Talking to Jewish Strangers: What We Should Know About the Jews We Don't Know
If we embrace Judeo-diversity, we can profoundly enhance the Jewish story and create a more promising Jewish future.
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In 1938, Neville Chamberlain, then Prime Minister of Britain, went to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain wanted to get a feel for Hitler’s character. Although initially fearful of the possibility of war, Chamberlain left thinking that Hitler was relatively trustworthy.
While most of us don’t need to assess someone’s character of this magnitude, we do judge one another daily — especially in the Jewish world.
Whether it’s on the basis of religious observance (or lack thereof), or related to ethnicities, nationalities, socioeconomic factors, stereotypes, Israel and Zionism, the Holocaust, and so on, let’s be honest: Jews have a habit of judging other Jews.
This isn’t just my observation; it’s actually backed by psychology, which suggests that people are more likely to judge those in their own circles.
According to Jonathan Haidt, a Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University, human nature is not just intrinsically moral; it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental. This enabled human beings — but no other animals — to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship.
At the same time, moral psychology virtually guarantees that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by moralistic strife. We all know the age-old Jewish joke:
“Two Jews, three opinions.”
The problem is when competing ideologies are knocked out of balance, which is the premise of righteousness, a word that once meant “just, upright, virtuous.” Nowadays, this word has strong religious connotations because it is usually used to translate the Hebrew word tzedek (justice).
Here’s another uncomfortable truth: If we think we’re good at getting a read on people, we’re wrong. One reason we’re so bad at judging people is that everyone digests and expresses their emotions and thoughts differently.
There could also be cultural and language barriers, and everyone has their own unique life experience. No matter how good we think we are at empathizing and trying to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, it’s not a perfect science to say the least.
The problem is not just that we tend to neglect these truths, but that we inadvertently do harm by failing to truly understand one another. To counter these trends, let’s look at a three profound concepts to know about the Jews we don’t know: