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  • Martin van den Bergh

Dignity and Respect....But!

I have always tried to be welcoming and welcoming of all people and of all Jews. It is something that my parents ingrained in me as a result of the horrible experiences they suffered during the Holocaust. When growing up in what was then Rhodesia we were taught to respect all peoples of whatever race or religion with respect, and were we never allowed to call others in a derogatory way, even though all my school friends did so.


In this same vein I have not attacked the non-Orthodox streams of the Jewish community. In fact while in Hong Kong I maintained good relations with all the other communities, and also when I was Senior Hospital Chaplain in the UK I served the whole Jewish community. Yet I have never subscribed to reform ways as I have always felt that they do not lead to the halting the ever increasing assimilation rates. This week this opinion gained some credibility from two sources. Firstly a report from New York that it is because of the Ultra-Orthodox community, not the non-Orthodox that there is an increase in the number of Jews in New York. The second confirmation came from Ambassador Stuart Eisenstat who addressed a committee meeting I attend at the Knesset on relations between Israel and the Diaspora. He told us that the non-Orthodox communities have contributed to the assimilation and out marriage rates.


It therefore seems somewhat odd that the non-Orthodox organisations are campaigning for greater recognition and representation both here in Israel and in Diaspora communities.

Despite my own opposition to this, I feel that sometimes we the Orthodox are not welcoming. Not that we should water down Halachah or change Jewish law. On the contrary we should stand firm. But nevertheless we should always welcome people and make them feel welcome, and at the same time the non-Orthodox should be respectful of Orthodox ways when they visit Orthodox communities.


There have been many occasions when I have met with people with whom I may disagree or I may not subscribe to their way of life. And yet I have always tried to establish a relationship that is based on those same principles that my parents taught me – that of respect and dignity.


Perhaps we can also learn this lesson from the rebellion of Korach against Moses. Korach’s arguments against Moses were not for the sake of heaven, but were purely for his own position. All he wanted to do was to take and not to give. He did not want to uphold the dignity of the Jewish leadership of the time that was invested with Moses. I am always reminded of the simple yet powerful lesson of the Pirkei Avot – who is honourable, one who honours others. We do not need to agree, but we do need to show each other respect

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