How open is the open table?
While this blog seeks to welcome anyone’s engagement, there are proper limits to genuine hospitality. For example, someone who is continually rude and disruptive, despite being warned and given second chances, might not be welcome at the table. Further, someone who’s values or actions were so egregious and unrepentant – sexual abuse, violence, intentional racism, a desire to join a group to destroy it – might be initially engaged with mercy, but not forever.
Traditions and communities must have some boundaries, some parameters in order to be meaningful. A tradition or community without structures, rules, and limits lacks a solid identity and will likely not last long.
Let’s play a game! The game has no rules and no purpose. Ready?
Is a house without walls in any way useful? Its been said that fences make for good neighbors. Can one truly belong to a group with absolutely no membership requirements, no shared values, and no common purpose?
The Jewish community has many groups that advocate openness – we see blogs, havurot, movements, and organizations with names that include phrases such as open source, unbounded, big tent, and so on. The trend toward openness and inclusion is a fantastic thing. The desire to offer hospitality is a holy thing.
But openness, inclusion, and hospitality have natural limits. Let’s consider some instances.
The perennial question of who is a Jew comes to mind. What constitutes Jewish identity? Who counts toward a minyan? Many are dissatisfied with limiting the minyan to only Jewish men. We understand the justice of including Jewish women as well. But do we want to go as far as to say non-Jews count toward a minyan?
The trend has been for increased openness in many Jewish communities. Most Reform congregations are fully egalitarian, welcome inter-married couples, gay members, and diversity of thought and opinion. But should formal and full membership be granted to non-Jews who have no intention of converting?
The nation of Israel wrestles with how to maintain a Jewish identity while also being an open democracy.
Torah repeatedly commands us to welcome and love the stranger among us. But what if that stranger is violent, or dangerous, or unwilling to engage decently?
No one wants unfair boundaries. But no boundaries leave us questioning the very identity and purpose of our efforts.
I value freedom and freedom of association. Each tradition and community should therefore be free to determine it’s own limits and who is and is not a member.
Diversity, openness, and inclusion are positive things. But without parameters and limits can easily become trite and meaningless.
Balancing meaningful boundaries with hospitality, tolerance, justice, and inclusion is an ongoing process worth engaging.