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Is Diversity Good for the Jews?

Is Diversity Good for the Jews?



Can you see a time when all Jews will follow the same customs? For example, Sephardic Jews eat kitnyot on Passover, while I, as an Ashkenazic Jew, am not allowed to eat some kosher legumes and plain white rice on Passover. I believe that if some Jews say it is okay, there should be no problem with it for all Jews!


Once upon a time, in the isle of Ireland, many people thought it a good idea for everyone on the island to grow the same sort of potato. That way, everyone could use the same farming techniques, everyone would plant and harvest at the same time and all potatoes would taste the same.

The result? One little bug came along, and within a week or so wiped out the entire crop of Irish potatoes. To this date, Ireland has never returned to its population size before that.

The Jewish People has managed to survive every sort of physical, social and spiritual blight, plague and persecution in the book for three and a half thousand years. Perhaps, just maybe, diversity of custom might be a factor in their survival strategy.

Of course, the Torah sets limits. Just as the rules of harmony set limits on what makes harmonious music and the rules of color and symmetry set limits on what makes an attractive design, so too Jewish law provides us the parameters to determine what is kosher and what is not, what is healthy for the soul and what is detrimental, what it is that G‑d wants to see in His world and what He wants booted out. But within those guidelines, don't you think He might enjoy a little variety? Or just Irish potatoes all day long?

So each of us keeps the customs of our family and our community. They are very special, even sacrosanct to us. And at the same time, we appreciate and respect the customs of every other Jewish community and family. It just makes G‑d's dinner plate that much more colorful.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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David Lash Louisville, KY January 25, 2012

Diversity I wish this respect for diversity was extended to the kessim, the ancient priesthood of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel. A 2,500 year-old tradition that survived war and millenia of isolation may die in less than 30 years. Israel's rabbis are now working to phase out the community's white-turbaned clergy, whose unusual religious practices are at odds with the majority rabbinate. This is nothing less than forced assimilation, only this time at our own hands. If this tradition is left to wither, it will have the same end result as the forced conversions we've endured in Ethiopia and elsewhere. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell River, CA, USA January 17, 2012

Raquel, what you should do is.. Whatever you and your husband and family find peaceful and fulfilling for you. You do not live for your aunts and uncles. Tell them you still respect their choices and ways, and you EXPECT the same consideration. On the other hand, if something is offensive to them, don't do it in front of them. Keep those things for times when you are alone. Reply

Alexandra Denver, Co USA May 24, 2011

Diversity in Judaism Yes! Diversity IS good! If I had to be totally Orthodox, I'd go further away from Judiasm
than I do now.......and that's VERY far indeed. I think G-d has created the Diasphora so that, if Jews are distroyed in one country, (even, God forbid, in Israel),
there will still be Jews in other countries.
Jews come in all shapes and sizes....and all philosophies. If "Esther" had not hidden her Judaism, the Jews of the Persian Empire would have been killed. More recently, there was a Jewish Queen in Bulgarial in the Middle Ages. In WWII, the King of Bulgaria, Simeon II, (still living), just REFUSED to have the Jews of Bulgaria deported. And they weren't. He was, & isn't of the Jewish faitn, now-- and maybe, as a nice guy, would have stood up to the Nazis anyway --but Jewish ancestry didn't hurt! Free people DON'T like to be told how to act or think! Different ways to the same end-- the survival of the Jewish people-- keep people Jewish, free, and also, (importantly!), happy! Reply

racquel Florida, USA April 1, 2011

So the custom in our family has always been Sephardi, because of my mom but now that we are becoming more observant we realize that we truly are Ashkenazim. Last year trying to follow the kitnyiot custom really offended my aunts and uncles, since they are Sephardi. Since all my life I've done Sephardi customs should I continue them, or pertain to the Ashkenazim? Reply

Anonymous Las Vegas, NV via January 19, 2010

Reply Thank you Sunnyside. Beautifully said. I concur, whether born into or chosen, we are Jews. Our friends, Jews of color, born into the faith, are first assumed to have converted. Many times our fellow Jews just can't seem to wrap their head around that idea, of why yes, someone of color was actually born Jewish. Imagine that! But, they take it in stride every time. There are at least a couple of multicultural Jewish websites I visit often that I find refreshing and inspiring. Reply

Anonymous Sunnyside, NY January 19, 2010

Who belongs to the tribe? Anonymous from Las Vegas, I really appreciate your comment. I think that many Jews, in an effort to show love for the tribe, refer to Jews as if the only people born into the tribe are of European descent. Even if those references are made out of love, they are innacurate. It can be hard to know when to speak up and when not to; I am glad you said something. Furthermore, I think it is dangerous to make distinctions between Jews who are converts and Jews who are not. After all, Bernie Madolf (sp?) demonstrates that loyalty and integrity are qualities we cannot assume all "born to the tribe" Jews posess. We are all equal in G-d's eyes; I think that perhaps we show a lack of respect for Him when we start picking and choosing which Jews to take seriously and which Jews to push aside - even if we push gently and politely. Reply

Anonymous Las Vegas, NV via January 18, 2010

Diverstiy Thank you Rabbi. I also agree with many of the posts - we Jews come in all shapes and colors and offer so much enrichment to our culture. I know Jews of color, some born into our faith and other have chosen our faith. Let's keep opening our arms out and embracing what each of us has to offer. I being a French and Polish Jew, my husband is a Black, Native American Jew - we bring so much to Judaism. Reply

Debra Birmingham, MI January 11, 2010

diversity enriches I am with you, Rabbi. This diversity of the Jewish people is a strength. In doing photo research for a children's book on the topic, I realized the substantial percentage of Jews of color in America. Those pursuing something more in their spiritual lives, are turning to Judaism and finding it. The Jewish community at large has a pivotal opportunity to which there must only one response: welcome as one with us, those who are now one of us. Reply

Anonymous June 17, 2009

Diversity Among the Jews As a female Jew from a mixed ethnic background, I find your comments most helpfull, Rabbi. DIversity in custom, culture, and ethnicity brings richness and ethical glory to all Jews, in my opinion. Yet I wish there was more visibility for African, Latin American, and Asian Jews. Reply

Debra Atlanta, GA June 16, 2009

Jewish secular and diversity Mr. Freeman you spoke a truth! We must never forget that! Reply

Anonymous stl, usa June 15, 2009

we should merit May we merit our cleansed view of our fellow jews. Reply


Diversity I think thats a poor answer to a very relevant question !
The reason we ashkenazim cant eat rice etc on pesach is because of the concern that it might get mixed up with chometz . Today there is no concern but we continue the tradition . But more and more ashkenazim are eating kitniot (legumes) on pesach because they say it devides friends and even families .

I think its about time the ashkenazi rabbis allowed us to eat kitniot too ! Reply

Tzvi Freeman Thornhill, Ontario June 14, 2009

Re: jewish secular and diversity There are no secular Jews. All Jews are holy. If you are seeing a secular Jew in front of you, clean your glasses--your neshama's glasses.

Every Jew is full of mitzvahs. Every Jew has something to teach you. Just stop yelling at him and start listening. Reply

Yehuda Leb st louis, usa June 12, 2009

jewish secular and diversity Must the orthodox live with the secular jews profaning sabbos as in jerusaalems current battle and not argue with the diversity of our Lands current population and dispositions? Reply

jeremy baltimore June 12, 2009

diverse potatoes Rabbi,

I like your take on a lot of topics! Reply

Debra Atlanta, GA June 12, 2009

Is diversity good for Jews Once again G-d has given you wisdom on this matter. Yes, the laws are for us to be guided on health, eating, spiritual, everything. You made a good point. If you eat something and it offends, don't offer it to the one who is offended! Reply

Eliyahu June 11, 2009

With all due respect, the Irish potato famine has nothing whatsoever to do with religious or cultural diversity. We aren't potatoes, and my inability to eat at the house of Sephardic friends during Pesach contributes absolutely nothing to our survival. In fact, the ever-growing list of stringencies has the opposite effect. By dividing us, it weakens us and tends to alienate us one from another. It's hard to build a close friendship with Jews who won't eat at our house because they belong to the "stringency of the week club" that builds fences around fences around fences, and we don't. Reply

Mark Heater St. Petersburg, FL June 11, 2009

difering kasrut As someone who loves to cook (and eat!), I like the difering -- broadly speaking, European & Mediterranean/North African -- styles of Kosher cooking. (And I hope this doesn't insult the original questioner.) Reply

Martin van Gelder Gainesville, FL June 11, 2009

Diversity While we are not ppotatoes, the point is very well put. I grew up in a "mixed" marriage of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish Heritages. It served to introduce me to the great riches of each traditional practices. We are so much more fulfilled by this. I and my siblings did not all follow the same paths; but still expose our offspring to that which made my family so healthy. Reply

danny June 10, 2009

potatos we are not potatoes. you cannot compare the two as they are not comparible. there is no reason to believe that we are still here because we are diverse. we are still here because that is the promise of G-d. Reply

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