b’tzelem elohim

One of the key values of Judaism that I appreciate is the value of the image of God, namely that all people are created in this image. Furthermore, since humans are diverse that God makes up this tapestry that is beyond anything that we could ever imagine. Some kind of wonderful. One of the things that I have been trying to do is to put that value into practice. Furthermore, I’ve been reflecting more on the Torah portion for Yom Kippur, which in progressive circles is Leviticus 19. This is the chapter that contains the golden rule, and does so twice (one is towards ones neighbor and the other is towards the resident sojourner). It also mentions several laws that attempt to envision a society that is both just and one that has a reverence for life. So, for me, what are the ways I can act morally in my own life and embody the messianic ideal. How can I halakhicize life (or ritualize the mundane) in a way that creates an emphasis for a just society and a society that has a reverence for a good quality of life.

I think that these issues came to bear today when dealing with an antisemitic remark. There’s anger and frustration, especially the fact that I feel that it’s an issue that has been prevalent for so long and should not be an issue. At the same time, it made me recognize the ways in which I need to recognize the image of God in others, as well as recognize the way that sinful actions are endemic of an unjust system or culture and not necessarily the people who are part of them. In other words, people don’t operate in a stable and autonomous way. We emerge within a web of power woven together by language, discourses, and relationships. We cannot not sin. Responsibility still must be acknowledged but we’re no longer placing someone either in the ontological status of saint, nor sinner. Furthermore, it moves the discussion away from blaming people and towards blaming the unjust institutions and systems that created those people. I think this is a good step towards the recognition that we can make mistakes but that no human being is beyond redemption. This is my final response to the person at hand. Hopefully it reflects some of the inclusive theology and discourses that I hold so high.

“I feel that what you’re saying is that we need to stop being so offended by something that was harmless. This sounds like it wasn’t meant to offend anyone and that’s fair. And, I am Jewish and what you said has legitimately offended me. Statements we make have ethical consequences and we need to be aware of some of the implications of what we say and/or do. I am willing to work with you to process this further and achieve some sort of reconciliation/understanding.

However, I feel that you are justifying what you said by pointing out that humor, in general, is pejorative towards one group or another. That’s both a valid and true point. However, I also feel that when you make that statement, responsibility is being shirked and that’s even more problematic. What’s happening then is that the issue is being sidestepped and that a holier than thou attitude is being employed. None of us said we were holier than thou because no one is holier than anyone else. We all sin and make mistakes. Then we accept responsibility for our mistakes. If you don’t want to accept it, than fine. I’ll still be here when you finally do, so we can process.”


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