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Friday, 16 May 2014

Should we impose our "Western" values on the rest of the world?


Rosh Hashanah 9

Recently, the Canadian government appointed an Ambassador of Religious Freedom.  The job of Dr. Bennett is to promote religious freedoms and fight intolerance and persecution around the world.  The US has had such an office for over a decade, but not without controversy.

At issue is the question of whether we should be in the business of imposing our views of freedom on other peoples.    What gives us the right to missionize our values to the rest of the world?   If we believe in freedom and democracy, do we have a duty to share those ideas with the rest of the world or should we just mind our own business?

The Torah states: “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim dror (liberty) in the land for all its inhabitants.  You shall have a jubilee year, you shall return each one to his portion, and each one shall return to his family.”  This verse teaches us that slaves are set free in the jubilee year.

The Beraisa explains that the word dror means ‘freedom.’   Rabbi Judah explains the etymology of the word.  It comes from the word ‘ladur’ meaning ‘to dwell,’ since a free man can “dwell in any place and move his merchandise through every country.”

Why does Rabbi Judah add that the free man can “move his merchandise through every country”?  It seems to have nothing to do with the word dror, which refers to the first part of his explanation that he may “dwell in any place”!

Rabbi Judah is teaching us that although ‘liberty has been proclaimed throughout the land,’ we are not truly free until we can expand our freedoms to ‘every place and every country.’   Freedom should be for all peoples in all places.

There are critics who contend that our nations are pretending to promote freedom when in fact it is merely a façade for promoting our economic advantage.   Are we indeed gaining financially when freedom is encouraged?

Rabbi Judah acknowledges that our capacity to ‘move merchandise through every country’ is an important indicator of the level of freedom in any country.  Whether that merchandise is physical goods or an open market for ideas and ideologies, we are not truly free until we are able to move freely “through every country.” 


We are so blessed to be living in countries that share our values of freedom and tolerance.  May we merit to see the day when we will be able to ‘proclaim liberty’ for all peoples of the world.  And may our countries have success in their endeavours to bring the message of freedom to all the nations of the world: religious freedom, political freedom, economic freedom and ideological freedom.