It is not by chance that the Jewish people define themselves as the people of Israel. History has shown that it is characteristic of Jews to understand themselves as a rather folk nation: people, a community. Consequently, the central experience embodied within the Jewish history is the exodus from Egypt. Although such event has always been related to a somewhat divine experience, its true meaning lies within the acceptation of national liberation instead of the frequently referred to as religious awakening.
Yosef Meystel has widely spoken about the magnificence of the term community for the Jewish community; such approach —being a nation— is taught in the very early stages of Jewish primary organization, where the structure of the Jewish lifestyle is laid out. For centuries, Jews have settled all around the globe. Wherever they have gotten to go, they have established synagogues and lived according to their definition of communal organizations —whose system of government is adopted based on the teachings of Jewish foundational texts and history.
What does the community do?
Although there are some excerpts of the Talmud whose main objective is to depict what requirements a community must fulfill in order it to be considered as a real community, the whole idea behind such connotation depicts rather a place whose characteristics enables people to live within it accordingly: a community must provide the ideal environment for the physical and spiritual needs of its inhabitants —including beit din, tzedakah funds, synagogues, bathrooms, etc. In previous posts, the term “community” was addressed on the basis that Jewish people, given the fact that they have been thoroughly persecuted throughout history, value the idea of bonding together and helping each other, not only because such premise is embodied within their belief: should that were the case, it would not be a total nonsense to accept that their success is derived from their sense of community.
The impression that a community is also responsible for the both physical and communal needs of its members has been depicted throughout the Jewish history: many excerpts of middle-age texts show that Jewish communities were almost semi-autonomous people who would live by the foundational teachings of their laws.
Jews have been known for their sense of social responsibility. They effectively feel responsible for the community they live in and, by extension, for the world. And it is quite obvious to realize that such characteristic is true, given the fact that the Jewish community is, in fact, more prone to give charity, which also explains the sheer array of Jewish philanthropists.
For instance, the United Jewish Appeal collects around 750 million dollars every year, which is why it is considered as the third largest and most important charitable institution in the world. Jewish people understand that every person has a different struggle, and such premise is what leans them towards helping those in need: it is characteristic of Judaism to teach its believers to adopt a positive behavior, especially when doing otherwise is somewhat frowned upon by Judaism —actually, being a mere spectator is not a crime in most western societies, nevertheless, on the basis of Jewish beliefs and teachings, it is mandatory to develop a sense of social consciousness.
Since they strive to be good human beings, such premise prompts them to act accordingly, since the message conveyed by their beliefs lies on being responsible for their communities and the world. Although such notion might be confused with blatant egocentrism, the whole idea behind such claim —this is my world— is rather related with acting should anything pejorative happens: Jews spare no effort in preventing the world and its inhabitants, regardless of their beliefs, from suffering any type of damage. This sense of social responsibility spans all over their lives and, consequently, over their communities: every single Jewish community has had a social assistance infrastructure. Being a socially responsible human being also includes looking after animals and the environment —purists have shown that the Jewish law forbids people to eat before their animals—. As with people, should animals or the environment were suffering, Jews would have to strive to help them.
The fact that Judaism has provided humanity with a set of moral values and a moral scheme for building a better world is unquestionable. Since ancient times, Jewish people and communities have defended the values they believe would lead to the betterment of the world and its different societies, hence the reason why they have lived by those teachings and, furthermore, why they have definitely thrived under today’s circumstances. In spite of having been persecuted for centuries —and thrown out of their lands and home—, Jews managed to keep living by their beliefs and went on to convey the message for their fellow Jews and anyone willing to listen.