Thursday, 19 February 2015

On Copenhagen, Freedom of Speech and Other Possibly Even More Important Things

Another week, another attack, another death. Jews again are being attacked. Islamicists again are attacking. Oy, again.

 

In my sermon this Shabbat I will be looking at the notion of repeated attacks on Jews, and the images of a Europe full of Jew hated; images conjured up by the Israeli Prime Minister. I’ll be taking a longer view, and more rabbinic view, of the decisions to ‘stay’ or ‘go’ faced by our people across different lands over time.

 

In this reflection, however, I want to say something about Freedom of Speech. Nothing I share, of course, should be construed to pardon in any way the unjustifiable murders that took place in Copenhagen. But I share this engagement in the debate so horrifically brought to a pause in the Krudtt√łnden cultural centre as an act of resistance.

 

As a Jew the entire notion of a rights-based discourse leaves me slightly cold. Judaism is made up of responsibilities – the responsibility to speak carefully, the responsibility not to wound others with my words, to use language modestly and sensitively. The idea that using speech deliberately to bust taboos and inflame others is somehow heroic is one I do not accept.

 

More important than an ever mightier commitment to freedom of speech is the notion of ‘getting difference.’ As a human race we have to accept not one of us has a unique claim on truth – it’s a theological proposition, among other things. If God is the source of truth and exists beyond human grasp, then truth must exist beyond human grasp. We need more existential humility. Not just so that we stop killing those who disagree with us (though that’s a start), but so we come to take delight in difference and debate. The greatest vibrancy encountered in the Talmud is its complete acceptance of plural claims on truth – both left to rub up against one another on the pages of our most sacred Rabbinic text. It’s not co-incidence that the Talmud is traditionally studied ‘in Chavruta’ – by two students arguing it out. In difference, in debate, we come to higher understandings – understandings in the plural. We understand that difference is more than a pain to be tolerated, but a source of vitality in its plurality. It’s good to be challenged and provoked. It’s good to be exposed to that with which we disagree. That, for me, is of greater importance than insisting each of us has rights behind which we can retreat into whatever homogeneous ghettos save us from having to encounter otherness.

 

Shabbat shalom, may it indeed, come in peace,

 

Rabbi Jeremy

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