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Welcome To Jewish Universalism

Shalom!

As a rabbi and member of the Union of Jewish Universalist Communities (UJUC) I feel that it is critical for all Jews to begin thinking about Judaism and in a new way for the 21st Century. Too often our religion and our people have been stuck in the past with outdated concepts and even outdated scripture. This must change for Judaism and the Jewish People to move forward. That is the purpose of this website and the motivation of my rabbinical path.

 

 

Center for Human Equality

The Center for Human Equality was founded by Rabbi Russell McAlmond for the purpose of promoting equality for every individual. The Center does not make distinctions about which individuals deserve equality but promotes it for everyone. Respect is deserved for every human being simply for being human.

We believe that every individual is unique and is only defined by this uniqueness. We believe that people should be judged as individuals, not groups. We believe that individual character is the only basis that human beings should be judged on. We exist for the purpose of promoting unity, understanding and equality for all individuals. We are also opposed to group judgments of any kind or for any reason.   

The Center strongly supports the position taken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that individuals be judged by their character, not their skin color. Character is an individual trait, not a group one. Dr. King desired that all people be considered brothers/sisters and felt that we were all mutually dependent on each other. He also believed in nonviolence to achieve any political or human rights goal. According to Dr. King, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” We agree with the idea that hate only causes more hate which is the reason we promote love and respect for every human being. 

Dr. King’s position also rejects group judgments because of the great harm that is created by grouping people and assigning values to them. The Holocaust was caused by the Nazis assigning negative values to Jews and considering them not only evil, but subhuman. This denied the individuality of each Jew and led to their dehumanization. If there is any event in human history that demonstrates clearly the harm that grouping people and assigning values to the group does, it is the Holocaust. The phrase of “Never Again” should be understood that we should never judge any group of individuals by their group identity alone.  

There are many ways of grouping people and discrimination may take many different forms. History has proven that we can be very creative in how we demonize each other by group. We are opposed to all forms of discrimination and judgment by group identity for whatever reason. We are opposed to any human being defined only by a group identity. We believe that every human being deserves the right to be treated as the wonderful and unique individual they are. Only be respecting this uniqueness and judging each person by their character may we ever get past the history of racism, sexism, antisemitism and other harmful group judgments.

We hope that you will support the Center for Human Equality and help to promote a better human relational philosophy for all of us. Improving human relations, especially after the 20th Century, is a worthwhile endeavor for all people who truly desire peace and understanding. We can create a better world for every human being. 

Political Hatred

In June of 2020 an 82-year-old Air Force veteran by the name of Charlie Chase was assaulted by a 27-year-old man who was driving by and saw him wearing a Trump hat. This took place in Fall River, Massachusetts. The young man jumped out of his car, assaulted the older man and tore up his Trump sign. He kicked Charlie while on the ground and went back to his car. According to Mr. Chase, the young man’s face was filled with hate because he supported President Trump. This is where we are in our country today based on differing political views. 

The young man has been arrested and charged with the violation of civil rights. It is the right of each American to decide for themselves whom they will support politically. For some, however, this right is non-existent if you don’t support the individual they do. In fact, since you don’t have the right to think differently, you will be physically assaulted for trying to exercise such a right. We have become extremely intolerant of anyone having a different worldview than ours. 

This intolerance is also founded on the belief that a certain political position is the only moral one. The young man felt that his position was moral, and the old man was immoral for not agreeing with him. An immoral person deserves to be punished so he got out of his car to administer justice to the Trump supporter. The problem, of course, is that anyone’s political opinion does not carry moral weight. It is an opinion, not a command from God. 

The intolerance of a different opinion is stifling public debate and infringing on freedom of speech. This also affects religious freedom. Pluralism is the tolerance of different viewpoints and different religions. The US was founded on the principle of pluralism in speech and thought. We are better when we are exposed to different ideas. We inhibit our personal growth and development by thinking we have all of the answers and no one has anything to teach us. It is the definition of narrow-mindedness to not tolerate differing viewpoints. 

Lack of tolerance of differing ideas is extremely harmful for human relations. Being bigoted about one’s own political opinions may lead to name-calling or violence – as it did here. None of this helps us to understand and respect our neighbors. The primary command of Judaism is to love your neighbor. Nowhere does it say that one should do this only if they agree with you politically.  

I sincerely hope that Charlie gets the justice he deserves and that this young man learns a valuable lesson. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion no matter how ugly one may think it is. We can try to convince them that they are wrong, but we should always respect their right to think differently. After all, we don’t have the monopoly on truth either. What if we are wrong and they are right? 

Groupism Not Racism

Racism is a form of groupism but is not the only one. People who are anti-gay engage in groupism. Anti-Semites engage in groupism. Anyone who puts people in groups and judges the group is engaging in groupism. There are many different forms of groupism, but conceptually they are all the same. They judge a group of people based on a common characteristic such as their skin color, sexual orientation or religion. This is enormously detrimental for human relations and has caused many of the worst human tragedies in history. 

Human beings tend to find it easy to hate the other. If someone is not like them or someone disagrees with how they see the world they become the “other.” This other is a collection of people who are in some way different than they are. Because they are different, they are often judged to be less intelligent, less worthy, bad, evil or even less than human. This process of putting people into a group and judging them is called groupism. 

Groupism leads to racism, sexism, antisemitism and many other forms of discrimination and hate. Since we know that this type of groupism is very bad for human society how do we try to eliminate it? What is another way of thinking about people which does not lead to groupism?

Although we may group many things in life, human beings are not groups. We are individuals. Every human being is unique and stands alone as a sovereign individual. We can never judge a group of human beings and be truthful. The uniqueness of each human being prevents us from ever being correct when we judge an entire group. Not only are we not correct, we are engaging in one of the worst ways to think of others. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that he did not want his children judged by their skin color but by their “character.” Character is an individual trait, not a group one. Human beings should only be judged by their individuality, not by which group we can put them into. Viewing every human being by their individual uniqueness will help us get past the harm of racism and other dysfunctional ways of thinking about people.  

Please refrain from putting people in groups and judging them. This is extremely damaging for human relations and will only make things worse, not better. Try to see each human being as the wonderful and unique person they are. Only by changing the way we see others will we ever have the possibility of making the world a better place for all of us.  

One Person – One People – One World

Humankind is all one and all equal. There are no sub-humans or super-humans. There are no humans who are better than other humans. This applies to groups of humans as well. This is not a moral standard but a standard of human qua human. If one drew a horizontal line from the beginning of humankind until the end it would represent the value of every human being who has ever lived or will live. No one is above this line and none below it. 

The points that create this horizontal line of humanity represents that each individual is unique. There is an infinite number of points on any horizontal line but no point that is the same as another. Every single human being is unique. None are identical. The uniqueness of each human being means that everyone has something different to add to the world. This is what makes diversity. It comes from the uniqueness of each human being. 

This is “One Person.”

Although every human being is unique we are also all one species. We are all homo sapiens. Although there may be some differences about how we look to each other we are all of the exact same species. Within this species there may be other groupings, but the foundation of each group is the same – we are humans first before anything else.

This is “One People.” 

Every human being lives on one planet – earth. Just as we respect the uniqueness of each individual, we should also respect the uniqueness of our planet. There is no other planet that science is aware of that is the same as ours. It has exclusive qualities that allow for abundant life that should cause us to become good stewards of our earth.

This is “One World.”

Taking into account all of these axioms we are, “One Person, One People, One World.” These truths should also form the foundation of any human relational philosophy. Human relations built on mutual respect and recognition as equals has the possibility of having a powerful and positive effect on how we view each other.  

Let us all support the concepts of one person, one people and one world. We are all made in the universal image of God and deserve equality and respect for no other reason than this. 

Social Justice and Judaism

The term “justice” is one that is difficult to be objective about. Justice is almost always subjective rather than objective. What one person may feel is justice another may consider it to be injustice. Add the term “social” and one is coming up with a subjective standard for society. The terms together have become a call for a utopian society where everyone is treated exactly the same way. Judaism has never felt that it was about trying to achieve “social justice” or societal change. Judaism is about teaching each individual Jew how to live a fulfilling life by becoming a better human being.

The goal of making better people versus changing society, in my opinion, is a healthier path for human relations.  Judaism teaches that we repair the world by repairing ourselves. Many people would rather try to change the world than change their own behavior. One is much more difficult than the other. We resist changing ourselves. It is much easier to tell others that they must change. Telling others how to live their lives in society is a political goal, not a personal one. It is power and control over others not improving our personal behavior or conduct. 

Judaism is not dictating to others what they should say or how they should vote. It is never the goal of Judaism to control society, political parties or have power over others. It is to improve each individual human being in a way that helps them to have success in life. Modern Judaism also recognizes that there are good people on both sides of almost any political position. The implication of this is to know that there is not a sole political position that Judaism approves to the exclusion of another. The idea that there is only one Jewish interpretation of a path for life on any question is incorrect. We debate everything.

Dogmatism in Jewish ethics is no different than dogmatism anywhere else – it is harmful for human relations – not helpful. Telling people how to think or vote on political issues is shoving your values and opinions down their throats. People, or rabbis, who believe there is only one way in Judaism are trying to force their political opinions on others not practicing our faith. And no, it is not about doing what is best for any country. It is about “my way is the only way” and anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, but evil.

Love your neighbor is the essence of Judaism.  This essence is incompatible with the nature of competitive politics.  Therefore, Judaism cannot be about politics or social justice – and it isn’t. It is about loving your neighbor by becoming a better neighbor yourself.    

Coronavirus and Judaism

“He that cannot endure the bad will not live to see the good.”  Jewish Proverb     

One cannot watch cable news or read online articles without getting a constant barrage of stories about the new virus from China.  In the internet age it may seem that we get too much information. There are also people who are saying that the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. How does something like COVID-19 affect the world, and in particular, Judaism?  

In my opinion, the coronavirus has no real impact on Judaism.  There have been many horrific times in history for the Jewish people and this is certainly not the worst.  All deaths that are caused by disease or viruses are terrible for every family.  It is bad enough that other viruses cause tens of thousands of deaths every year, such as the flu, and now we have another that will cause even more deaths until a vaccine is found.  Nonetheless, this will also pass into history and we will get ready for the next challenge we will inevitably have.  

Judaism recognizes that the world has natural disasters and even human-caused ones.  We are cognizant that human beings are somewhat fragile creations that may be terminated by a variety of hazards in our world.  As the philosophers tell us, life is suffering – for everyone.  No one escapes life without sorrow.  Recognition that suffering is a part of life is not to deny that life is good.  As Jews, we choose life even though we know that it will inevitably cause pain for us.

“Not to have felt pain is not to have been human.”  Jewish Proverb 

Judaism helps us to understand the realities of the world, such as the coronavirus or any other disease, yet still provides a path for having a fulfilling life.  Not a life of fear that our lives may end by some random act of nature, but by making the most of our lives while we can.  We are not guaranteed a certain amount of years to live. We are offered ideas and values that help us live what life we have to the fullest.  Love of life will conquer fear of death and suffering according to Judaism.

The positive lining of this virus may be to remind us that life is fragile, and we may need assistance to cope with it.  Every human being will experience suffering in life and Judaism helps us to understand that we need each other to manage it.  This will not be the last time we encounter a temporary difficulty in life that makes us think that we will never be the same.  We will get past this – but it takes patience and courage to get to the other side. 

Monotheism or Love Your Neighbor?

Judaism often makes the claim of bringing monotheism into the world, but is this the most important contribution that can be attributed to it?  Does the concept of monotheism bring more value to human relations than another part of the revelation in the Hebrew Bible?  Is it more important to believe in the one God or to “Love Your Neighbor”?

Throughout human history there have been claims of many gods which eventually evolved to monotheism. Even with this singular God there are conflicting assertions as to what values a particular form of monotheism promotes and whose sacred texts we should believe as truth.  True monotheism may have begun with the ancient Israelites (starting with monolatry) and therefore the credit may be legitimate, but is this the most important value of our revelation?  

I would argue that the significance of encouraging the love of your neighbor is more important than the concept of monotheism.  Monotheism has the problem of ownership – which religion has a legitimate claim to represent this one God?  As we know from religious history, wars have been fought over this assertion of ownership or of being chosen by the God – and still are.  With monotheism, only one group or religion can be right.  It has been extremely harmful for human relations because of this competing claim of legitimacy or truth.  

The commandment to “Love Your Neighbor”, however, will almost always improve human relations.  Love used in this context is defined as ‘respect’ not any kind of romantic love.  It is also the most difficult task that one can ask of a human being, in my opinion.  Showing respect for every human being you meet is to allow them to be who they are and always accepting their humanity.  It has many other dimensions as well which is why it is an extremely challenging concept to practice in real life. 

The foundation of living this concept is to accept every human being as being equal in value to yourself.  There are no ‘better’ humans than any other.  We are all equal simply for being a member of our species.  This may be characterized graphically by drawing a horizontal line where no human is above the line and none are below.  The horizontal plane of this human relational philosophy is what this line represents.     

In addition is the recognition that every human being is unique.  No one can ever get into the mind of another person and know how they are experiencing life.  We will all have unique perceptions of life based our experiences.  There are no two human beings who will ever perceive or understand the world in exactly the same way.

Part of loving your neighbor will also be to give them the freedom to think differently.  In life this applies to their natural rights of freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  We demonstrate our love by respecting their right to see the world differently than we do.  We don’t have to agree with their views, nor do they have to agree with ours.  If we attack or ridicule others for thinking differently, we are harming human relations, not helping them. 

These are just a few of the fundamental ways we can demonstrate the value of loving your neighbor as a supreme ethical standard for human relations.  It also seems to indicate that the value of loving/respecting all other human beings may be more important than the idea that there is only one God.  Monotheism or “Love Your Neighbor”?  I know which one I believe is more important.     

We Are All Ignorant

Whether we are a high school dropout or have a PhD we are all ignorant.  We should never believe that saying something like this is insulting because it isn’t.  It is simply truth.  There is no human being now, or ever in history, that knew everything.  It would be impossible for anyone to achieve that level of learning.  Adding to this is the fact that things change every day which increases the difficulty of knowing everything at any point in time.  

Therefore, every human being is ignorant of some knowledge.  This is true even if someone has studied a certain field their entire lives.  We see this demonstrated in real life by professionals who have worked or studied their entire careers and have two totally different opinions.  How can this happen, and which one is right?  They could also both be wrong which, in my opinion, is the most likely answer. 

This is why we should respect intellectual diversity.  It is very difficult for us to know who is right because we don’t know everything.  We are always going to be ignorant of certain facts and ideas that have a direct bearing on whether or not someone is speaking the truth or not.  Since we can’t know everything we cannot make an absolute judgment about almost anything.  We can say we believe something is right or wrong, but we cannot say with certainty that it is.  No one can.

Even the validity of facts may be challenged.  We have thought of certain things as facts in history which have turned out not to be true upon further discovery.  As we evolve as human beings, we will continue to discover new ideas and facts that will change our opinion of many things we now consider to be truth.  No matter which point in history we are at, however, we will continue to be somewhat ignorant as individual human beings.   

We should embrace this ignorance for several reasons.  One, we cannot change it no matter how educated or experienced we become.  Two, if we take this position of intellectual humility, we will be open to all ideas which may cause us to continually upgrade our opinion.  The definition of being open-minded is the recognition of our ignorance.

At this point one will say that if this is true then we will never take positions or actions on anything because we will cannot know if we are acting in accordance with truth.  This could lead to “paralysis by analysis.”  Yes, this is a possibility so how do we overcome our ignorance when we make decisions in life?

Knowing that we can never be 100% right about anything, we still need to act on what we believe we understand at any point in our lives.  As we take positions and make choices in life, we should always keep in mind this lack of perfect knowledge.  Nonetheless, we must act on incomplete information in order to live our lives.  We should always strive to learn more and get closer to the truth of everything we believe.  This is particularly true if we lead other human beings on their path of life. 

Will we ever in our lifetimes know the absolute truth about anything? Probably not.  It is rational to be skeptical of all knowledge.  This skepticism is founded on the belief that no human being can know everything no matter how much education they have, how many books they have written or what their IQ is.  No one knows the absolute truth of any entire field of human knowledge.  Intellectual humility and being open-minded is how to live with this fact.      

Efficacy of Religious Leadership

As religious leaders we try to help improve the lives of those we lead.  We understand the constraints of human nature and allow for this.  We also should have a supreme goal that helps to bring people together in love and tolerance.  In fact, if our religion/spirituality does not improve human relations between all people then we are, in my opinion, failing in our duties as leaders.  The ultimate goal of any true religion should be to help human beings perform the most difficult task in their lives and that is to “Love Your Neighbor.”  

Often, we speak of the two pillars of our faith as, “Love God” and “Love Your Neighbor.”  God (however you conceive of this concept) certainly has the power to be self-sufficient without needing anything from humankind.  This does not imply that we ignore God, but our concentration should be on loving our neighbors which will in turn be loving God.  If loving our neighbors becomes the highest goal of our religion, we will be more efficacious by concentrating our efforts on helping those we serve with this very difficult religious and moral duty.

Human history has demonstrated time and time again that improving human relations is the indispensable focus of any religious or secular goal.  The worst human tragedies in history have been caused by a lack of tolerance between human beings.  This intolerance takes many forms and cannot be traced to only one bigotry.  Any improvement in human relations must consider the variety of directions that hatred of other human beings may come from.   

If we allow our religious or spiritual movements to be controlled by ideologies which engage in negative attacks on others regardless of the justification, we will never achieve our goals.  Those who group people and assign negative or positive values to the group is exactly the kind of ideologies we need to speak out against.  Assignment of collective guilt to others is also harmful for human relations.  Elevation of one group over another (supremacy) is one of the worst approaches to tolerance and understanding for everyone.  All of these approaches should be rejected because they are harmful, not helpful.   

Religions, spiritual movements or even secular philosophies should be judged by how efficiently they help to bring people together in understanding and tolerance.  If they make human relations worse instead of better, they should be held to account for this.  If they help their followers to become better human beings by learning how to love all of their neighbors, they are helping humanity get closer to this incredible goal.  This single standard, the most critical one, should be the indispensable source of judgment for the success of any religion or secular philosophy.

If we are serious about the “Love Your Neighbor” standard that has the potential of repairing the world and improving human relations, we must elevate this standard to the highest level.  It needs to become our measurement of how successful we are as religious and spiritual leaders.  It is also a goal that we may use as individual human beings.  If our own personal behavior harms human relations more than it would help, we need to rethink how we live our lives. 

Loving your neighbor is the most difficult, but also the most important, mitzvah any person can perform in their lifetime.  May we continuously strive to “tikkun olam”, repair the world, by teaching this highest ethical standard.  

The Problems of Collective Guilt

Attending a Martin Luther King Day service with a local church we had a woman who is a rector with the Episcopalians give a talk.  She happens to be dark-skinned and is not shy about blaming white privilege and white people for her problems.  She called those who didn’t believe in white privilege “ignorant” and felt that there should be a higher price to pay for such ignorance.  Is this attempt at applied collective guilt from a ‘victim’ a good strategy to improve human relations and understanding?  

The Nazis of Germany applied collective guilt in several ways.  They blamed the victors of World War One for their economic problems and felt that Germany was the victim of those policies.  They also blamed the Jews for being successful in a country where Aryan superiority should prevail which again made them victims.  They applied these collective judgments by starting a World War and by putting Jews into concentration camps.  The ultimate retribution for the collective guilt of the Jews was the systematic and deliberate murder of over six million men, women and children in death camps.    

Jews have also been said to be collectively guilty for deicide – the death of Jesus Christ.  They have paid the price over and over again through the centuries by pogroms and attacks by Christian Crusaders.  There have also been many other collective judgments made against Jews, even in this country, that has caused the murder and death of innocent Jews.  The recent New Jersey attacks, by a dark-skinned man and woman, murdered two Jews and a Hispanic man.  The Jews were targeted and killed only because they were Jewish. 

Collective guilt, in my opinion, does not exist.  Individual guilt does.  No group of people are responsible for the crimes of other people only because they may look like them or belong to the same religion.  Should we Jews blame the dark-skinned woman speaker at our event because she shares the skin color of those anti-Semitic murderers? No, this would be wrong.  It is immoral to put people in groups and judge them.  Group judgmentalism is also extremely harmful for human relations.  It is not a reflection of our legal system or reality. 

Building on the premise that every individual is unique we know that collective judgments are not an honest approach for human relations.  Every human being suffers in life and, therefore, every individual is a victim of life.  No one goes through life without suffering and it is wrong to imply that there is a favored group that knows no suffering.  This is a type of hate speech, not the brotherly or sisterly love that Dr. King spoke about. 

As a Jewish rabbi I would not use a day of recognition for the millions lost in the Holocaust to blame non-Jews and call them “ignorant” if they didn’t agree with me.  It is also a poor representation of the highly principled stands of Dr. King.  He believed in multi-racial events and was a strong supporter of the state of Israel – a Zionist.  He wanted equality, not preference, and his children to be judged by their “character” not skin color.  Character is an individual trait not a group one.  

It is unfortunate that an opportunity to come together and talk about real problems in human relations is turned into a “blame whitey” type of meeting.  We can and must do better than this if we truly want to create a more equitable society.  We all know suffering and need to come together with constructive ideas on how to reduce it in our society for everyone.