Friday, November 18, 2005

A twenty-first century Sodom?

From the Asbury Park Press Online:
But in reality, our children — black, white or Hispanic — are not good enough to play with [Lakewood's] Orthodox Jewish children. We are rarely spoken to when passed on the street. They have separate entrances to enter the hospital, ride in separate ambulances and seek to police their own community rather than using one of the finest police departments in both Monmouth and Ocean counties. All of this is done so they don't defile their children by being with our children, that they don't defile themselves by intermingling with our culture and that they don't defile their sick with the blood of our sick.It seems we are not good enough to mingle with, but our land is good enough to purchase and our town is good enough to occupy.
That's Rev. Kevin Nunn, chairman of the Lakewood Improvement Association, wailing about the reclusive Orthodox Jews of his town.

I suppose it's possible to dismiss Kevin Nunn as an anti-Semite, and no doubt many of you have already done so. But let's look at his complaint from another perspective.

When Abraham pleads for Sodom to be spared, he states that perhaps there are ten righteous people in the midst of the city. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch focuses on the words "in the midst of," pointing out that a righteous person by definition would be living among the rest, mingling and interacting, counseling and inspiring. Hirsch's "righteous man" doesn't sit cloistered in his ghetto, or in his study hall. Rather, he lives among the ordinary people, even among the sinners, as a teacher and a neighbor. He doesn't worry only about himself, and his family, but, like Martin Luthor King Jr., he worries about his city and his country, and he labors for their betterment. "Defilement" is a non-issue.

In Hirsch's gloss, Sodom, ultimately, is not destroyed simply because it was evil, but because there were no righteous men willing to work for its salvation. If even 10 righteous men had been literally in the midst of the city, working to improve the moral well-being of Sodom, the city would have been spared.

When the people of Lakewood, and other Jewish communities around the globe, refuse to risk "defilment" by acting together with the larger society for the sake of the greater good, aren't they, in a sense, creating a twenty-first century Sodom? Aren't they abandoning the world, and speeding its destruction?

Zion will be redeemed through justice and by those who return to her with rightuousness.