From the Desk - Racist Jokes
Shalom Friends! What a wonderful atmosphere there was at our Shabbaton last week! The warmth was palpable as 100 of us came together on Friday night to enjoy Shabbat dinner together and to hear words of inspiration from our guest speaker, Harry Rothenberg. Harry also spoke a further three times on Shabbat day and left us with lots to think about on the topics of being a Jew in the workplace, fulfilling our potential, prayer and our relationship with Israel. Many thanks to Adams Gourmet for their delicious food, to Steven Davidovics for hosting the Rothenbergs and to the office and caretaking staff for their excellent work in facilitating our successful program. I am so happy that so many people enjoyed Harry's presentations. Harry has a video blog that is sent out weekly. It averages four minutes in length and includes a discussion of the weekly Torah portion or an upcoming holiday. It is meant for Jewish viewers of all backgrounds and levels of observance, and often includes entertaining movie clips. If you would like to be added to the subscription list (which is free and easy), please send an email to Aliza at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will forward the list to Harry Rothenberg. The action continues at Beth Ora! This week, we invite you to make a special effort to join us in synagogue for our Kehillah Shabbat in honour of Yom Yerushalayim. Rabbi Heshy and the Kids’ Choir will be uplifting our services with beautiful tunes of Yerushalayim and Zvi Pollak will speak to us at the end of the service about his experiences fighting in the Six Day War. At Kiddush, the Hurwitz Lounge will be decorated with photos of Jerusalem – we invite you to bring your photos to synagogue or send them to Aliza at email@example.com by the end of today (Thursday). On Shabbat, before Mincha, I will be giving a class on The Kotel in Jewish Thought and Jewish Law. Many of you know that I administer the Beth Ora Torah Fund from which I distribute funds to educational, welfare and outreach organizations, primarily in Israel. The fund is now empty and any assistance would be much appreciated. If you would like to donate to this cause, please send checks made payable to the Beth Ora Torah Fund. Mazel tov to Isaac and Sheila Fried on the birth of a baby grandson. Mazel tov to our two Bar Mitzvah families for this week. Zachary Rappaport will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah on Monday whilst Jack Baranoff will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah on Friday. Mazal tov to Nadine and Amir Anders on their daughter Melissa's engagement. Mazal tov to Jackie & Steve Tabac on their granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. Finally, we wish a big Mazel tov to Michelle Stoopler for being admitted into the Faculty of Medicine, Preparatory Program at both McGill University and Université de Montreal, – well done! Wishing you a great Shabbat and hope many of you can join us to celebrate Yerushalayim. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami
What’s the Deal with… Racist Jokes? The late Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky emphasized in his commentary to the Torah that the attitude of racism is antithetical to what we believe in. He refers to the Talmud in Sanhedrin which says that one man was created at the beginning of humanity so that no human being would be able to say to the other: ‘My ancestor is greater than yours.’ Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan (the Chafetz Chaim) explains that if we worry about speaking lashon hara about a single person, how much more so is the offence if we talk about a whole group of people. The commentaries to Rabbi Kagan’s writings point out that this is even so if you say that there are exceptions. Even if you say that people in a certain group are generally not good people, you are still essentially casting aspersions on any given member of the group and that is lashon hara. Each person should be looked at individually and not be stereotyped because they are members of a certain group. Indeed, earlier rabbis point out that both Moses and Isaiah are criticized for speaking badly about groups of people. The Midrash and other sources imply that lashon hara is prohibited regardless of whether the person you are talking about is Jewish or not. There is some discussion as to whether or not the prohibition against speaking lashon hara against a gentile is the same or a different type of prohibition. The contemporary Torah scholar Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky writes that it is the same prohibition. Thinking about this, it makes sense. When we speak against others, we run the risk of causing them unjustified harm and this is wrong, regardless of who the person is whom you are talking about. Also, many writers understand lashon hara to be an issue of your character traits – how do you look at the world? Are you always looking to put people down or do you seek out the good? Of course, if this is the issue then it doesn’t matter who the person is whom you are speaking about. Moreover, causing anguish to any human being is a prohibition. When we stigmatize entire groups of people, we dehumanize them and deprive them of the benefit of the doubt that we would give to others. In preparing this answer, I benefited greatly from Rabbi Daniel Feldman’s talk on this topic.