A while ago, I went to a shiur where the speaker talked about Elul and the purpose of introspection. At one point in the talk, the audience was asked, “What does it mean to be Jewish?”. This part of the shiur took rather a long time, with countless answers supplied by people from numerous demographics, all with one thing in common: a love for Judaism. And yet, after five or ten minutes had passed, not a single person had named the sole characteristic of Judaism which, to me, is the most important.
Loving your fellow as yourself.
It’s no surprise that people have different priorities, and what sums up Judaism to me, doesn’t necessarily sum it up for someone else (though I happen to know that Hillel agreed with me). Different viewpoints make Judaism vibrant and interesting. But to sit in a room, with people defining Judaism for five minutes straight, and not to hear the word ‘love’ once? Can that be right?
The reaction my comment received, and the juxtaposition of my priority with some of the others I heard was disappointing to me, but unfortunately not shocking. In recent years I have noticed an alarming trend in modern Jewish society that can only be described as a chillul Hashem: pushing aside love for your fellow in favour of superficiality and judgement.
Whether it’s posters telling women what to wear, the harsh suggestions spoken to those in shidduchim, or insults flung at Jews deemed ‘apikoruses’, the lack of ahavos Yisroel is prominent for all to see. And earlier, as I watched other Jews debating over which halochos were more important, I realised that we have forgotten the most improtant halacha of all: to love others.