Equality Is A Goyisha Value

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

Jewish law has Jews treat other Jews in a somewhat more favorable fashion, e.g. forbidding a Jew to charge interest on a loan to another Jew but permitting him to do it on a loan to a Gentile. Is there some merit one Jew exhibits in relation to another that a Gentile lacks? It could be argued that being a part of the same community, like being part of the same family, is itself a merit that justifies slightly preferential treatment. If done consistently, this can be considered a just form of differentiated equality.

In a different fashion, Jews law places certain disadvantages on an immoral person. Effectively, this causes a disparity in treatment between those who act morally (i.e. follow the commandments) and those who act immorally (i.e. violate certain severe commandments). Since this distinction is based on an understandable merit and is applied consistently, it seems like a just inequality.

Note that this discussion only deals with whether the inequality in treatment is just, whether the very existence of a difference is morally acceptable. It does not address the different standards of treatment for classes with different merits, which I think is also just but requires a separate discussion.

R. Roth concludes, "Jewish law obligates us to treat equally those who, by relevant standards, are, as a matter of fact, equal."

YAAKOV B POSTS: God does not give people equal opportunities in the physical world – some people are born disabled. Why should we assume that He would give equal opportunities in the spiritual realm?

TZVEE POSTS: Check back to October 2008.

Dennis Prager said in a speech at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis that "equality" is not an American value.

That won him Keith Obermann’s, "Worst Person in the World" award.

Are you looking for an award?

NACHUM LAMM POSTS: At "egalitarian" minyanim, who receives the first and second aliyot to the Torah? I ask this in all seriousness. After all, if "egalitarian" is to mean anything more than "feminist," there isn’t much egalitarian about the Kehunah. (I say this as a proud Kohen.)

And even if it *does* mean "feminist," one may then ask whether a daughter of a Kohen (especially if married to a non-Kohen) is entitled to the first aliyah at an egalitarian minyan. And what about her daughters?

Y. AHARON POSTS: Does someone really believe that the differentiation in halacha between the sexes is a reflection of relative merit? The evidence from the generation that first received the torah suggests that women were generally on a higher religious plane than men, "bishvil nashim tzidkaniyot nigalo avoiteinu". Rather the distinction is due partly to natural differences in function and on the cultural imperatives of the patriarchal age. The key point is not to accentuate such differences but, instead, to try to ameliorate the disparities due to later custom.

Similarly, the honors given kohanim aren’t really based on a biblical injunction. That injunction of "vekidashto" is dependent on the clause immediately following, "ki et lechem Elo_av hu makriv". We haven’t seen the latter function served for nearly 2 millenia. Rather, the honor given, it seems to me, is justified by the fact that those kohanim also bless the congregation – as stipulated in the torah. Nor is the practice always followed since kohanim are sometimes not given the first aliya if there is a simcha or many chiyuvim.

The point is that the honor given to kohanim is not arbitrary or reflective of some genetic superioritiy but has a basis in current function and is sometimes waived. If so, then the lesser honor given to women on a communal basis is not reflective of current function and is arbitrary.

JOSEPH KAPLAN POSTS: I don’t think the equation of women and kohanim (I am one) works. Look at the privileges kohanim have. Other than duchanin, big deal. Sure, it’s nice to get the first aliyah, but if not, so what. And I think that if women were excluded from one part of the prayer service (as they are, indeed, in Shirah Chadasha), then it, too, would be no big deal. The problem is they are excluded from EVERYTHING. and this exclusion then has other practical ramifications; their section, in many shuls, in placed in a disadvantageous area where they can’t see or hear well. Sometimes, nO consideration at all is given to having ANY place for them as in those shuls which don’t open the women’s section on weekday mornings or where men sit in that section, forcing women to daven in the hall. My guess is (and it’s only a guess, of course) that if only kohanim could daven for the amud, levi’im and yisraelim wouldn’t feel the same way they do now that we get the first aliyah and lead the benching more often than they do.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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