Multiculturalism: an extrinsic reality only?

Australia is a relatively young country. To define its unique identity or examples of cultural specificity is difficult. The shared history is really only shared among white Anglo Saxons and of course indigenous aboriginals, whose culture has been traumatised by the incursion of the white man. Migrants, and this includes Jews (mainly from Poland) after World War 2, did not share that history.

How do you create an identity without a real shared history. One approach is to enforce the study of Australian History into each school class. Creating an awareness of history, though, is not a substitute for sharing in that history. The collective history of Australians in terms of the shared experience is actually a conglomeration of individual histories tied to original home lands.

Assimilation of the various groups of immigrants is seen as a good thing by those who share the proposition that unbundling past attachment will cause a fusion of the various parts, thereby melding into a new whole. Proponents of multiculturalism often feel that a keen respect for difference attained by respecting and experiencing other cultures will offer the glue that keeps the disparate parts in harmony. Even those who can be termed pro-multiculturalism, predict that over time, osmosis induced by a “next” generation will mean that a natural cohesion will potentiate. Respect for difference affords the best chance for the cultural glue to set.

In this week’s Parsha of Yisro, the Torah tells us: ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש

What is the meaning of the word גוי. We say  אתה אחד ושמך אחד, ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ and this associates the idea of unity juxtaposed with the word גוי. The Jew is enjoined to share a certain bond of unity with their people. What is the nature of this bond in the context גוי. We see that Jews are also called (among other things) an עדה. The terminology עדת ישראל is also well established. גוי is normally translated as “nation” or “people” whereas עדה is normally translated as congregation. The root of the word עדה is עד — testimony. The interrelationship between the people comprising the עדה is their join testimony. This testimony is the witnessing and participation of the

  • creation of the world
  • going out of Egypt
  • receiving the Torah
  • entering the promised land
  • the worship during the reign of two temples
  • the promise of future redemption beginning with the coming of the Mashiach.
Conjoint destiny

There are those who are not as religiously inclined and for whom the concept of redemption is a distant memory of great grandparents. They do not (currently) recognise or feel part of this joint testimony, a testimony which intersects with our formation as a people and its final redemption as a people. Those who are distant from this vision are not and would not consider themselves part of the philosophically attuned Edah—congregation. They are, however, part of a גוי, the nation of Israel. The Rav explains that there need not be a common philosophical agglutinant to be considered and feel a member of the גוי component of Jews. What then binds the group into an Goy is the experience of its common history. We have all saw the fact that the anti-Semite targets the גוי. The anti-Semite makes no difference between Charedi, Mapay, Mapam, Left wing, Right Wing, Bundist or Agnostic Jew. The fact that one has experienced the chain of joint persecution as evinced by the phrase עם לבדד ישכון means that they are irrefutably conjoined with their people.

A Goy entity can get together and deal with common issues that are not in the realm of  the Edah. They can rally against anti-Semitism. They may remember recent cataclysmic events or celebrate such. They will form networks for social justice and welfare and seek to morph into a light for the nations.

This ideal is one which multiculturalists would like to see as the bedrock of a nation such as Australia. It is achievable as long as there are common causes to grieve over (such as the Bali bombings) or to exalt over (such as Australia performing well in the Olympic games etc). Multiculturalism inevitably ideally leads to the formation of a nation—the Goy.

In this Parsha of Yisro, Hashem tells us that this is not enough. He wants us to be וגוי קדוש. Holiness, or Kedusha, is by definition derived from a Godly experience. This is the experience of the עד — the Jew who carries and believes the testimony of their grandparents and great grandparents and seeks to evince the Kedusha thereby and leading inexorably to the final redemption in our day.

Lehavdil, neither assimilation nor multiculturalism will lead Australia to be a  גוי קדוש in the form of an עדה. This can only come through a joint historiology developed over many years. But Australia, like most Western Societies has a level of division between the State a Religion and so the aim ultimately is to be a גוי sharing a common concern and identity rather than an עדה.

Adapted from Divrei HaRav

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have naught​ to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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