Parashat Ahare Mot

Threat And Promise Of Conformity

We can learn from and adopt only those practices foreign to Judaism that enhance and strengthen Jewish practice.

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Both of these sages perceive that there is much to be learned from the wisdom of non-Jews.  Not only in the realm of science, but also in human relations, Jewish traditions have been open to insights from other peoples.  The key, both to this Torah verse and to the later interpretations, lies in the final phrase.

Those non-Jewish practices and insights which strengthen Jewish survival, which sensitize us as a people, which teach us how to be more loving, more caring and more sensitive, which prompt us to understand more about Judaism and to practice it more fully, pose no threat to our Jewishness.

On the contrary, we benefit from their inclusion.  An openness to learn, however, should not be mistaken for the blind adoption of all Gentile standards.  Torah and later Jewish traditions stand as the ultimate counterculture--opposing all that would cheapen human life or reduce our consciousness of the holy.

Much in modern life deserves our opposition.  But those insights that strengthen Torah, which make Jewish identity more vibrant and more central, deserve our study and our adoption.  In cultivating those insights, we harvest a growing Torah.  By adding to the riches of our heritage, we assure its continued greatness.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.