One of my favorite comics from Bizarro shows two well-dressed, serious-looking young men standing in a doorway and handing their literature to the house owner, while the man looks rather perplexed. "This pamphlet is empty!" Protests the astonished man. "We are atheists", one of the young men replies.
This short anecdote leads me to this question: why do you see Jews never convert (that is, try to convert others to our religion)?
The answer, I believe, leads us to three important Jewish ideas that I think can benefit the whole world.
Why do not the Jews actively pursue others to join our faith? Many people are familiar with the phrase 'Righteous Among the Nations', a name that Yad Vashem uses to honor those of other religions who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
However, the sentence itself is about 2,000 years old. In the Talmud the statement is made that Righteous among the Nations have a share in the coming world. This obviously does not refer to those who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust; it refers more to those of other religions that practice universal principles of ethics. For the rabbis this meant that they abide by the Seven Laws of Noah (forbidding idol worship, forcibly cursing God, murdering, sexual offenses, theft, forcing certain types of cruelty to animals and for the establishment of courts).
One can disagree with certain items on the list, but the principle that the rabbis taught us two millennia ago is extremely progressive and enlightening.
The rabbis said that to be a good person – to have access to heaven, if you want – you do not have to be an attentive Jew, just a good person.
That is why we do not repent. In fact, we actively discourage potential converts, because in order to obtain salvation or redemption, however you define it, in the Yiddish language you only have a moral person, a & # 39; man & # 39; must be.
I once heard Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, who complained about the existence of what he & # 39; religious triumphalism & # 39; mentioned, the idea of certain religious groups that only they have the truth and are the only ones that have a place in heaven. Hence the need to convert the less fortunate infidels diligently to save their soul.
Some religions are a little less strict, suggesting that people from other religions might come to heaven, but eventually in the cheap seats & # 39; to end up, "Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi joked.
How refreshing Judaism is this subject. When I meet people from other religions, they can be confident that I have no hidden agenda, that I do not feel superior or have the need to try to convert them.
My only duty is to inspire them to act morally, without necessarily encouraging them to abandon their own religious traditions.
Just think: what if all religions in the world would follow the same respectful approach? So much war, violence and conflict can be avoided.
This accepting attitude is reflected in another rabbinic idea. In Brachot (58b), the rabbis teach us: "Just as their faces are different, so are their opinions different." God has created us to be different. It is embedded in both our physical and spiritual DNA.
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Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno (1475-1550) and Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893) go so far as to say that the sin of the builders of the Tower of Babel was their desire for uniformity – that everyone speaks the same language , hold the same beliefs and share the same culture.
But God enjoys the diversity, originality and creativity of humanity. To counteract the efforts of the builders, God's antidote was to spread humanity far and wide and to make sure that they speak different languages.
In the words of Elie Wiesel, "God made man because he loves stories." Not one story, but many stories.
A third rabbinic concept is reflected in the saying in Pirke Avot: "Who is a wise person? Someone who learns from all mankind."
Through the centuries, Judaism has given much to humanity, but it has also gained a lot. In recent history, a large part of the Jewish world has accepted modern Western ideals that include equality for women, gay rights and a more equitable world for the disabled.
Why? Because, as the rabbis taught us thousands of years ago, the truth comes from all sources and the truth knows no religious or ethnic borders.
The opening prayer of the siddoer is Mah Tovuwhose words were first spoken by Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet from the biblical period.
Would the rabbis not have found a prayer and chosen by someone from their own faith? They could certainly have done that, but they did not because the truth is not the property of a single person or nation.
In John Lennon's classical peace song, Imagine, he dreamed of a world with "no religion either." Let us imagine something a little different. Let us encourage the creation of a world in which all people not only accept each other's religions, but celebrate and encourage their differences, and even learn from each other's best practices.
Albert Einstein once said that "all religions … are branches of the same tree." All religions try to understand what God requires of us. All religions want to climb a mountain and reach the highest point where mankind can aspire.
Let all our religions celebrate their different approaches, while helping each other reach the summit of the mountain top.