Interaction with the Outside World

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Ideally, this page is dedicated to the opinion of Chazal, the rishonim, and achronim. All other opinions may be placed on the discussion page.
How a Jew interacts with the rest of the world is a complex and critical issue to be well aware of. What do we mean by the "Outside World"? Being a vague term, we chose to define it in this discussion to non-Jews and their cultures.

Value 1: Positive Environment

  1. A person is influenced by his surroundings[1] and friends.[2]
  2. Therefore, a person should chose to live in a place of Torah; that is, a place where there is a positive influence of Torah and mitzvot.[3] Inversely, a should stay away from places of negative influence and wicked people.[4]

Value 2: Isolationism

  1. In order to maintain a strong Jewish identity as an individual and as a community, it is critical for the community to remain isolated in some sense. For example, intermarriage is a very serious sin and leads to the breakdown of the Jewish nation.[5]
  2. The Jewish people are praised for their isolationism.[6] Chazal see this as fundamental to our identity.[7]

Approach 1: Seclusion

  1. Some people feel in that in order to avoid any negative influences of secular society it is preferable to become completely secluded from society even if it comes at the cost of being able to enjoy a broader, more engaged, and comfortable life.[8]
  2. When it comes to secular knowledge, some will distinguish and recognize the importance of accepting the truth irrelevant of its source[9], while others will venture to ignore the value of all secular wisdom due to the "risk" involved in studying it.

Approach 2: Integration

  1. With respect to certain mitzvot and middot it is beneficial to be engaged and build healthy relationships with the outside world.[10] Specifically with regards to Kiddush Hashem, it is important for Jews to have a positive influence on the outside world.[11]
  2. On the other hand, it is important to note that the term "integration" implies much more than simply dealing with non-Jews respectfully and when Torah demands us to. Usually this approach is associated with the secular movement of the late nineteenth century which at its core was irreligious or non-religious. The common attitude was that a Jew should be treated like an equal and in order to social justice, Jews have to become completely integrated losing their identity in the process. This extreme variation of this approach is completely anti-Torah values and halacha. While there may be value in this approach partially, when it threatens to erase our Jewish identity as observant Jews, the approach becomes counter-productive and dangerous.

Approach 3: Looking for a Balance

  1. A middle of the road approach perhaps would be one in which a person is engaged with the Outside World to the extent that is beneficial to him, in terms of gaining secular wisdom, having the ability to succeed financially, and influence the Outside World in a positive way. However, with regards to the dangers, it would be an imperative to uphold cautionary boundaries to prevent detrimental influence from the Outside World's values and cultures, all the while maintain a strong Halachic Jewish identity.

Links

Sources

  1. Gemara Sukkah 56b
  2. Pirkei Avot 1:6, Rambam (Deot 6:1), Mesilat Yesharim ch. 23 citing Melachim Bet 12 and Tehillim 101:7
  3. Rabbi Nehorai in Pirkei Avot 4:14 states that a person should be exiled to a place of Torah. Further sources supporting this point are: Pirkei Avot 6:9 and Ketubot 111a.
  4. Tehillim 1:1, Pirkei Avot 1:7, Rambam (Deot 6:1). Shabbat 147b records the story of Rabbi Elazar Ben Arach who left a place of Torah in order to live in a place of comfort. The result was that he forgot his learning completely.
  5. Evidence that chazal believed in distancing ourselves from the outside world:
    • Intermarriage is a very serious sin. The Torah forbids it and warns how it will lead to idolatry. There is a dispute whether intermarriage with non-Jews other than the 7 nations of Canaan is biblical or Rabbinic in nature. Either way, the gemara Sanhedrin 82a records the punishment from the prophets of someone who intermarries, being cut off from the Jewish people. This sentiment is also found in Eruvin 19a, which says that those who intermarry will not be saved from Gehinnom. Such is the gravity of intermarriage.
    • The Rambam (Isurei Biyah 12:7-8) writes that even though intermarriage isn't a capital crime it is extremely serious because unlike other incestuous relationships the child born from that relationship is still one's child and is Jewish, the child born from intermarriage isn't Jewish and isn't halachically one's child.
    • Chazal enacted several decrees against products of non-Jews such as their oil, wine, and bread. The reason for these enactments was to prevent intermarriage (Avoda Zara 36b). Similarly, they forbad eating their cooked dishes to prevent intermarriage (Rashi Avoda Zara 35a s.v. VeHaShelakot).
  6. Bamidbar 23:9, Devarim 32:12
  7. Shemot Rabba 36:1 comments that Bnei Yisrael are compared to oil because just like oil doesn't mix with other liquids, so too the Jews don't mix with the other nations. Maharal (Nesach Yisrael ch. 25) writes that Bnei Yisrael are compared to fire and the nations to water because if they mix the water puts out the fire and if they stay separate the fire can evaporate the water.
    • Rambam (Deot 6:1) writes that in order not to be influenced negatively by society it is sometimes necessary to go off to a desert to live there.
  8. The Midrash Eicha Rabba 2:9 writes that there is valuable wisdom amongst the nations of the world. The Rambam (Introduction to Shemona Perakim) famously writes that it is wise to accept the truth from whoever said it.
  9. For example, Rabbi Yochanan used to greet everyone in the marketplace including non-Jews. In the age of slavery, the Rambam writes that it is wise and kind to treat a non-Jewish slave properly and with respect.
  10. Or LaGoyim, Yiru Kol HaAmim, Kiddush Hashem