Hillel said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, that is the entire Torah, the rest is just commentary, now go and study." Shabbat 31a
The passage above is familiar to many Jews, and it is a self-explanatory interpretation of the famous passage - Love your neighbor as yourself.
Most of us yearn for clarity. Clarity is often easier to achieve when we apply parameters to the concepts we wish to understand. Sometimes positive suggestions or commands are hard to apply in practice, so we reframe to better understand them.
One of the basic assumptions I make about living as an observant Jew in a liberal democracy is that the parameters and freedoms of that democracy protect me in ways that Jews have rarely enjoyed in the past.
We depend on free speech, yes, but we expect that it will be monitored for calls to discrimination or violence. We practice and enjoy freedom of association and worship, but we must be vigilant that these freedoms are upheld. We can dress as we wish, establish whatever kosher or ethical certification we wish, and elevate any woman or man we wish to clerical status based on our own traditions. All of these freedoms we have despite the fact that study after study, statistic after statistic tell us that there are a vocal minority of our fellow citizens who reject, disdain, insult, and even want to commit violence against us.
We depend on universally applied rights and obligations to live our lives in the way we wish, in the way our God tells us to, even as some of those with different beliefs and practices see our continued existence as an affront.
When we have felt those rights were not being respected, we challenged them in court, in demonstrations, we advocated in Albany and Washington - we secured the protections and respect our identity demanded.
We stood and we marched shoulder to shoulder with other communities facing similar struggles. Not because we share the same observances, practices or beliefs, but because we share the same understanding of the respect due to every individual in our country regardless of their identity. Some even gave their lives in these struggles.
Today, many of our neighbors in Rockland - and many of our family members - have gathered to celebrate Pride month. The LGBTQ+ community has faced and is facing many of the same challenges our community has faced and is facing. Law enforcement and our own sources confirm that many of those who threaten our synagogues also threaten them. In any case, how can we demand or expect rights and respect from others if we are not prepared to give and defend the same? These are the very parameters we learn in the passage above - “What is hateful to you…”
Many of us demonstrate love and respect to our neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community without recourse to parameters. But many do - and just as it is OK in our tradition to achieve brotherhood, neighborliness or solidarity by considering the parameters, it must be OK for us to do so with our neighbors celebrating this month as well.
I am thankful that I live in a liberal democracy where I don’t depend on mere tolerance, but rather expect and enjoy kindness, respect, and the rights that too many people in too many parts of the world can only dream of. Today, this month, and every month, I stand up for the very same for our allies - Rockland’s LGBTQ+ community - and hope that however you come to it, you will too.