Discrimination and Diversity

 

Midrash Tanhuma, Mishpatim 2

Translation Original
If a person of learning participates in public affairs and serves as judge or arbiter, he gives stability to the land... But if he sits in his home and says to himself, “What have the affairs of society to do with me?... Why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Let my soul dwell in peace!”—if he does this, he overthrows the world. [translation by Hazon]
מַלְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה, בְּמִשְׁפָּט שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֵׂה, מַעֲמִיד אֶת הָאָרֶץ... אִם מֵשִׂים אָדָם עַצְמוֹ כִּתְרוּמָה הַזּוּ שְׁמוּשְׁלֶכֵת בְּזָוִיוֹת הַבָּיִת וְאוֹמֵר: מָה לִי בְּטוֹרַח הַצִּבּוּר ?מָה לִי בְּדִינֵיהֶם? מָה לִי לִשְׁמוֹעַ קוֹלָם? שָׁלוֹם עָלֶיךָ נַפְשִׁי! הֲרֵי זֶה מַחֲרִיב אֶת הָעוֹלָם.

Suggested Discussion Questions

When do you sit at home when you might stand up and make a difference?
What does this text say about the relationship between power and responsibility?


Talmud Bavli Brachot 17a

Translation Original
A gem in the mouths of the Rabbis of Yavneh: I am God's creature and my fellow is God's creature. My work is in the city and their work is in the field. I rise early for my work and they rise early for their work. Just they do not presume to do my work, so I do not presume to do their work. Will you say, I do (learn) much and they do (learn) little? We have a tradition: One may do much or one may do little; it is all the same, provided one directs one's heart to heaven. [translation by Soncino, edited for accessibility and gender neutrality]
מרגלא בפומייהו דרבנן דיבנה אני בריה וחברי בריה אני מלאכתי בעיר והוא מלאכתו בשדה אני משכים למלאכתי והוא משכים למלאכתו כשם שהוא אינו מתגדר במלאכתי כך אני איני מתגדר במלאכתו ושמא תאמר אני מרבה והוא ממעיט שנינו אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why would one want to repeat this statement? Against what attitude(s) is it struggling?
2. Why and when is it important to insist on the equal value of different forms of work?


Deuteronomy 1:16-17

Translation Original
I charged your magistrates at that time as follows, "Hear out your fellows, and decide justly between any person and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no person, for judgment is God's. And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it." [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]
וָאֲצַוֶּה אֶת שֹׁפְטֵיכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר שָׁמֹעַ בֵּין אֲחֵיכֶם וּשְׁפַטְתֶּם צֶדֶק בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין אָחִיו וּבֵין גֵּרוֹ: לֹא תַכִּירוּ פָנִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט כַּקָּטֹן כַּגָּדֹל תִּשְׁמָעוּן לֹא תָגוּרוּ מִפְּנֵי אִישׁ כִּי הַמִּשְׁפָּט לֵאלֹהִים הוּא וְהַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יִקְשֶׁה מִכֶּם תַּקְרִבוּן אֵלַי וּשְׁמַעְתִּיו:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. According to this text, who is responsible for justice?
2. What guidance is given in this text for dispute resolution?
3. Who is protected by these guidelines? To what extent are they applied today?


Deuteronomy 26:5-8

Translation Original
You shall then recite as follows before Adonai your God: "My father was a fugitive Aramean; he went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to Adonai, the God of our fathers, and Adonai heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery and our oppression. Adonai freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. [JPS translation edited for gender-neutrality]
וְעָנִיתָ וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב: וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים וַיְעַנּוּנוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה: וַנִּצְעַק אֶל ה' אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵינוּ וַיִּשְׁמַע ה' אֶת קֹלֵנוּ וַיַּרְא אֶת עָנְיֵנוּ וְאֶת עֲמָלֵנוּ וְאֶת לַחֲצֵנוּ: וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why are we commanded to first remember our growth into a great nation before we remember our oppression at the hands of the Egyptians?
2. Share a story (or the story) from your family's migration.  What caused them to leave?  What challenges and opportunities faced them when they arrived in their new home?

3.  Why do you think the Haggadah puts so much emphasis on remembering oppression as well as celebrating freedom?


Eliyahu Rabbah, Judges 4:4, parshah 10

Translation Original

What is the significance of Devorah judging Israel and prophesying for them? Did not Pinchas ben Elazar stand, [saying], "I testify by the Heavens and the Earth, whether non-Jew or Israelite, whether man or woman, whether a male-slave or a female one, all is according to the merit of his or her deed--so the Holy Spirit rests upon him or her." [AJWS translation]

ודבורה אשה נביאה אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת הִיא שׁפְטָה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּעֵת הַהִיא - וכי מי טיבה של דבורה שהיא שפטה את ישראל ומתנבאת עליהם, הלא פנחס בן אלעזר עומד, מעיד אני עלי את השמים ואת הארץ, בין גוי ובין ישראל בין איש ובין אשה, בין עבד ובין שפחה, הכל לפי מעשה שעושה כך רוח הקודש שורה עליו.

Suggested Discussion Questions

 

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen? 2. What power dynamics are at play? 3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?

 


Mishnah, Pesachim 10:5

Translation Original
In every generation, one is obligated to see oneself as if they left Egypt, as it is said (Exodus 13), “And you will tell your child on that day, saying, ‘Because of this that God did for me when I left Egypt.’” Therefore we are obliged to thank, praise, glorify, extol, exalt, beatify, bless, etc., etc. to the One who did all these miracles for our ancestors and for us: Who brought us out from slavery to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, from servitude to redemption. And we say before God, Hallelujah. [Soncino translation. Edited for gender neutrality]
בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים שנאמר (שמות יג) והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים לפיכך אנחנו חייבין להודות להלל לשבח לפאר לרומם להדר לברך לעלה ולקלס למי שעשה לאבותינו ולנו את כל הניסים האלו הוציאנו מעבדות לחירות מיגון לשמחה ומאבל ליום טוב ומאפילה לאור גדול ומשעבוד לגאולה ונאמר לפניו הללויה:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why must we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt? How does it shape our identities?
2. How can we truly be involved in helping others move from slavery to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, from servitude to redemption?


Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Translation Original
On another occasion it happened that a certain non-Jew came before Shammai and said to him, “I will convert to Judaism, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away with the builder's tool that was in his hand. He came before Hillel and said to him, "Convert me." Hillel said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn it.” [AJWS translation]
שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי, אמר לו: גיירני על מנת שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת. דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו. בא לפני הלל, גייריה. אמר לו: דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד - זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך - פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How is Hillel's phrase here different than the verse in Leviticus, "Love your neighbor as yourself?"
2. If we truly followed this dictum, how would our daily behavior change? How would our government policies change - foreign and domestic?
3. What other social justice themes emerge from this text?
 


Genesis Rabbah 24:7

Translation Original
Ben ‘Azzai said: “'This is the book of the descendants of Adam' is a great principle of the Torah.” R. Akiva said: "'Love your neighbor as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18) is a great principle, so that you must not say, "Since I have been put to shame, let my neighbor be put to shame, since I have been cursed, let my neighbor be cursed." R. Tanhuma said: "If you do so, know whom you put to shame, for 'In the image of God did God make him'" (Genesis 5:1). [AJWS translation]
בן עזאי אומר זה ספר תולדות אדם זה כלל גדול בתורה, ר"ע אומר (ויקרא יט) ואהבת לרעך כמוך, זה כלל גדול בתורה, שלא תאמר הואיל ונתבזיתי יתבזה חבירי עמי הואיל ונתקללתי יתקלל חבירי עמי, א"ר תנחומא אם עשית כן דע למי אתה מבזה, בדמות אלהים עשה אותו.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. This text has powerful implication on how we relate to those around us. What are some ways we can implement this thinking into our daily lives? our politics?


Rambam, Laws of Temperament 6:7

Translation Original
If one observes that another committed a sin or walks in a way that is not good, it is the person’s duty to bring the erring one back to the right path and point out that he/she is wronging him/herself by this evil course, as it is said, “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17). One who rebukes another, whether for offenses against the one who rebukes him/herself or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly, and point out that the rebuke is offered for the wrongdoer’s own good, to secure for the other life in the World to Come. If the person accepts the rebuke, well and good. If not, the person should be rebuked a second, and a third time. And so one is bound to continue the admonitions, until the sinner assaults the admonisher and says, “I refuse to listen.” Whoever is in a position to prevent wrongdoing and does not do so is responsible for the iniquity of all the wrongdoers whom that person might have restrained. [Freeman translation]
הרואה חבירו שחטא או שהלך בדרך לא טובה מצוה להחזירו למוטב ולהודיעו שהוא חוטא על עצמו במעשיו הרעים שנאמר הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך (ויקרא יט:יז), המוכיח את חבירו בין בדברים שבינו לבינו, בין בדברים שבינו לבין המקום, צריך להוכיחו בינו לבין עצמו, וידבר לו בנחת ובלשון רכה ויודיעו שאינו אומר לו אלא לטובתו להביאו לחיי העולם הבא, אם קיבל ממנו מוטב ואם לאו יוכיחנו פעם שניה ושלישית, וכן תמיד חייב אדם להוכיחו עד שיכהו החוטא ויאמר לו איני שומע, וכל שאפשר בידו למחות ואינו מוחה הוא נתפש בעון אלו כיון שאפשר לו למחות בהם.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. In practice, it is very difficult to rebuke someone. What are some ways of rebuking so that the person is not shamed?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?
 


Rambam, Laws of Temperament 6:7

Translation Original
If one observes that another committed a sin or walks in a way that is not good, it is the person’s duty to bring the erring one back to the right path and point out that he/she is wronging him/herself by this evil course, as it is said, “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17). One who rebukes another, whether for offenses against the one who rebukes him/herself or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly, and point out that the rebuke is offered for the wrongdoer’s own good, to secure for the other life in the World to Come. If the person accepts the rebuke, well and good. If not, the person should be rebuked a second, and a third time. And so one is bound to continue the admonitions, until the sinner assaults the admonisher and says, “I refuse to listen.” Whoever is in a position to prevent wrongdoing and does not do so is responsible for the iniquity of all the wrongdoers whom that person might have restrained. [Freeman translation]
הרואה חבירו שחטא או שהלך בדרך לא טובה מצוה להחזירו למוטב ולהודיעו שהוא חוטא על עצמו במעשיו הרעים שנאמר הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך (ויקרא יט:יז), המוכיח את חבירו בין בדברים שבינו לבינו, בין בדברים שבינו לבין המקום, צריך להוכיחו בינו לבין עצמו, וידבר לו בנחת ובלשון רכה ויודיעו שאינו אומר לו אלא לטובתו להביאו לחיי העולם הבא, אם קיבל ממנו מוטב ואם לאו יוכיחנו פעם שניה ושלישית, וכן תמיד חייב אדם להוכיחו עד שיכהו החוטא ויאמר לו איני שומע, וכל שאפשר בידו למחות ואינו מוחה הוא נתפש בעון אלו כיון שאפשר לו למחות בהם.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. In practice, it is very difficult to rebuke someone. What are some ways of rebuking so that the person is not shamed?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?


Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 19b

Translation Original
Come and learn: Human dignity is so important that it supersedes even a biblical prohibition. [Soncino translation]
תא שמע: גדול כבוד הבריות שדוחה [את] לא תעשה שבתורה.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What happens when human dignity is not a priority, such that this text makes it the most important thing?


Mishna, Pe'ah 1:1

Translation Original
These are the things for which there is no measure: the corner of the field [which is left for the poor], the first-fruits offering, the pilgrimage, acts of lovingkindness, and Torah learning. These are the things for which a person reaps the fruits in this world and his reward is in the world to come: honoring father and mother, acts of lovingkindness, bringing peace between people and the study of Torah is equal to them all. [AJWS translation]
אלו דברים שאין להם שיעור הפאה והבכורים והראיון וגמילות חסדים ותלמוד תורה אלו דברים שאדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא כיבוד אב ואם וגמילות חסדים והבאת שלום בין אדם לחבירו ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. In what ways are these things not measurable?
3. How does a person reap benefits from these acts?


Rambam, Laws of the High Court 12:3

Translation Original
For this reason, man was created alone in the world. This teaches us that a person who eliminates one human life from the world is considered as if he eliminated an entire world and a person who saves one human life is considered as if he saved an entire world. [AJWS translation]
לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי בעולם ללמד שכל המאבד נפש אחת מן העולם מעלין עליו כאילו איבד עולם מלא וכל המקיים נפש אחת בעולם מעלין עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What are the implications of this text on issues of discrimination?
2. What power dynamics are at play in this text?


Rambam's Eight Chapters, Chapter 4

Translation Original
Goodness of heart - [falls] between meanness and excessive kindness. (And because these virtues do not have a name in our language - it is necessary to explain them and to explain what the philosophers wanted: A good heart - this is called to one for whom all his intentions are to improve the state of man with his body, his wisdom and his money to the maximum of his ability but without causing any harm or contempt. This is the middle path. The mean one - he is the opposite of this and he is one who does not want to contribute to humanity a thing, even things which he is not lacking and would not be a bother to him nor cause him damage. This is the fartherest extreme. And the excessively good heart - this is one who does all the things listed above in "good heart" but does them even when they cause him great damage, or contempt, or trouble, or great loss. This is the first extreme.) [AJWS translation]
וטוב-לב - ממצע בין הנבלה ויתרון טוב הלבב. (ומפני שאין למדות האלה שם ידוע בלשוננו - צריך לפרש עניניהם, ומה שרוצים בו הפלוסםפים: לב טוב - קוראים: מי שכל כונתו להיטיב לבני אדם בגופו, ועצתו, ובממונו בכל יכלתו, בלתי שישיגהו נזק או בזיון, והוא האמצעי. והנבל - הוא הפך זה, והוא: מי שאינו רוצה להועיל לבני אדם דבר, אפילו במה שאין לו בו חסרון, ולא טרח, ולא נזק - והוא: הקצה האחרון. ויתרון טוב הלבב - הוא: שעושה דברים הנזכרים ב"לב טוב" ואפילו אם ישיגהו בזה נזק גדול, או בזיון, או טרח רב והפסד מרבה - והוא: הקצה הראשון).

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How can we find the middle path and contribute to humanity?
2. How do we evaluate what counts as a loss or damage to the giver?
3. How can we continue to grow as individuals and as communities while repeatedly finding the middle path?


Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, "Unfinished Rabbi" (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998), p. 60

Translation Original
 
Jews are commanded to open their homes to visitors, particularly the poor and the learned. Jews are not to convert their homes into fortresses protecting the nuclear family from invasion, but to sensitize their children to other people by inviting visitors regularly into their homes. The house is not to be a refuge but a bridge – if the analogy can be imagined, a kind of spiritually self-aware hotel.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What power dynamics are at play?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?


Abraham Joshua Heschel, Telegram to President John F. Kennedy, June 16, 1963

Translation Original
 
I look forward to privilege of being present at meeting tomorrow at 4 p.m. Likelihood exists that Negro problem will be like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Please demand of religious leaders’ personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Churches and synagogues have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare state of moral emergency. A marshal plan for aid to Negroes is becoming a necessity. The hour calls for high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to have high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity?
2. In what ways has our society improved since this text? In what ways do we still have work to do?
3. Are there issues as pressing to you as this issue was to Heschel?


Psalms 146:7-9

Translation Original
Who secures justice for those who are wronged, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free; The LORD restores sight to the blind; the LORD makes those who are bent stand straight; the LORD loves the righteous; The LORD watches over the stranger; He gives courage to the orphan and widow, but makes the path of the wicked tortuous. [JPS translation]
עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט לָעֲשׁוּקִים נֹתֵן לֶחֶם לָרְעֵבִים ה' מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים: ה' פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים ה' זֹקֵף כְּפוּפִים ה' אֹהֵב צַדִּיקִים: ה' שֹׁמֵר אֶת גֵּרִים יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה יְעוֹדֵד וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים יְעַוֵּת:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What power dynamics are at play?
3. What social justice themes emerge from this text?


Jeremiah 22:3

Translation Original
Thus said the LORD: Do what is just and right; rescue from the defrauder him who is robbed; do not wrong the stranger, the orphan and the widow; commit no lawless act, and do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place. [JPS translation]
כֹּה אָמַר ה' עֲשׂוּ מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה וְהַצִּילוּ גָזוּל מִיַּד עָשׁוֹק וְגֵר יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה אַל תֹּנוּ אַל תַּחְמֹסוּ וְדָם נָקִי אַל תִּשְׁפְּכוּ בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה:

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Who are the players in this text – seen and unseen?
2. What social justice themes emerge from this text?