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The Multiculturalism Debate

The Multiculturalism Debate


An ongoing debate in many Western societies today revolves around the value of multiculturalism versus the importance of assimilating the various groups and segments which constitute a society into a homogeneous entity. As is the case with the majority of widely debated issues, both sides of this particular polemic bring valid points and convincing arguments to the discussion table.

On one hand, a society is enriched by diversity and exposure to a variety of cultures, languages and value systems. Coercing elements of society to conform to a particular mold—no matter how splendid that mold may be—is an attempt to stifle the soul of that element, and anathema to a culture that prides itself in allowing freedom of expression. As Kabbalah teaches, true beauty results from the harmonization of diverse colors and flavors.

On the other hand, the smooth functionality of a nation depends largely on a united population that feels a strong kinship with one another. We, too, struggle with the issue of forging a multicultural population into a singular Jewish nationDiverse segments of a population which are constantly competing with each other make for an unhealthy society. Globally, much violence and strife, and many civil wars, result from tensions between co-citizens of rivaling religions, values or ethnicities. Thus, the acculturation of a nation’s citizens might sound harsh and nationalistic, but is actually the key to a unified society, and ultimately a stable one.

The Jewish nation is also demographically diverse: Ashkenazim, Sephardim, chassidim, observant, not-so-observant, scholars, laymen, men, women, etc. We, too, struggle with the issue of forging a multicultural population into a singular nation. Sociologists attempting to resolve the “melting pot issue” would perhaps be well-advised to examine the Torah’s perspective on e pluribus unum.

We are now ushering in the holiday of Sukkot. The two primary mitzvot of this holiday are dwelling in the sukkah and the taking of the Four Kinds. Jewish unity is one of the primary themes of this holiday, and these two mitzvot are symbolic of two approaches to Jewish unity; the sukkah champions the cause of Jewish nationalism and focuses on our nation as a homogeneous unit, while the Four Kinds symbolize the importance of “Jewish multiculturalism.”

We sit in a sukkah in commemoration of the clouds of glory which miraculously encircled the Jewish people while they traveled in the desert. The clouds did not differentiate between one Jew and another—all were equal beneficiaries of their shade and protection. We, too, sit together in a sukkah as a symbol of our unity. We focus on that what unites us—our common values, mission, and souls—rather than that which divides us. We leave behind our differences and unite behind one flag.

The Four Kinds, however, tell a different story. According to the Midrash, the four different species represent different sorts of Jews, spanning the spectrum from the most observant and scholarly to the simplest of our people. Nevertheless we take the Four Kinds and hold them together, because we are one people despite the differences. But as opposed to the sukkah, this mitzvah doesn’t attempt to achieve unity by ignoring our differences; rather it points out the differences, embraces them and secures our unity in spite of them.

This is because unity achieved at the expense of disregarding our unique personalities and strengths is a flawed unity. Unity achieved at the expense of disregarding our unique personalities and strengths is a flawed unityIt means that the unity is very limited, limited to our shared goals and souls. Our daily lives which are so colored by our unique personalities remain unaffected by the sukkah-style unity.

But without the type of unity advocated by the sukkah, the multicultural approach of the Four Kinds would not succeed. For without an underlying unifying factor, diverse people have nothing to rally around. The Four Kinds is an endeavor to build on the unity of the sukkah by injecting our individual personalities with our pervading unity; by devoting our assorted strengths, talents and natures to perpetuating the ideals that unite us; by recognizing that the different pieces of the puzzle may look dissimilar, but are all there to complete one picture.

By Naftali Silberberg, based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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arthur yanoff October 1, 2015

multiculturalism for us multiculturalism is different because we are all multiculturalyiddlichs. it is about our mothers and halachah whether we are frum or not frum. and we are separate from other nations. this is often only understood to be in relation to politics . no, it is about our identity and our unique obligation as yids. as yids we do act in the world with other people. Reply

Nechamah Goldfarb Brooklyn September 30, 2015

plus... We also have the element of nations of the world and our part (Universality) as well as our separateness (particularism): ON each of the days of Sukkot, we bring offerings adding up to 70, for the 70 nations; Midrash says eventually nations of the world, even though not everyone has to or will be Jewish, will come to celebrate SUkkot. So we have the 'world' aspect. however, we have the last day where we bring one offering, for one nation: ourselves, AM Yisrael. . Reply

Anonymous Southeastern PA via September 29, 2015

Personalities versus cultures A society is totalitarian if it expects everyone to be identical. It also weakens itself. I need to get my medical care from a doctor, my food from a farmer, my music from a musician, my Torah instruction from a rabbi, etc. (While the suicide rate in Japan is somewhat higher than in America, it is by no means the highest in the world.)

That does not mean that multiculturalism is a good thing. Iraq and Lebanon are disastrous multicultural countries. Even Canada has been subject to a serious secessionist movement.

Europe is now experiencing the fullness of multiculturalism as it evolves into Eurabia. As sharia, amputations, stonings, gang rapes and beheadings become more common, we can see that it is helpful for a society to have some core values that all immigrants must accept, on pain of deportation. My ancestors did not flee the Czar for America only to be faced with jihadists in America.

The author should have mentioned the traditional Jewish view: the law of the land is our law. Reply

Michael David Harrison, ID September 27, 2015

Multiculturalism a tool designed to destroy nations Multiculturalism is Cultural Marxism, a device to to destroy the dominant religion in a nation and make it equal to all others in order to destroy it. Reply

Jorge Qro. Mexico September 27, 2015

"e pluribus unum". My browser has rendered what follows about the motto of the US: out of many, one. Also, it's added "But e pluribus unum and ‘one and indivisible’ are mottos at war with each other." Probably this debate is not about to finish, in spite of this the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is a suitable occasion to praise G-d for the blessing of being on the side of "e pluribus unum". Reply

Anonymous September 24, 2015

for Sarah Masha Hi Sarah,
I 'm sorry I did not see your post (Sept 1 2013) addressed to me until today,
please don't feel bad because your comment did not cause me pain.

The case of the 6 year old committing suicide(40 odd years ago in a very different time) was brought up to describe how a society with only one standard that everyone must fit to can sometimes be dangerous and can trickle down to affect children and their expectations on themselves.
Things have improved a lot since then and there are increasing numbers of inclusive communities and schools in Japan these days.
In a way I was lucky to have a foreign mother, as I was exposed to the Bible at Sunday school etc, so whether or not I was conscious of it, there was the sense that our lives are on loan from G-d and sacred, even though I thought I was an atheist for a long time. But I also know how extremely success oriented people can suffer, when that's seen as your only value as a child and an adult. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI, USA September 1, 2013

Anon Extremes Wow! Suicide at six years old?! This is horrible. People killing themselves (at any age) because they can't fit in happens in both societies and represents failure of that society. I stand corrected.

Clearly, I didn't think about what living in Japanese society is like. And I know American society is also far from perfect, and people here become desperate too. I had no excuse, I knew Japan has a high suicide rate, I just didn't think enough. I clearly caused you pain, I am sorry. I will try to think more before I write in the future. Reply

Anonymous August 29, 2013

Extremes "In Japanese:
"The nail that sticks up gets hammered in."
Both have made strong societies, that serve their populations well. "

... when a society does that it results in high incidents of suicide as well. When I was 5 years old in a Japanese primary school one of the boys , a 6 year old, committed suicide because he did not get an 'A' for his work. This isn't rare in Japan. My sister did not survive it either. It might look orderly and secure from the outside, and it is good in the sense that we have very few petty crimes in Japan, but there is also the dark side of the culture, the pressure to be the same as everyone else or be ostracized.
Based on this background, I agree with rabbi Silberberg, that unity can not be achieved by shunning differences, we need to work with it to have a common goal. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA March 15, 2011

Rabbi, very good answer. One problem in America with multiculturalism is that often the individual factions become so highly antagonistic that it spills over into areas that harm children. I am speaking of the Black Social Workers and their forceful denouncement of interracial adoptions. I even remember when they tore mixed race and black children from adoptive parents' arms and placed them back into the system, in foster care, until they could find a black family to adopt them. Often, they couldn't. So, the children suffered. In another case, they even said that a mixed race marriage couple where one was black and adopted a black child was not good enough. When the black parent died, the white father had the child taken away. This is horrible. I wish they would view multiculturalism with the same flexibility and understanding that you have. Reply

Anonymous Riverside, CA via August 6, 2009

multiculturalism This country has lost its way under the guise of multiculturalism. It has become the excuse for doing away with moral absolutes of right and wrong out of respect for other cultures. It has resulted in a country where we cannot even have a discussion about our country because we don't have a common language. People achieve citizenship yeat remain unable to fulfill obligations like jury service becuase the don't understand English. I can respect my heritage and theirs, yet still become part of this country. That is what is great about the US. I am NOT confined to a ghetto because of my "culture". I am free to live anywhere. But that does not mean I am free to ignore my responsibilities as a citizen! Reply

Sarah Masha W.Bloomfield, MI/USA October 29, 2008

Take it to an extreme:
In English:
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease."
In Japanese:
"The nail that sticks up gets hammered in."

Both have made strong societies, that serve their populations well.

How good to be a Jew, with the freedom to be anything I want. and the strength of a group to lean on when I need it. Reply

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