Saturday, September 19th 2020   |

Xenophobia

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The Yom Kippur confessional known as Vidui (“Ashamnu, Bagadnu…”), is an alphabetical acrostic: a sin for every letter from Aleph to Tav. When Rabbi Jules Harlow created a matching English acrostic for his 1972 High Holy Day Machzor, he included the sin of xenophobia – the irrational fear, disdain, and persecution of foreigners. (It was joked that Rabbi Harlow had little choice but to assign “xenophobia” to the letter X in his liturgical composition. His only alternative? Xeroxing of copyrighted material!)

Hatred for the “other” is antithetical to Jewish morality. The Torah mandates that we love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19)… with special emphasis on our treatment of Edomites and Egyptians, against whom we might harbor historical resentment (Deuteronomy 23:8). The Prophet Amos brought the “Chosen People” God’s message that “To Me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians” (Amos 9:7). “Kushi’im – here translated as “Ethiopians” – may more accurately be rendered “Africans” (See Pesachim 94A). Jewish tradition insists upon our common humanity, our very real differences notwithstanding. Those differences in no way allow for hatred or justify maltreatment.

Xenophobia and Xeroxing have more in common than their initial letter: they remind us that we are all created in the self-same Divine Image… and that infringing on the rights of “the other” is a contemptible sin.

(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.)

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