Real Sukkot unity and real Jewish pluralism

One of the many lessons of Sukkot is that it reminds us of the importance of Jewish unity. The Torah tells us, “You shall rejoice in your feast; you and your son and your daughter and your man-servant and your maid-servant and the Levi and the stranger and the orphan and the widow that are within your gates…” emphasizing the concept of unity.

According to the Torah, true rejoicing can only be achieved when we are united and include those less fortunate in our good fortune, as emphasized in the Torah, “your man-servant, maid-servant, the Levi, the stranger (convert), the orphan and the widow.”

But Levites and converts to Judaism (the stranger) are not less fortunate than most of us the way orphans and widows are.

This teaches us that unity also means including those who are different i.e. Jews by inheritance and Jews by choice, as well as Jews who are more religious (Levites do more Mitsvot) or less religious (maid-servants do less Mitsvot) than (ordinary Jews) do.

The Sukkot holiday teaches us the importance of unity and the great joy that comes from accepting and respecting Jewish pluralism. Always remember that unity is not uniformity. Internal unity comes from the willingness not only to accept but to desire religious and ethnic pluralism.

The four different kinds of tree products in the lulov and etrog are necessary for observing Sukkot, just as four different religious denominations (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Renewal) of Judaism are necessary for creating Jewish holistic unity.

Joy results not from conformity to one path, or one interpretation of Torah. Joy results from the feeling of acceptance and caring for each other that comes from respecting religious differences within the Jewish People: a harmony in diversity.

Just as every human body is a total unity divided into different parts (organs, bones, personality types etc.), social, political and religious bodies are also made up of different parties.

Thus, while Judaism and the Jewish People have always been one religion and one nation; their one wholeness has always been the sum of several different parts.

In Biblical days, the People of Israel were divided into four distinct groups based on the number of Mitsvot they were responsible for.

First, the twelve tribes of Israel were divided into the tribe of the Levites, who were responsible for running the Temple in Jerusalem, and the remaining eleven tribes; with more Mitsvot applying to the Levites than the rest of Israel.

Second, the tribe of Levy was divided into the clan of Kohanim, who were responsible for the Temple service ritual offerings; and the other clans who were just regular Temple Levites, with the Kohanim being subject to many more Mitsvot than even the Levites.

Third, all Israelites were divided by gender; with many more Mitsvot applying to men, than to women.

Although the Jerusalem Temple has not existed for more than nineteen centuries, remnants of these distinctions still do exist in Orthodox Synagogues, where there is a fixed order of four distinct categories in which Jews are called up to read Torah

First Kohanim, second Levites, third Jewish men in general and fourth category; Jewish woman, who are not called up at all.

In Conservative Synagogues there are only the first three categories, and in Reform Temples where equality as well as unity is stressed; there is only one category and all Jews are actually equal.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 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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