Rabbi's Message, Rabbi Alvin Kass, February 2015

Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD

Differences Makes No Difference

When Haman, the arch villain of the Purim tale, sought the approval of King Ahashuerus for his plans to kill all the Jews of Persia, he justified his intentions for pointing out how different the Jews were from all the other citizens of the Empire: "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore, it profiteth not the king to suffer them." From then until the present time enemies of the Jews have sought to arouse anti-Semitic hostility by stressing differences of appearance, language religion and conduct.

Many well-meaning people, both Jewish and non- Jewish, acting on the premise that "unfamiliarity breeds contempt" sought to remove anti-Semitism by persuading the Jews to forsake their differences. The verdict of history, however, has shown the "differences make no difference" as far as Jew hatred is concerned. Thus, in Hitler's Germany, Jews who had for generations forsaken the distinctive manners, conduct, diet, dress, language, and even religion of their ancestors were still hauled off to the gas ovens despite protests that they were 100% pure Germans.

All through our history, attempts have been made to analyze the causes of anti-Semitism. Numerous theories abound which explain it either in economic, religious, social, or psychological terms or some combination of all or some of them. None is totally satisfactory. Of one thing, we can be sure: anti-Semitism is not rooted in what Jews either do or do not do. Hence, we might just as well live our lives in accordance with what we believe to be right, and not worry whether our mode of life is acceptable or offensive to others. To be Jewish is not only a great trial, it is also a great privilege. Thank God, despite all our foes, we're still around to celebrate our victory over the Hamans of every generation. There is no virtue in being the same as everybody else. Nor is it virtuous to be different just to be different. But when our special life style as Jews reflects an understanding and identification with the great values and traditions of our people, we bear witness through our differences to the entire world of how beautiful and noble life can be if people would only treat each other with a little compassion and understanding.

Happy Purim!

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