Jonathan Muskat

Guatemala: Relating to Non-Jews as Yitro and Not Amalek

This past week I read a heartwarming story about two Jewish congregations from South Florida that traveled to Guatemala to thank the country for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and for its recent decision to relocate Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem. The small delegation arrived at Guatemala City where they were joined by Malcolm Hoenlein and some 30 members of Christian pro-Israel groups and later that day, they gathered at the National Palace of Culture for a dinner attended by President Morales and the Vice President and other dignitaries.  The President’s office posted on social media that this event was the first ever kosher meal served by the Guatemalan government.  And one of the participants of this mission said, “We felt like rock stars.  People wanted to take pictures with us, touch us and give us hugs….  I’ve been to many places in the world but I’ve never ever seen so much love for Jews, not even close.”

It is important for us as Jews to express our gratitude to countries like Guatemala that embrace the values of the State of Israel and it’s important for us to truly appreciate that there are nations that embrace and identify with our values and who we are.  Rav Soloveitchik wrote that when Yitro was impressed with the Bnei Yisrael in last week’s parsha, “Chazal did not describe Jethro as one of the hasidei umot ha’olam, a saintly Gentile.  Rather, they portrayed him as a decent person, whose positive reaction should have been emulated by other Gentiles who witnessed the exhibition of Mattan Torah.”  Not everyone reacts to our success as Amalek did.  Not everyone is trying to find every opportunity to see to it that we disappear.  There are decent people who appreciate us and our way of life.  This point may seem obvious to some, but it needs to be restated, especially for those who have learning the Daf Yomi lately.

If you have been learning the Daf Yomi over the past few weeks, you may have come across some seemingly disturbing laws that are based on the presumption that an average non-Jew wants to kill us and engage in immoral behavior.  These laws violate the contemporary egalitarian ethic that we should treat all people with respect.  Dr. David Berger wrote an article, entitled, “Jews, Gentiles, and the Modern Egalitarian Ethos:  Some Tentative Thoughts,” to address these issues.  He cited R. Menachem Meiri’s (13th century) position that discriminatory laws found in the Gemara only applied to the pagans of the Mishnaic and Talmudic era but not to contemporary Christians and Muslims, who were more moral.  Furthermore, he cited many contemporary Halakhic authorities, such as Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, Rav Isaac Herzog, Rav Kook, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rav David Zvi Hoffman, who believe that we should apply the Meiri’s analysis to non-Jews of today.

And this point should be emphasized because unfortunately, there are those who take the view that racism and racist remarks at the Shabbat table can be tolerated because after all, the targets are only non-Jews.  And there are those who take the view that we don’t have to pay all of our taxes because, after all, we are only hiding money from a non-Jewish government.   This sentiment often comes from those who believe that we only need to interact with non-Jews for our own self-interest but we shouldn’t care for their welfare because for thousands of years for the most part they have all caused us to suffer both physically and spiritually.

Let us all remember that there are many Yitro’s out there. And we were treated to an entire nation of Yitro’s when two Jewish congregations from South Florida recently visited Guatemala.


About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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