Why we must think before we judge

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Progressively Speaking

Why we must think before we judge

Rabbi Miriam Berger take s topical issue and offers a Reform perspective

When God is planning the demise of Sodom due to the evil in the city, Abraham puts up a great fight for its residents. He asks the most powerful question: “Will you sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” Abraham bargains with God to ensure that the evil of the majority doesn’t prejudice the innocence of the few.

In today’s society I feel like I’m fighting the opposite battle to that which Abraham fought. The sole perpetrator of a barbaric attack often seems to implicate an entire swathe of otherwise innocent people, who are written off to be ‘just as bad’.

After the terror attack outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital (pictured), where we saw the replay of CCTV footage of an explosion clearly intended to have far greater impact and wound so many more, I wondered who would be tarnished by the inhumane acts of a single evil individual.

I was struck by the pain of the charity volunteer who advised asylum seeker Emad al-Swealmeen with his application for a right to remain in the UK. As he spoke of the work he had done to support al-Swealmeen, among many others who are looking to make a better life for themselves in the UK, he was desperate to stress that others seeking residency in the UK would not behave in this way; they would never put lives at risk and just want to live peacefully in this country.

Images hit screens and newspaper pages of his conversion to Christianity. What did this show? What happens when the perpetrator’s identity is one of a known majority and not of a less-known minority?

Whether we identify people by race, religion or their residency status, there is something scary about a national narrative being led by the actions of an individual who is later purported to represent an entire community in a way that is so very unfair. I know it’s why I become embarrassed or worried when crimes are perpetrated by a Jew, as we know this inevitably effects the national discourse over how we are all viewed ‘out there’.

If Abraham has to try to prevent God from sweeping up the innocent along with the guilty, how can we ensure that we are successful in doing so when such actions are clearly part of the psyche? Let us check ourselves when we enable an individual perpetrator to symbolise an entire people.

May we never sweep away the innocent with the guilty.

Miriam Berger is principal rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue

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