means tolerance. When my turn to speak came I proposed that we need the savlanut – the patience – to be sovlanut – tolerant of those with whom we disagree. We should demand of ourselves, our communal institutions, and our government, adherence to the teaching of Avot de Rabbi Natan: “When a person does something wrong to you, let it be little in your eyes; when you wrong another let it be great in your eyes.”
As this discussion continued both within our Shabbat morning worship and around dinner tables with friends throughout the summer, I started to think about my own impatience and intolerance of others.
For me the greatest challenge of my professional career and my personal life has been knowing when the correct thing to do is to stand up in protest and when I must be tolerant of the views of others with whom I disagree
Am I justified in being intolerant of charedi Orthodox Jews, who, in the name of waiting for the Messiah deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel and claim for themselves exemption from military service and the entitlement of social services and educational support from the state whose governing authority they refute?
Must I be tolerant of nations, religious organizations, and people who proclaim that Jews are not a people; that Israel is an illegitimate “Zionist entity”; that Jewish history in the land they call Palestine is a fiction?
Do I have the right and responsibility to be impatient and intolerant of those who seek to delegitimize Israel’s existence and justify terrorist attacks against Israel?
Must I patiently tolerate statements and actions from Israeli leaders that I believe are wrong in the name of Jewish unity?
My understanding of Jewish history is that the Jewish people always have had the challenge of finding a way to live in the Land of Israel, as a nation alongside other nations. In giving thanks that Jewish sovereignty has been restored in our lifetime, must we not also accept that the State of Israel has the responsibility of exercising justice tempered with compassion toward its non-Jewish citizens and toward its Arab neighbors? I am sure it’s clear to everyone who has heard me speak or read my opinions in this newspaper over the past 25 years that for me defending Israel does not mean supporting every action of the current or future Israeli governments. However, the converse also is true. Being critical of specific policies, including such major concerns as recognizing Jewish religious pluralism and the settlement policies on the west bank, in no way contradicts my absolute support, as expressed in the Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, which says we have the right to live as a free people in our own land, the land of Zion, and Jerusalem.
We and our Israeli brothers and sisters need to have the savlanut – the patience to be sovlanut – tolerant – of the spectrum of legitimate views on the existential questions facing Israel. I encourage all of us to have the savlanut – the patience – to be sovlanut – tolerant of opinions of the larger rainbow of pro-Israel voices, especially the views of those with whom you might differ.
We also need patience and tolerance, this election season, on the issue of American policy in the Middle East. I call upon each of you to join me in expressing gratitude that both presidential candidates and all of the candidates from both parties who are running for Congressional seats in our area – Rep. Garrett and Councilman Gussen in the 5th and Rep. Pascrell and Rabbi Boteach in the 9th – are unequivocally pro-Israel. To label any of these men as anti-Israel is just plain wrong. Since the recognition of Israel by Harry Truman and certainly ever since Lyndon Johnson’s establishing of the American – Israel defense alliance in 1968, American support for Israel’s security and its right to exist as a Jewish state within secure and recognized borders unquestionably has been the policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations.
I pray that in the next three weeks all of us will patiently but actively not tolerate attempts by either political party or their candidates for federal office to make support for Israel a divisive issue in this campaign. Instead, let us be thankful that we live in a time when there is both a vibrant but fully integrated American Jewish community and a free independent Jewish State of Israel, and that the American/Israeli alliance is strong, secure, and bipartisan.