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One approach to understanding the human condition in its most fundamental aspect is to see the challenge defining that condition in terms of dwelling and exile or being at home and being homeless. In ancient times, these themes unfold from Abram's departure from the land of his fathers to the movement of Moses toward the Land of the Covenant, from Odysseus's perilous journey homeward to Aeneas' flight from the land of his fathers to a new home. In modern times, the themes are manifest in various expressions of spiritual identity crisis, psychological trauma, and cultural alienation that permeate human societies. In the post-Holocaust world, the issues are even more pronounced. Because the Holocaust was a systematic attempt at the complete annihilation of Jews and Judaism, Jews and Judaism form a significant part of the post-Holocaust context for considering human homelessness, including the current refugee crisis. Indeed, the Nazis systematically rendered the Jews homeless before they murdered them: Living in hiding, in a ghetto, or in a camp, every Jew in Nazi Europe was homeless. Retrieving from the ashes some remnant of the Jewish tradition slated for annihilation entails a return to the teachings of that tradition in an effort not only to address the refugee crisis but also to overcome a broader condition of alienation and homelessness that continues to haunt humanity. Therefore, in this essay I address the question: What light might the Judaism targeted for destruction shed upon the ethical issues surrounding the refugee strangers?

Jewish teachings on the stranger

According to Jewish tradition, the two tablets of the Ten Commandments articulate two realms of relation, each of which requires the other in order to have any meaning: The first five commandments pertain to the relationship between the human being and God (ben adam l'Makom), and the second five pertain to the relationship between human and human (ben adam l'chevero). The most essential means of embracing God lies in our embrace of the other human being--not only the neighbor but also, and perhaps even more importantly, the stranger. Therefore, the Torah commands the Israelites to love and care for the stranger--the one who is not an Israelite--no less than thirty-six times. Indeed, there are no commandments repeated more frequently in the Torah than the commandments regarding the kindness toward the stranger, toward the so-called non-believer, the one who rejects the -ism. Neither the Christian nor the Islamic Scriptures express such a loving relation to the non-believer. To be sure, unlike the case of Christian and Muslim Scriptures, in the Torah there is nothing to suggest that the non-believer might be subjected to eternal fire or any other punishment in the afterlife.

In Exodus 22:20, for example, we read, "You shall not wrong a stranger, nor shall you oppress him; for you were strangers in Egypt." Contrary to some modern sensibilities, in Judaism the fact that you were abused means you will not become an abuser; therefore, the fact that you were oppressed as a stranger means precisely that you will not oppress the stranger. For "you know the soul of a stranger, as you were strangers in Egypt" (Exodus 23:9)--the soul, and not just the feelings. The movement toward the stranger is movement into a relation, and not just a matter of having some empathy: The ethical imperative is not about feelings. Further, the phrase "for you know the soul of the stranger" is yedaatem et-nefesh hager. Now the word for "know" (daat) also means to "be joined together with." This suggests that because every soul is an emanation from the Holy One, each is bound to the other, Jewish and non-Jewish. The stranger who dwells among you shall be as one of your own, because you are essentially and physically tied to him as benei Adam, as children of Adam, that is, as human beings.

Hence. "the stranger who dwells among you shall be as one of your own. and you shall love him as yourself. For you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:34). That is, you shall love him k'mokha, "as yourself," an echo of the commandment to love your neighbor, your fellow Jew, k'mokha (Leviticus 19:18). What does it mean? A better rendering of k'mokha, translated as "as yourself," is "that is what you are." In other words, "you shall love the stranger, because your love for the stranger is who you are." On this basis, we have the Chasidic teaching that this love for the other human being--for the stranger--is the foundation of Torah (Toledot Yaakov Yosef, Korach 2). Oriented toward Torah, then, Jewish teaching is oriented toward the other human being, who is the stranger, but who is no alien other. The stranger is precisely a child of Adam, a human being with whom each of us shares an essential bond. And the phrase "I am the Lord"? It means that we can have no connection to God without this fundamental connection with the ger.

Because the ger is not an alien other, but one to whom the Jew is connected in the depths of the soul, we have this commandment: "You shall not pervert the justice due to a stranger or to the fatherless, nor take a widow's clothing as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you" (Deuteronomy 24:17-18). Note the importance of memory: You shall remember not only how it felt but who delivered you, not from harsh living conditions but from a condition of alienation and meaninglessness, of exile and home-lessness. Remember, too, that your deliverance lay precisely in the absolute, divine commandments of Torah, including the commandment to care for the stranger: My deliverance lies in the deliverance that I offer to another. Extending my hand to the stranger, therefore, I am doing him or her no favors; rather, I am working out my own salvation from my own internal exile. Here, we have a revelation of the absolute responsibility each of us has for those who have nowhere to turn, as exemplified by the widow, the orphan, and the stranger--and the refugee. These commandments, moreover, are revealed both in the singular and in the plural: They apply both to you as a community and to you as an individual.

As always, language is crucial to understanding a teaching, and in the Torah's commandments concerning the stranger, the word for "stranger," as noted, is ger. This is where the ethical complication might turn up. A ger is a non-Jew who dwells among the Jews, seeking only peace, only to be a good neighbor, only the human-to-human relation that makes dwelling possible. A ger, for example, vociferously repudiates acts of murder and terror; a ger, by definition, is not an anti-Semite. Two other words for "stranger" are zar and nokhri. Nokhri simply refers to someone who is foreign and unfamiliar, but with whom one might become familiar, someone, for example, from a "foreign country," which is an admat nakhar. The nokhri, then, is one who might become a ger. Zar, however, refers to one who is utterly alien, who is beyond anything that can become familiar, as in avodah zarah, the alien worship that is "idolatry." In the Torah the height of idolatry is to be found among those who pass their children through fire (Deuteronomy 18:10) in rites and rituals of child sacrifice or among those who, like Amalek, are bent upon the extermination of the Jews. According to Jewish teaching, there is no obligation to the "stranger" as zar, that is, as one who is bent upon your extermination. You can see the possible ethical dilemma with regard to some of the refugees in our world today.

The term zar would refer to the strangers that the Talmud or the Oral Torah has in mind when, for example, it asserts that Jews must not associate with Gentiles who are "shedders of blood" (Avodah Zarah 22a). To be sure, there have been times in Jewish history when non-Jews were either informers on the Jews or murderers of the Jews. If, however, the stranger does not pose such a threat, Jewish teachings from the oral tradition have treated him or her as a child of God; generally speaking, this is where the term ger applies. While Judaism understands the Jews to be a "people apart" (Leviticus 20:24), this condition of being "chosen" means being assigned to the often dangerous task of declaring to humanity, as the "light unto the nations" (Isaiah 49:6), that each human being is summoned to an infinite responsibility to and for the other human being, including the stranger, including the so-called non-believer, since in Judaism belief does not provide one with a ticket to paradise. To be sure, a religion that does not allow a place for the non-believer in the next world cannot allow a place for the stranger in this world. As history has shown, shedders of blood are often found among such proselytizing, creed-based religions, religions that, in a usurpation of the divine throne of judgment, presume to cull out the damned from the saved on the basis of belief.

The Mishnah forbids showing favoritism or other forms of dishonesty toward the stranger in such mundane dealings as business transactions (Bava Metzia 4:4). Similarly, with respect to the ger, the Gemara teaches, "Do not taunt [the ger] with the same blemish you have" (Bava Metzia 59b). Let God be the judge of who is righteous and who is not, of who has a place in the World to Come and who does not. Inasmuch as we determine that our fellow human being has no place with God, we can have no relation with our fellow human being (a point that also poses ethical complications regarding refugees who insist that the non-believer has no place with God). Contrary to those traditions that declare that theirs is the only path to God, the Talmud teaches that the non-Jew has a place in the World to Come--indeed, even more readily than the Jew, since the Jew has a much greater responsibility to fulfill (see Sanhedrin 105a). The stranger has a place in the World to Come because he or she has a place in this world: Since God's purpose in creation is to create a dwelling place for Himself, it is to create a dwelling place for one another, Jew and non-Jew alike.

Thus, the gates to God's kingdom "are at all times open" to the stranger, as it is written in the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 19:4), that is, at all times open to the Righteous among the Nations who choose not to be followers of Judaism but who choose to love their neighbors, regardless of beliefs. Judaism does not paint itself into the theological corner of declaring that the path to God leads only through Judaism--that is why Judaism teaches that the relation to the stranger is like the relation to one of its own. Again, to exclude the stranger from the World to Come is to exclude the stranger from this world. Hence, Judaism realizes, if we say to the stranger, "Only through this path can you come to God," then we can have no human-to-human relation with him or her. "Beloved are the strangers," says the Midrash, "for Scripture in every instance compares them to Israel" (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:2). Beloved by whom? Beloved by God, as taught in another Midrash: "I have loved you" (Malachi 1:2) refers to the stranger (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:2). According to Jewish teaching, each time a Jew encounters a stranger, a ger, he or she encounters one of God's beloved, one of God's children, a concept that falls outside the consciousness of any tradition that does not view God as a Father. Because the Jews cry out to God, "Father!" they can cry out to the stranger, "Brother!" Says the Midrash, "If you will estrange those who are distant [the strangers], you will ultimately estrange those who are near [the Jews]" (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:4), which means recognition of our essential connection to the most distant of human beings rests upon our realization of a connection to those who are nearest. And each connection is connected to the other.

Ethical issues from a Jewish perspective regarding the refugees

From a Jewish perspective, the appearance of a third person in the dynamic of human-to-human relation complicates the ethical issues vis-a-vis the stranger refugee. It also complicates the higher relation to the One from Whom we have the commandment: "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16). So what is the complication?

Let us acknowledge the fact that when we speak of a crisis with regard to the matter of providing refuge to refugees, we speak not of, say, the increasing number of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe from predominantly Muslim anti-Semitism, but of the Muslim refugees who seek shelter in Europe and North America. As always, Jewish refugees do not count. Here we face the inconvenient fact that many people who identify themselves as Muslims have been involved in terrorist attacks; 79 people in the U.S. and 757 in Europe have been murdered in the name of Allah between January 2015 and mid-June 2017. (1) In 2016 there were 2,478 Islamic attacks in 59 countries, with 21,237 people killed and 26,680 injured, many of whom were other Muslims. (2) All attacks were carried out in the name of Islam, and almost all of the refugees in the current refugee crisis identify themselves as Muslim. There is no parallel with the Jews fleeing Nazi Europe: None of them espoused anything resembling jihad, nor did any Jew preach, as the Jihadists preach, "God has imposed jihad as a religious duty on every Muslim" (al-Banna 1978, 133). None of them advocated for anything like the Sharia law that oppresses women and homosexuals, as the Nazis oppressed homosexuals. While it is true that the fundamentalists of other traditions express a certain homophobia and antipathy toward woman, they do not practice the application of the death penalty for homosexuals implemented in some of the Muslim countries or the honor killings of women under the Sharia law that some refugees would like to see implemented in their host countries.

The last words to come from the hand of Adolf Hitler as he prepared for his suicide were a plea to humanity to continue to "resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry" (quoted in Welch 1998, 97). As scholars have shown (Kuntzel 2007, Patterson 2012), the most systematic, most pervasive, most violent response to the call of the Fuhrer has come from Islamic Jihadists, and recent history has demonstrated the presence of Jihadists among the refugees, even though they may be a minority. No other groups bent on the extermination of the Jews are so heavily armed, so amply funded, so extensively interconnected through the Internet, or have so extensively infiltrated numerous societies. Subsequently, we confront a simple fact that cannot be ignored: The vast majority of Muslim refugees come not only from societies that are hostile toward people who reject Islam but from societies steeped in the canards of the blood libel, the Jewish world conspiracy, Holocaust denial, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Therefore, it must be asked: How much does the influx of Muslim refugees raise the level of anti-Semitism in a given society? Is there a tolerable level of anti-Semitism in a given society?

Surely it is in the interest of any society to minimize its level of anti-Semitism as well as hostility toward "non-believers," not only for the sake of the Jews but for the sake of everyone. As history has shown, what happens to humanity happens to the Jews first. In other words, the greater the level of anti-Semitism, the greater the level of hatred in human society--hatred toward non-believers, homosexuals, women, and others--confirming Emmanuel Levinas's assertion that anti-Semitism is "in its essence hatred for a man who is other than oneself--that is to say, hatred for the other man," where the other man is precisely the so-called non-believer (Levinas 1990, 281). Does admitting Muslim refugees into a given society increase the level of contempt for "non-believers"? Yes. Obviously. Do we want an increased level of contempt for non-believers in our society? Further, if admitting Arab Muslim refugees increases the level of anti-Semitism within a given society, how many lives should that society be willing to place on the altar in the name of tolerance? How many? Do prospective host countries not have an ethical obligation to insist upon a certain level of tolerance from among the refugees they take in?

Also relevant to these ethical complications are Muslim teachings regarding the stranger or non-believer. From the standpoint of Judaism, there is no religious or ethical basis, as we have seen, for rejecting refugees of a different religion--which places the Jewish community in a very complicated position regarding the Muslim refugees. But what if those refugees themselves reject such tolerance of other traditions? What if, in contrast to the Torah's commandments regarding the stranger, we find passages such as these in the Quran: "Allah's curse is on the unbelievers" (2:89); "those who disbelieve, their guardians are Satans who take them out of the light into the darkness; they are the inmates of the fire, in it they shall abide" (2:257); and "surely We have prepared burning fire for the unbelievers" (48:13)? You see the ethical issue. It will be righty said that we must consider the teachings concerning hospitality found in the Quran as, for example, Abraham's hospitality toward the strangers approaching his tent (54:21-27). Such teachings on the importance of hospitality can also be found in the Sahih Muslim Hadith (Chapter 5). But hospitality toward the wayfarer is not the same as tolerance for or an acceptance of the non-believer, which is not to be found in the Christian or Islamic teachings. Judaism can say to a person whose deeds are morally good, a person who rejects the religion of Judaism, "You have a place with God." Can either Christianity or Islam also say, "Although you have rejected the Christ or the Prophet, you have a place with God"? If not, then adding to such intolerance in our midst is problematic.

Centuries of Christian anti-Semitic disregard for the stranger contributed to the Holocaust; for centuries, most Christians held the conviction that if you do not conform to the creed, then you have no place with God--or with humanity. Many Christians, however, both in their theology and in their practice, have learned the lessons of that history and have undertaken a serious, courageous reexamination of their tradition. I am not sure the same can be said of very many Muslims. Most Muslims, from what I can tell, have not addressed the Muslim complicity in the Holocaust. Few have addressed the Holocaust's implications for humanity in general or for Islam in particular; few have found the courage to confront their tradition's anti-Semitism and its contempt for those who conscientiously reject Islam. The bibliography of research on the Handschar Division among Muslim scholars, for example, is, as far as I can tell, very slim (see, e.g., Herf 2009, 201). To what extent, then, should a society be prepared to increase its level of contempt for the stranger by admitting into its midst strangers who hate the non-believer?

Then, we have the data regarding the increase in crime in countries that have welcomed Muslim refugees. For example, Sweden, a destination for Muslim refugees, has been deemed the "rape capital" of the Western world. (3) The same problem can be found in Germany (4) (Kern 2016). "Since Sweden allowed for mass Muslim immigration in the 1970s," writes Aaron Bandler of The Daily Wire, "violent crime increased by over 300 percent and rapes by 1,472 percent. One in four women will be raped in Sweden. The statistics are similar in Norway and Denmark" (Bandler 2015). Paul Joseph Watson wrote a similar report on Sweden: "77.6 percent of the country's rapists are identified as 'foreigners'" (in Sweden, "foreigner" is generally synonymous with "immigrant from Muslim country"). And even this likely understates the issue, since the Swedish government--in an effort to obscure the problem--records second-generation Muslim perpetrators simply as "Swedes" (Watson 2015). Shall we ignore the plight of these women, both inside and outside of refugee facilities? Should women who fear Muslim men be ridiculed as Islamo-phobes? Should we ignore the outcry of these women? Yes or No! To say that Muslim men are not the only ones guilty of these crimes is to state the obvious; rape has not entered any culture through these refugees. But the influx of these refugees has brought with it a spike in the already existing rape statistics.

To suggest that the refugees do not add to this statistic, or to the statistics of attacks against Jews or homosexuals, is to turn and hide from a profoundly more complicated ethical issue. It is, in fact, ethically reprehensible. To be sure, what is said of female victims can be said of the LGBT community. (5) Are the members of that community to be labeled as Islamophobic when they express their fear of the Islamic attitudes toward gays embraced by many religious Muslims, attitudes found among most of the Muslim refugees? Shall we stand idly by their blood? Do we not have an ethical obligation to address the fears of women, the LGBT community, and the families, for instance, of the victims in Manchester? These questions underscore yet another ethical complication in the refugee crisis.

With regard to standing idly by our neighbor's blood, on the other hand, my neighbors' blood is being shed in Syria, Iraq, North and Central Africa, and other places from which refugees are fleeing. And yet, if I bring Arab Muslims into my community, I know that I raise the level of risking the murder of my Jewish and non-Muslim neighbors; I risk putting women and homosexuals in danger. So now, once again, the question is: How many dead and injured are worth the price of my compassion for the refugees? With regard both to the refugees and to my neighbors, at what point do I violate the prohibition against standing idly by my neighbors' blood, and, at the same time, how do I observe the divine injunction to care for the stranger? To ignore or minimize the dangers is both morally irresponsible and ethically reprehensible: We must not stand idly by our neighbor's blood.

What is to be done?

From a Jewish perspective, the ethical demand to embrace the stranger, while at the same time looking after the well-being of the host neighbor, would in this case call for a careful screening of the stranger refugee, for the sake of human life. It would call for a systematic acculturation of refugees, insisting upon abandoning any notions they may have regarding the damnation of non-believers or homosexuals, regarding the standing of women or the need to introduce Sharia to society. This screening need not mean turning away this individual or that, but it should include a process of rehabilitation, acculturation, and re-education to engender a sensitivity for the mores of the host culture.


(1.) "List of Killings in the Name of Islam." What Makes Islam So Different?, as of 11 June, 2017.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) "The Refugee Rape Gangs of Sweden." 23 February, 2017.

(4.) Soeren Kern, "Germany's Migrant Rape Crisis Spins out of Control," 9 August, 2016.

(5.) "Muslim Migrant a Threat to Us in LGBT Community."

Works Cited

Bandler, Aaron, 2015, "Is the Refugee Crisis Creating a European Rape Crisis?" The Daily Wire, 28 November,

al-Banna, Hasan, 1978, Five Tracts of Hasan al-Banna: A Selection from the Majmuat Rasail al-Imam al-Shahid Hasan al-Banna. Trans. Charles Wendell, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Herf, Jeffrey, 2009, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kiintzel, Matthias, 2007, Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11. Trans. Colin Meade, New York: Telos Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel, 1990, Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism. Trans. Sean Hand, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Patterson, David, 2012, A Genealogy of Evil: Anti-Semitism from Nazism to Islamic Jihad, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Watson, Paul Joseph, 2015, "Europe Continues to Import 'Tolerant' Muslim Culture." 6 November.

Welch, David, 1998, Hitler. London: UCL Press.

Yaakov Yosef of Polnoe, 1944, Toledot Yaakov Yosef al HaTorah. Jerusalem: Agudat Beit Vialipoly.
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Author:Patterson, David
Publication:Cross Currents
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Date:Sep 1, 2017

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