It’s very simple being Jewish and being American; you just have to have completely polar views about pretty much everything.
In Judaism it’s all about drawing lines. The lines between good and evil, Jews and non-Jews, men and women, morning and night. Lines don’t have to be divisive as much as definitive. In Leviticus it says, “You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Rashi, the foremost commentator explains that to be holy means to be separated. “Be separated from immorality and from sin.” The Rabbis and sages of the past couple thousand years spent their time sifting and analyzing, uncovering what is good and righteous and what is forbidden.
All for good reason. In a world that is “mostly evil”, the process of separating and good from the “mostly evil” and uplifting it is the purpose of creation, says Judaism. It’s a cosmic game of hide and seek, of Hansel and Gretel, picking out the fragments of light that will lead you to redemption.
In America, it’s all about erasing lines. Sure, we embrace differences, but we do it by emphasizing similarities. We put faces of different shades of browns on the bulletin boards in Elementary School and we recognize Hanukkah and Christmas and and Kwanzaa around holiday season. But then we refuse to identify what exactly separates one from the other. Men and women aren’t really different, except for some relatively unimportant biology. Religions aren’t really different, just rename G-d, and give certain religions more time to mature and then die. Ethnicities aren’t really different. They just eat different foods.
When it comes to good and evil, it’s so quaint to divide the world up that way, so childish not to see the human element in every act. Serial killers have good intentions (at least one does), greed can be ambition, betrayal can be love, and running after happiness at the cost of your responsibilities is the sacred right of every American. When Osama bin Laden was killed debates sprouted about whether he was inherently evil, if there even was such a thing as total depravity. We were afraid of labeling the man who designed the most elaborate plan for killing innocent people as evil. As though the labeling itself spelled doom for our carefully constructed world of gray points of view.
If there’s someone who knows a world that is black and white, and gray — a world where there is absolute truth, and genuine celebration of the human mind and heart — please let me know. Before I get erased.