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‘All of you are standing today before the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 29:9)

Why can’t all Jews get along? Why can’t all Jews agree? I think it is because all Jews were at Sinai; and not just the Orthodox, or the wealthy, or the political right or left.

Why ALL Israel? Why not just the pious: or the elders, or the leaders? Why include the women, the children and even ‘strangers in our midst’? And on Yom Kippur, why include the sinners with the saints.

If Moses had spoken to only one segment of the people the others would have felt left out and thought ‘none of this applies to us’. (Yalkut Shimoni)

If Moses had spoken only to one segment, that group would have been tempted to add to what Moses said in order to make things stricter for the others who were not so ‘worthy’ of getting the word directly from Moses. This would violate the Mitsvah “You shall not add to the word I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1) (Me’am Lo’az)

God loves all the different groups within the Jewish community, just as parents who have many different children, love all their children and declare each one special. “You are the children of the Lord your God…a holy people unto the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1-2).

God did not give the Torah for Moses but for all the People of Israel through Moses. As Moses himself says, “On the day that you stood before the Lord your God in Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble for me the people that I may make them hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4:10).

God has inspired other prophets for other peoples: Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith for example. God has also become manifest on rare occasions to a select group of people who were already the followers of an inspired prophet.

But never before or since has God made a covenant with an entire people, including all kinds of different groups within that people; “Inquire of the past which was before you, since the day God created humans upon the earth, from one end of heaven to the other, if anything like this has ever been done or even heard of. Did a (whole) people ever hear the voice of God speaking.” (Deuteronomy 4:32-33)

When all Israel is gathered together, even when they are divided into different groups, God is present among them. God commands “Gather all the people” (Deuteronomy.4:10). And we are told “All of you are standing today before the Lord your God; your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officers, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, and the strangers in the midst of your camp” (Deuteronomy 29:9-10).

But everyone is included in the two groups of tribes and strangers. So why list all the other groups? This teaches us that some of the leaders were conservatives and some were liberals. Some elders were Reform and some were Orthodox. Some wives were leaders like Miriam the prophet (Exodus 15:20) and some were not.

Many different denominations, groups and classes of Jews are specified to teach us that ‘all Israel’ includes all kinds of different groups of Jews. United but not uniform. A salad bowl not V8 juice.

When visiting the Grand Synagogue in Rome a few years ago, I heard the following story: Today there are 12 synagogues for the 13,000 Jews living in the city of Rome, but in the 15th century there were only five synagogues for a much smaller Jewish population.

Still, the Pope thought there were too many synagogues in Rome so in 1555 the Pope ordered all the Jews in the city to live in just one area. He also decreed that the Jews should have only one synagogue for the whole community.

Those Jews who did not already live in the designated area had to sell their homes and move into the newly formed Ghetto. Although many Jews did not want to sell their homes, they had to do it, so they did it. But they did resist the decree to have only one synagogue.

The members of each synagogue decided to hold services in the home of the member with the largest room. But when the police learned of their plans, the Pope ordered all Roman Jews to pray in just one building with only one entrance.

What should the Jewish people do? Some said Jews should obey the Pope’s order just as they had obeyed the order to live in the Ghetto. But most Jews disagreed. Two of the synagogues in Rome were Sephardi and two were Ashkenazi. The fifth congregation followed the Roman rite that Jews in Rome had followed for more than 17 centuries.

They thought: We say the same prayers but we chant and sing the prayers with different melodies.
We all say some of the same prayers, but some have added extra poems and prayers that others haven’t.
Some have longer services and some have shorter services.

Some pray with more joy, some pray with more intensity, and some use Kabbalistic meditations.
Some would rather pray at home then go to a different synagogue. So what should they do?
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The rabbis discussed the problem. One said, “We all know the difference between a human king and God, who is the King of Kings, is that when a human ruler stamps his image on a coin, every coin has the same image on it. But when God creates humans in God’s image, we all look different. God wants diversity, not uniformity. God wants pluralism, not universalism. We can all live together in harmony, but we cannot all think, feel or behave the same way.”

So they decided to buy a large three story building, with only one doorway. On the first floor there would be two synagogues. On the second floor there would be two synagogues. On the third floor would be a fifth synagogue.

Everyone agreed to refer to the one building as “the” synagogue, and to call the five synagogues; schools, “scolas” in Italian or “Shules” in Yiddish. This solution worked for over 300 years, until the Pope lost his power over Rome and the Italian government took over.

If five different Orthodox Jewish groups could share one synagogue building during a period of intense religious conflict and persecution, then all the different Jewish groups today should be able to live together, in a time of much greater freedom.

If many different kinds of Jews can learn to live together in harmony, then the different sects of every religion can learn to live together in harmony. And if all religions can live in harmony with their own heretics, maybe they can live in harmony with each other.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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