By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
Israelites who, during the Second Temple Period, were particularly scrupulous in observance of ritual purity and tithing were called “Chaverim” – friends, comrades, members of an elite fellowship. Many farmers, and rank-and-file manual laborers, typically unable to maintain the same level of ritual purity (due to their geographical isolation and, in great part, their agrarian lifestyle and constant work in the fields), were termed amei ha-aretz – literally, “people of the land” – implicitly imputing a diminutive spiritual status, a lack of religious sophistication and reliability.
In general, a Chaver was not permitted to acquire food from, or even to eat together with, an am ha-aretz. Such an isolationist, exclusivist elitism was untenable during pilgrimage, when (according to Josephus) as many as 2,565,000 Israelites of all spiritual and ritual stripes crowded together in the Holy City.
Happily… wisely… mercifully… all Israelites – the unlettered and “unwashed masses” included – were officially elevated to the status of Chaver for the duration of their Jerusalem pilgrimage (see Chagigah 26A). That is, laborers and farmers received a “field promotion!” This principled, polite legal fiction allowed unfettered interaction and friendly socialization among all Israelites, religious differences notwithstanding. Thus the Rosh Chodesh blessing we recite each month: “Chaverim Kol Yisrael – All Jews are Chaverim: friends, comrades… members of one united fellowship.”
A vision worth promoting!
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)