This week has been one for personal reflection; a time to digest what I saw and learned while visiting the communities of Anusim in Colombia. I was emotionally affected by the plight of the six hundred converts across Colombia whose path to conversion was made extremely arduous. The local Jewish community is uncooperative and unwilling to assist in their conversion and they continue to shun these genuine people whose commitment to Judaism is beyond reproach. Thank God they were assisted by Rabbis from Israel who facilitated their Gerut according to strict Halachic guidelines.
I have been asked numerous times why would a community of only 3,500 hundred Jews refuse to open up their arms and embrace those that want to come under the shelter of Hashem? Why would a community not want to increase their potential membership and their children’s potential bashert? I can certainly speculate and think of rational explanations to explain their attitudes. I can also criticize and condemn their lack of compassion and sensitivity towards their fellow human beings. I can analyze biblical texts and Talmudic dictum indicating that kindness and acceptance is an essential ingredient of descendants of Abraham. But I choose to decline comment and offer no opinion. It’s not that I am fearful of ramifications. I am delighted to be in Delray and my Spanish just wouldn’t cut it.
It is so easy to pontificate and cast aspersions on the mainstream Colombian Jewish community. Yet having lived in smaller Jewish communities allows me a unique perspective in appreciating that these communities face complexities not found in larger communities. They are often lenient in certain areas which are offset by rigidity in others. This dichotomy is necessary for them to maintain a delicate balance for their tenuous survival. Our sages write “Al tadin et chaveircha ad shetagia limkomo, or in the vernacular, “never judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes”.
In the Torah portion of Metzora, our sages posit that the name metzora is an acrostic made up of three Hebrew words “motzie shem ra” which means the act of falsely maligning others. Although Kashrut and Shabbat get major billing, there are other mitzvot that may not always be in the limelight but are of equal if not of greater importance. The Chafetz Chaim in his opus magnum claims there are 31 biblical prohibitions related to slanderous gossip. In contrast to matzah, wine and the bitter herb that are taken so seriously, each act of slander may be far more sinful and perverse.
Of course there are times when a person is supposed to speak out, even when the information is disparaging. Specifically, if a person’s intent in sharing the negative information is for a positive, constructive, and beneficial purpose. If the statements serve as a warning against the possibility of future harm, then such communication is, under certain conditions, compulsory. However hozaat shem ra, spouting lies and spreading misinformation, is always prohibited.
For this reason I maintain my silence. I have insufficient knowledge to accurately determine why the local Jewish community acts in the manner they do. Therefore, a hypothesis would serve only to create unnecessary hostility and conflict which ultimately serves the interest of neither party.
It would be amazing if for the few days of Pesach, when our houses are full of family and friends, we would be more scrupulous in this dictate and refrain from criticizing, denigrating or maligning others. I would venture to say if we truly want to celebrate the holiday with purity then let us channel our thoughts to the complete reenactment of the Exodus. It recalls not only our departure from slavery, but more so our cohesiveness and unity upon receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is the only reference in our history when we spoke as one people with one voice, but about no one.
Rabbi Jack Engel