No “December dilemma:” Honouring diversity

Rabbi Dr. Geoffrey HaberI want to wish everyone a joyous holiday season. With Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa (and, as Jerry Seinfeld says, “and Festivus for the rest of us!”), there is much to celebrate! While Baycrest is a Jewish faith-based institution we recognize that many patients and staff come from different faith backgrounds and we are proud of and wish to honour that diversity. It is part of what makes Baycrest a special place in which to work and receive care.

Just as within the Jewish community there lies a common history, a shared language of prayer, a shared Bible and a shared set of rabbinic literature, thus allowing for Jews of significantly different world views to share some common values and goals, so too is there recognition that God entered into a covenant with all humankind and that Jews and non-Jews alike have a relationship with God. Thus, Judaism believes in religious pluralism wherein one’s religion is not viewed as the sole and exclusive source of truth, but recognizes that some level of truth and value exists in other religions as well. As such, religious pluralism goes beyond religious tolerance, which is the condition of peaceful existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations.

Biblical references as well as rabbinic literature support this view: Moses refers to the “God of the spirits of all flesh” (Numbers 27:16), and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) also identifies prophets outside the community of Israel. The Mishnah states that “Humanity was produced from one man, Adam, to show God’s greatness. When a man mints a coin in a press, each coin is identical. But when the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, creates people in the form of Adam not one is similar to any other.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) The Mishnah continues that anyone who kills or saves a single human—not only Jewish—life, has done the same (save or kill) to an entire world. The Talmud also states: “Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come” (Sanhedrin 105a).

In keeping with this spirit of religious pluralism, Baycrest recognizes the various faith traditions among the patients and employees, and wants to support those of faiths other than Judaism in the celebration of their holidays even as we continue to be a Jewish faith-based organization. The great Jewish composer, Irving Berlin, wrote the famous song “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” demonstrating that one can appreciate the celebration of another’s holidays without compromising one’s own values or identity. It is in this spirit that I wish you a joyous holiday season.

Rabbi Dr. Geoffrey Haber, MA, DMin
Director, Spiritual Care
Baycrest Health Sciences