Sivan 5760 – Jews and Non-Jews

15 Sivan 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

At university I constantly encounter dilemmas about relating to the non-Jewish world. I am unsure what to do in a situation where I can either interact and eat lunch with a mixed group of people in an environment of non-Jewish music, but where I may have an opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem, or I can eat by myself, perhaps always giving these people the impression that I don’t want to associate with them. Though up to this point I have always preferred to take the second option because I felt that this was the right thing to do, I have begun to feel that maybe I have the responsibility to tell them and show them that being Jewish means more than just dressing differently, seeing as they know I am Jewish. I am also interested in this answer to know how to interact with non Jewish people in a work environment – though I realize the importance of keeping polite relationships with them, how should one interact with them at activities such as lunch.
Thank you very much for your help.

[Name withheld to protect privacy]
Michlala 5756

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

The other day I was having a conversation with one of my friends and we got into a discussion about Non-Jews. Just as background – We both have been in yeshiva all our lives and spent the last year in seminary. I’m not really sure how they fit into this world. Is their purpose to just fuflill the sheva mitzvot bnei noach and be a mentch? I have always heard this mashal about a non-Jew who was rich and the sole reason for his wealth was for a tzadik to come and learn under his tree – this is very nice but can’t a non-Jew have his own credit separate from Jews? I have been told the opinion that the non-Jews are in this world simply to help the Jews and impact on them. I definitely see that Jews are punished through the other nations and we also see how not to act through them, however I can’t see that it is the sole reason for their existence. There are so many non-Jews in this world – can’t they have their own existence and purpose separate from the Jews? I think there is room to say that there can be good non-Jews in this world who have nothing to do with one Jew yet they can follow the sheva mitzvot and fulfill their purpose in this world. If we can derive our purpose from the Torah and the mitzvot in it, I think we can derive their purpose from what Hashem expected of them. Basically the sheva mitzvot are commandments of being a mentch in this world and realizing that there is one G-d – if they can do that, haven’t they fulfilled what they were put on this earth for, without even impacting one Jew? Thank you so much for your time – I appreciate it.

[Name & seminary withheld to protect privacy]

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I was wondering what the correct thing is to do with relatives or friends who have unfortunately intermarried? I am a junior in college, and my cousin, who is quite a few years older than I, recently contacted me to say she wants to talk the next time I am home. She intermarried when I was in seminary in Israel two years ago, and I have not spoken to her since before that. I have not responded to her yet because I know my family doesn’t accept her and I am very confused as to what to do. Should I reply to her or just let the letter go? What is the proper thing to do? Thank you very much.

[Name withheld to protect privacy]
Bnot Chayil 5758

Dear Everybody,

First of all, my apologies for not answering everyone sooner. My life has been a little crazy lately. I have been traveling a lot this year for Ohr Somayach, my daughter was hospitalized with a possible appendix attack, and there have been many people asking to speak to me about their personal problems. There are very few Rabbonim among the English speaking population here who have the learning and insight to help people with their personal problems and since I know how busy they are I volunteer to help out whenever possible.

But do not fear! All of you Jemsem readers and questioners have a special advocate in Rivka Lev. She, who works tirelessly to bug us JEMSEM contributors to answer your questions and send this newsletter around, often delivering it to your electronic mailbox by hand, managing to fit in getting married in her spare time, is relentless. So as a belated wedding gift I decided to make up some of my old columns.

It’s obvious that the issue of Jews and Gentiles seems to be a major one for a lot of you. Here in Israel, our major interaction with the non-Jewish community mostly involves ducking. But America is a different place and in school and at work and in our neighborhoods we are constantly interacting with non-Jews. The question of our role in the world and the role of the rest of mankind is one that is going to have a lot of importance to us.

The key to the Jewish approach, in my opinion, is the way we view history. Christians view time as beginning from the birth of their savior. Before that there is no time. B.C. Cavemen and other such barbarians. Nothing counts, it’s prehistory. Moslems count time from Mohammed’s night flight from Mecca to Medina, when he began to experience the visions that would result in the Koran. Before that, time doesn’t really count. We, on the other hand, count time from the creation of the first human. And all of the history of mankind is included. We don’t start our calendar from Avraham, or Har Sinai.

The ramifications of this difference are dramatic. Christians and Moslems believe no one else besides themselves count. As such, if you are not one of them (more specifically a member of the particular sect of them speaking to you) then you are going to burn in hell forever. That’s obviously bad, so they encourage you to join, often in the strongest terms, torture not excluded. From their point of view, it makes a lot of sense because they are saving you from eternal damnation. We, as you know, take a dramatically different approach. If a non-Jew comes to us and asks to convert we ask them “why?”. This is always disturbing to prospective converts. “Why? Because I don’t want to burn in hell, that’s why!” “No problem” we tell them. You see, we believe the righteous of all people have a place in the world to come.

Judaism is a strange sort of a religion. We don’t believe you have to belong to us to get to Heaven. To put that into Jewish terms (since we don’t believe in a big place in the clouds with a set of pearly gates), you don’t have to be Jewish to have a relationship with Hashem. The role of the Jews in the world, so we were told at Matan Torah, is to be an “Am Mamlechus Kohanim”, a nation of kohanim. Just as the kohanim have a role to Klal Yisroel to teach and lead, so we have a role to the world to teach and lead. To the point, the Torah tells us, that if we do not live up to our role there will be such anti-Semitism and destruction that the nations of the world will ask, why this is happening to us? One way or another, we will influence the world.

So the ultimate goal is for Hashem to be “Melech al kol HaAretz” and that the entire world will recognize Him and get close to Him. Do Jews have an advantage? Of course! A relationship that’s dependant on 613 things is going to be greater than a relationship based on seven things. I hope your marriage will be a deeper and more meaningful experience than the one you have with your hairdresser. But the opportunity for a higher level relationship is not exclusive to those of us born as Jews. Anyone can join. If, on the other hand, you prefer just to be close friends, you can do the seven Noahide laws and be a righteous gentile. For that matter, if you want a distant relationship, you can do that too. But that choice is a tragedy that we are supposed to help them avoid.

That is the relationship between the Jews and the nations of the world. The question is, what is the best way to accomplish it? The Maharal tells us that the Jews are compared to fire and the nations of the world are compared to water. Which is more powerful? The answer is, it depends. If the water is poured on the fire, the water will obviously extinguish the fire. But if the water is put in a pot, then the fire can slowly bring the water to a boiling point. The only way we can hope to impact on the nations of the world is by living a life of holiness and purity APART from them. Otherwise they will extinguish us. This is the way to understand Chanukah and the mistake of Shlomo HaMelech, but I’m starting to sound like a Rabbi so let me get back to the issues you all raised.

What should be our everyday dealings with non-Jews? Cordial but separate. One of the reasons for yayin nesach was to minimize social contacts. Let me remind you of a simple truth – non-Jews are just like Jewish people. They can be charming and intelligent and empathetic and sharing and YOU CAN FALL IN LOVE WITH THEM! It has happened on more than one occasion. I’m not saying that it will happen to you, and I’m not saying the marriage would work, but don’t be naive and say it can’t happen to me! Minimize all social contacts! Maybe that wasn’t clear. MINIMIZE ALL SOCIAL CONTACTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean parties, studying together, working on joint projects. Reb Yisroel Salantar used to say, the eleventh commandment is don’t be a fool!

What does this mean practically? Run the risk of being thought of as aloof. So you won’t be voted Miss Congeniality at school or work. It might even hurt your professional advancement. But if our year in Seminary has taught us anything, it’s to value our Torah identity over our secular identity.

Now maybe they are interested in Judaism? It is not up to you to proselytize. And if you want to make a Kiddush Hashem you sure ain’t gonna do it by selling yourself for the cause. “Sorah B’Ohel” is the byword and if it isn’t always possible it is certainly the ideal to be striving for.

Now, what about intermarried relatives? You must ask an shaila to a big Rabbi, preferably with a long white beard, as Rabbi Orlowek likes to say, on each individual case. Sometimes we are encouraged to try to be migayer the non-Jewish partner and sometimes to avoid them. The Jewish partner, however, should be encouraged to explore their Jewish roots. As such, to respond to the Jewish partner is probably a good idea, but if they make it dependent on your accepting their non-Jewish partner as part of the deal, it’s big shaila time.

I hope this has clarified some of the issues and I hope those of you who have been avoiding sending in questions to my column will begin again, so I can have more of your problems and questions to feel bad about if I don’t answer them right away. In the meantime, be well everyone and have a great summer.

Dovid Orlofsky