Faith & Reason: Justice Must Trump Freedom in the Faith-Schools Debate ; Passover Next Week Suggests That a Distinct Sense of Identity Can Be Central to Religions. Yet They Also Have a Duty to Society's Common Values
Goldberg, David, The Independent (London, England)
NEXT WEDNESDAY evening the Festival of Passover, so central to the beliefs of both Judaism and Christianity, will be welcomed in with the traditional seder service and meal. From very early times, Passover has been an occasion not only for public worship to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt, but also for a more intimate celebration in family groups, at which the story of the Israelite deliverance from slavery is re-told from year to year. It is the enduring potency of this celebration of liberty that led the great German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine to say that "since the Exodus, freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent". But there are worrying signs in contemporary society that the distinction between the laudable concept of religious freedom and the still more important principle of civic utilitarianism - that is to say, the greatest good for the greatest number - is not fully grasped or understood by our lawmakers.
Let me explain. According to the haggadah - the text used at the seder meal - it is the duty of parents to teach their children about the Exodus, so that each successive generation of Jews might relive that great experience as though they personally had been redeemed from bondage. Common to the liturgy of almost every haggadah is an apophthegm of the ancient rabbis that the Israelites were redeemed from slavery on the strength of four virtues: they did not change their names; they did not change their language; they did not speak evil; and they did not indulge in sexual licentiousness.
While approval for virtues three and four is what we would expect from moral custodians, to the modern reader their endorsement of ethnic separateness is more problematic. One understands what the rabbis were commending, of course. For them, as guardians of a tiny, beleaguered people assailed by hostile foreign cultures, it was a virtue to remain uncompromisingly loyal to one's Jewish heritage; no assimilation, no dabbling with Hellenism. In the ancient Mediterranean world there was racial diversity, but not the concept of multicultural society. The dominant religion imposed its norms as a matter of course, and minority faiths hoped at best for benign indifference and at worst suffered persecution and repression.
But that is not the case today, at least not in countries like ours that take pride in being enlightened liberal democracies. The mantra about creating a just, multiracial, multicultural society is in the lexicon of every respectable politician, of whatever party.
How shocking, therefore, when race riots break out - as they did in Oldham, …
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Publication information: Article title: Faith & Reason: Justice Must Trump Freedom in the Faith-Schools Debate ; Passover Next Week Suggests That a Distinct Sense of Identity Can Be Central to Religions. Yet They Also Have a Duty to Society's Common Values. Contributors: Goldberg, David - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 23, 2002. Page number: 6. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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