Micah’s Formula for Continuity

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October 4, 2004
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Pella Schafer

For the last dozen years, concerns over continuity have driven the Jewish communal agenda.

As someone who has worked in Jewish organizations both within and outside the mainstream, I offer my own formula for continuity, based on the words of the prophet Micah (6:8): “What does the eternal one your God ask of you? Only that you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Do Justice
For many Jews – both religious and secular – the core of Jewish identity is the call to pursue justice. There is a burgeoning movement of Jewish social justice organizations across the country – composed primarily of young Jews – which have the potential to grow and reach large numbers who are not otherwise involved in Jewish life. As a community, we need to consider the potential this movement has for outreach to unaffiliated Jews, and also for reaffirming a positive Jewish identity. Additionally, pursuing justice is simply the right thing to do. As individuals and as a community, we have an obligation to carefully examine the economic, social, and environmental repercussions of the choices we make.

Love Kindness

One of the ideals of democracy is the concept of one person, one vote. If we take seriously the imperative to continue the Jewish people, then we have to be willing to give all Jewish people – even those with whom we disagree – a place at the table. In fact, it is only through the respectful inclusion and celebration of diverse opinions and backgrounds that we can build a strong and lasting community. Rashi’s commentary on Deuteronomy 16:20 ” Tzedek, tzedek tirdof ” teaches that justice is not only an end but a means, and it challenges us to welcome more fully the many Jews who are alienated from the community on the basis of economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, marital (and inter-marital) status, physical ability, spiritual leanings, or political beliefs (especially concerning Israel).

Walk Humbly
In the Talmud ( Eruvin 13b), it is said that God’s voice came down to settle a disagreement between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, declaring “These and these are the words of the living God.” Though both arguments were valid, Hillel’s won out because the students of Hillel put forward the arguments of Shammai before their own. It would serve us well to heed this Divine direction, and our talmudic tradition of preserving minority opinions. According to medieval commentator Ovadia mi-Bartenura, “It is only through sacred arguing that we can ultimately come to the truth.”

The truth is complex and multilayered. It can be hard to recognize when we are stuck inside our own perspective; overcoming this requires humility. Beyond listening kindly to divergent opinions, we need to humbly accept that those with whom we disagree may bring a piece of the truth that we are missing. As we grow psychologically and spiritually as individuals – increasing our humility, compassion, and awareness – we will become stronger as a community.

In addition to embracing diversity within our own community, we need to understand ourselves as one part of a multicultural global society. We need to both recognize that we hold only one piece of a much larger truth, and act more consistently and publicly as concerned citizens of the larger world. It is only through acting on these principles of justice – both within and outside our community – that we will survive and thrive for future generations.

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Pella Schafer has been a Jewish activist and professional for ten years. Founder of Jewish Youth for Community Action in the Bay Area, Pella currently works as a Jewish communal planner in New York and serves on the board of Jewish Fund for Justice.

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