Today’s daf touches on the remarkable Halakhic difference between Jews and Gentiles in the area of ritual impurity. The Talmud discusses the different burial positions utilised in the ancient world. One conclusion found in the Talmud is that if a Jew were to find a body buried in a sitting position then we could assume that this was a non-Jewish person and therefore no ritual impurity occurs.
Here is a very long analysis of the questions, both philosophical and legal, arising from potential differences between Jews and Gentiles. It is a very comprehensive article and well worth the read. However, what is clear is that the vast majority of sources throughout the ages have emphasised the qualitative differences between Jews and Gentiles. I hope that many would find this unpalatable (at best!).
However there is some hope. Two of the Rabbis (Rav Amital and Rav Lichtenstein) I have enjoyed learning from over the years express a minority opinion (and one that is certainly frowned upon in the above article) that there is in fact no difference between Jews and Gentiles.
My feeling of discomfort is visceral when learning page after page of the Talmud with its use of the word ‘goyim’ in a derogatory sense. I personally find some comfort in the fact that this might be excused as an ancient text where it was important to have a clear dividing line between us and the other. From the time of Ezra the need to limit assimilation became a real problem in the Jewish world (as seen from the takanot of Ezra in the area of intermarriage).
I can only believe that we were all created in God’s image, Jew and Gentile alike. We may have chosen God and/or He may have chosen us but that does not mean that there are any fundamental differences between us.
Love for the other is so crucial in a world of violence and hate. In fact it helps us to build our personal relationship with God.
Levinas suggests that the two statements: ‘you must love the neighbor through God’ and ‘one’s love of God is expressed through neighbor love’ must not be seen as contradictory to one another – they mutually inform one another in a dialectical relationship which does not yield a sublation of the two, or a new synthesis. The two statements mutually inform one another. Whether religion proceeds from morality or morality proceeds from religion does not horribly matter – when we see the Other person as the face of God, we are automatically placed in an ethico-religious revelation of “thou shalt not kill,” which is equivalent to “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”