Can the fabric of society endure if individuals prioritize the well-being of only those they hold dear?
If Covid has taught us anything at all, it is that no one is safe unless everyone is safe. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this together. Hence, in the sense of social consensus regarding rules and practices for living within a communal structure, politics is just as important as science or art in addressing the present moment.
Over the past year, I have delved into the rich tapestry of European and Jewish culture and ideology under the guidance of exceptional professors, lawyers, judges, and Rabbis at Lockdown University—an open and free platform spawned by the pandemic. Thousands worldwide have engaged in daily Zoom seminars, exploring the annals of artists, monarchs, and ordinary folk. Topics spanned the two-millennia conflict between Christianity and Judaism, the history of England, the Hebrew Bible, and the realms of philosophy, art, and music. The recent focus on the Hapsburg Empire and its cultural milieu spanning several centuries in Europe—embracing governance, arts, and politics—proves a captivating saga.
The Hapsburg dynasty, enduring from 1438 through the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars, only met its demise after Austria’s defeat in 1918. Remarkably, they grappled with dilemmas resonant with our contemporary challenges:
- The Bubonic plague
- Religious wars among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews
- The Enlightenment – i.e. philosophical assault on religion through reason
- Conflicts over sovereignty and influence among European powers
- Fiscal challenges, including taxation
- Power dynamics, labour, and education
- The advent of the printing press and its impact on general education.
These historical quandaries echo through time and continue to shape our present reality. As the adage goes, understanding our past is integral to navigating our current circumstances and envisioning our future.
Drawing from the wisdom of the Talmudic Rabbis, who debated the origin of knowledge—whether from the heart or the brain, emotion or reason—they concluded that both are indispensable and must collaborate. The Talmudic sages advocated for a democratic majority-rule process, evident in their deliberations on religious rituals. The story of a rabbinic dispute over the kashrut of an oven vividly illustrates their commitment to collective decision-making, even “outvoting” divine intervention, showcasing humility in the face of communal wisdom.
However, they consistently demonstrated a willingness to embrace and acquire technical knowledge from diverse sources. A notable instance is in the Talmud’s opening query, “Where do the rains come from?” The Talmudic scholars diligently address this question, leveraging their knowledge and drawing upon various contemporary sources. This enduring curiosity and open-minded approach may explain the Jewish tradition of fearlessly engaging with many disciplines and learning from multiple sources.
The Torah addresses the modern and Enlightenment-era quandary surrounding the particular and universal coexistence within social structures. The guidelines essential for establishing a universal civilization in the Torah are encapsulated in what is known as the Seven Laws of Noah.
The Noahide Laws constitute the universal principles that apply to all individuals, irrespective of their background or origin. These seven foundational guidelines form the essential framework for fostering harmonious living among humanity. Communicated by God to Adam and Noah, the ancestors of all humans, these laws hold a timeless and universal significance, transcending the boundaries of time, place, and people.
- Acknowledge a Single Divine Creator, a benevolent force invested in our actions and dedicated to the well-being of His world.
- Do not curse your Creator. Instead, take responsibility for your surroundings, even in moments of frustration or anger.
- Do not murder, recognizing the immeasurable value each life holds. Destroying one life equates to obliterating an entire world, as the world ceases to exist for that individual. Supporting a single human life contributes to sustaining the whole universe.
- When eating, do not tear off the limb of a living animal. As intelligent beings, we are not obliged to inflict undue suffering on creatures.
- Do not steal. Ensure that the benefits you receive do not come at the unfair expense of others.
- Harness and channel the human libido. Recognize the family unit as the cornerstone of society. Treat sexuality with reverence, as it is life’s essence. Acts such as incest, adultery, and rape are prohibited due to their debasing and destructive nature.
- Establish courts of law to ensure justice. Human judges and courts aim to restore harmony by aligning with a higher, just order. Just governance and regulations contribute to stability and balance in society.
Human laws may evolve based on circumstances, but those ordained by G-d remain constant for all people. If we only adhere to rules that suit our understanding, we risk altering them for convenience, essentially assuming a godlike role. Recognizing these laws as emanating from a Supreme Divinity emphasizes their immutable nature, mirroring the unchangeable essence of the Divine.
The Torah provides a blueprint for harmonious coexistence among diverse societies. Notably, it outlines compassionate laws for respecting and honouring the “ger toshav” or resident alien from a different cultural background. The Torah’s directive, “Ger lo tilhatz” (Do not oppress the stranger), emphasizes including such individuals in civil laws while exempting them from religious laws.
As we enter January 2022, I reflect on my aspirations for the coming year:
- Embrace Continuous Learning: Seek a teacher and regular classes, committing to ongoing education.
- Collaborate Against Racism and Prejudice: Let’s continue working together to unveil and eliminate racism and prejudice wherever it exists.
- Promote Empathy, Respect, and Love: Strive to approach all interactions with empathy, respect, and love, advocating for justice for all sentient beings.
Wishing you a Happy New Year filled with growth, understanding, and positive change.
To enroll in Lockdown University’s classes, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and request to be included in their list of subscribers. Upon subscription, you’ll receive a weekly schedule containing comprehensive class descriptions and corresponding links for each week.