Equality

  • Rav Chaim Navon

Theological Issues In Sefer Bereishit

Yeshivat Har Etzion


LECTURE #8: EQUALITY

By Rav Chaim Navon

MAN WAS CREATED ALONE

According to Chazal, the creation story teaches us a fundamental principle, one that may be termed "humanistic," i.e., the principle of equality:

Therefore man was created alone - to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul in Israel, Scripture regards him as if he destroyed the entire world. And whoever saves a single soul in Israel, Scripture regards him as if he preserved the entire world. And for the sake of peace among people, so that one person should not say to his fellow: "My father is greater than your father." (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5)

It is from the Torah's account of creation that Chazal derived the principle of equality: Man was created alone, so that nobody should be able to boast that he descends from ancestry more noble than that of his fellow. We are all children of the same father. As was already pointed out in our lecture on "Torah and Science," various Jewish thinkers have argued that the creation story need not be understood according to its plain sense, and that it is indeed possible to accept the theory of evolution and other scientific hypotheses. According to them, the objective of the creation story is not to provide a scientific description of how the universe came into being, but to teach us moral and spiritual principles. According to this view, Chazal's question should be formulated in a slightly different manner: not why did God create man alone (for if we accept the theory of evolution, man was not created alone), but rather why did God write in the Torah that man was created alone. The explanations offered by Chazal provide an adequate answer to this question.

One of the ideas found in the Mishna is formulated in a slightly different manner in the Tosefta:

Man was created alone. And why was man created alone? So that the righteous not say: "We are the children of a righteous man," and so that the wicked not say: "We are the children of a wicked man." (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 8:4)

On the one hand, the Tosefta's formulation is sharper than the one found in the Mishna. On the other hand, the Mishna emphasizes the boastful pride of one who sets himself above another person, whereas the Tosefta comes to deny the same argument when voiced by one who perceives himself as descending from inferior stock. Either way, the principle is essentially the same.

JEWS AND GENTILES

As we all know, however, the matter is not so simple. Though indeed the Mishna and Tosefta emphasize the basic equality of all men, many have argued that Jews enjoy a certain qualitative genetic superiority over all other peoples. The most prominent representative of this school of thought is Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. Halevi argues that the fact that all of mankind descends from one father does not mean that all people are equal. The superior qualities of Adam were passed on solely to the patriarchs of the Jewish people:

Adam had this choice essence, for he was perfection itself without exception... He left many children, of whom the only one capable of taking his place was Hevel, because he alone was like him. After he was slain by Kayin through jealousy of this privilege, it passed to his brother Shet, who also was like Adam. He, therefore, became the choice essence and heart of man, while the others were like husks. The choice essence of Shet passed to his son Enosh... Avraham represented the choice essence of Ever, being his disciple, and for this reason he was called 'Ivri.' Ever represented the choice essence of Shem, the latter that of Noach... The choice essence of Avraham passed among his sons to Yitzchak... The choice essence of Yitzchak passed to Ya'akov...

The sons of Ya'akov all received the choice essence. They were all worthy of divine influence, and therefore received that place, distinguished by the revelation of the divine influence, as their inheritance. This is the first instance of the divine influence descending on a number of people, whereas it had previously only been vouchsafed to isolated individuals... Then[1] they became worthy of having the divine light and providence made visible to them. If disobedient men existed among them, they were hated, but remained, without doubt, of the essence inasmuch as they were part of it on account of their descent and nature, and begat children who were of the same stamp. (Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, Kuzari, I, 95)

At first the divine influence rested on one person in a family, who was the heart of his brethren and the essence of his father. It was he in whom this divine light was concentrated, all the others being like husks which had no share in it. The sons of Ya'akov were, however, distinguished from other people by godly qualities, which made them, so to speak, an angelic caste. Each of them endeavored to attain the degree of prophecy, and many of them succeeded in so doing. (Ibid., I, 103)

According to Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, there is a fundamental genetic difference between Jews and gentiles. The "divine essence" which includes the prophetic potential is unique to the Jewish people. This perception leads Halevi to a clear distinction between the descendants of the original Israelites and those who joined the Jewish people through conversion:

Any gentile who joins us shares our good fortune, without, however, being quite equal to us. (Ibid., I, 27)

God allows the convert who treads this path, as well as his progeny, to approach Him very closely. Those, however, who become Jews do not take equal rank with born Israelites, who are specially privileged to attain to prophecy, while the former can only achieve something by learning from them, and can only become pious and learned, but never prophets. (Ibid., I, 115)

In his introduction to his edition of Sefer Kuzari (pp. 30-31), Yehuda Kaufmann Even-Shmuel cites some of the objections raised by the maskilim against the Kuzari's position: "Crude human mythology: My father is greater than your father, my land is unlike your land, theory of racial superiority, chosen people" (Saul Israel Horowitz). He counters that Halevi sees the Jewish people as the chosen nation - not in the sense that they should lord over other peoples, but rather that they are responsible for them and bound by special obligations. The objections, however, still stand: Even if Halevi never meant to enslave the other nations, he still proclaims the essential superiority of the Jewish people.

Rambam, without relating to Halevi's remarks, presents an entirely different position:

Says Moshe the son of Rabbi Maimon, one of the exiles of Jerusalem living in Spain. We have received the questions of our master and teacher Ovadya, the enlightened and understanding one, true convert, may God reward him for his deeds, and may he receive full compensation from the Lord, God of Israel, under whose wings he has sought refuge. You have asked about the blessings and prayers that you recite when you are alone or when you pray with a congregation, should you say "my God, and the God of our fathers," and "who has sanctified us with his mitzvot, and commanded"...

You must say them all in proper manner, and make no changes. Just as any native member of Israel blesses and prays, so should you, whether you pray alone or you serve as prayer leader. The principle is that it was the patriarch Avraham who taught the entire people and made them wise, informing them of the true religion and the unity of the Holy One, blessed be He... Therefore, whoever converts until the end of all the generations, and whoever declares the unity of God's name as it is written in the Torah, is a disciple of the patriarch Avraham, may he rest in peace; they are all members of his household. It was he who restored them to the good way; just as he restored the people of his generation through his words and teachings, so too did he restore all those who would convert in the future way of the testament he left for his sons and the members of his household. Thus, the patriarch Avraham, may he rest in peace, is the father of his fitting descendants who walk in his path, and father to his disciples and all the converts. Therefore, you should say, "Our god and the god of our fathers," for Avraham, may He rest in peace, is your father... Since you have entered under the wings of the Shekhina and have accompanied it, there is no difference between you and us. And all of the miracles that had been performed on our behalf are as if they had been performed for us and for you. (Rambam, Responsa, no. 293)

Rambam's position is absolutely clear: "There is no difference between you and us." As opposed to Halevi, who views the Jewish people as genetically unique, Rambam emphasizes the cultural factor: the patriarch Avraham is the father of his physical descendants as well as all those who walk in his path. The uniqueness of the Jewish people lies not in their genes, but in their culture and behavior. For that reason, anyone can convert and join the Jewish people and enjoy full equality with born Israelites.

KOHANIM, ISRAELITES, AND TORAH SCHOLARS

One of the central motifs running through the book of Bereishit is the denial of the special rights of the firstborn son. Time and again a firstborn son is set aside in favor of his more successful, younger brother. This theme teaches us that a person's rank is determined not by inborn qualities, but by the personal decisions that he makes over the course of his life.

Even within Jewish society, however, there is room to speak about the genetic superiority of a particular caste. We refer, of course, to the priesthood. All kohanim trace their ancestry to a single family, upon whom was imposed an important and venerable role. It may, therefore, be suggested that they enjoy fundamental genetic superiority over the rest of the Jewish people.

In this context, however, let us examine the laws applying to the Nazirite. Parashat Naso records the three special regulations that apply to a Nazirite. He may not drink wine, he may not defile himself through contact with a corpse, and he may not cut his hair. The three special laws pertaining to a Nazirite contain within them a profound spiritual message.

There is a surprising parallelism between the laws of the Nazirite and the laws of a High Priest. The Nazirite may not defile himself through contact with a corpse, not even when the deceased is a close relative. The same applies to the High Priest (Vayikra 21:1). Defilement through contact with a corpse contradicts holiness and closeness to God. An ordinary kohen is forbidden to defile himself for strangers, but is required to defile himself for a relative; the High Priest and Nazirite were warned not to act in that manner, for they enjoy a higher level of holiness.

The Nazirite may not drink wine; the same applies to the High Priest. Immediately following the sin of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon and his sons were warned not to drink wine when they come to serve God. "Do not drink wine or strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, lest you die" (Vayikra 10:9). Drunkenness blurs man's personality and clouds his thought. When a person stands before God he must be at the peak of his powers and concentration. Thus, the kohanim were warned not to drink wine when engaged in the divine service, and the Nazirite who sanctifies his life to God, was commanded to distance himself from wine and grape derivatives.

The third commandment given to the Nazirite is that he may not cut his hair. Do we also find here a parallel law applying to the High Priest? Let us examine the relevant verses. The Torah states: "All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come on his head; until the days are fulfilled, during which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy [kadosh hu], and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow" (Bamidbar 6:5). Rashi explains that the words "kadosh hu" refer not to the Nazirite, but to his hair, so that the verse should be translated, "it shall be holy." The hair that is allowed to grow wild is offered in the end to God, together with the peace offering brought by the Nazirite, and so it is considered to be holy from the very outset. Regarding the Nazirite, the verse states: "Because the crown of his God is upon his head" (Bamidbar 6:7). The plain sense of the verse seems to be that the hair growing on the Nazirite's head is the crown of his God. This is not merely a metaphor, but rather a concrete description of the hair growing on the Nazirite's head. According to this, the parallelism between the High Priest and the Nazirite is perfect: The crown of hair on the Nazirite's head parallels the tzitz on the head of the High Priest, which is also referred to as a "holy crown" (Shemot 29:6).

This parallelism bears a very important spiritual message: Any person can elevate himself to the High Priest's level of holiness; no special ancestry is necessary.[2] Every individual bears the responsibility of developing himself and rising to the highest possible spiritual level. Noble ancestry does not suffice, and base ancestry is no excuse. The sons of Eli the High Priest were wicked, whereas Avraham was the son of Terach the idol worshipper, but nevertheless he became a spiritual giant. The Torah section dealing with the Nazirite teaches us that any person can reach any goal, provided that he wants it enough.

According to Chazal, only kohanim may serve in the Temple, and only the High Priest may enter the Holy of Holies. They may well have thought it preferable that a fixed caste of people should train themselves from early childhood for a life of holiness and purity. Anybody can reach the level of supreme holiness. Statistically, however, this goal is more easily reached by one who has trained himself to do so from his earliest years, and in the Temple we take no chances. We are not dealing here with genetic preference or with preference based on social class: non-kohanim have an alternative route to holiness.

The Second Temple period was characterized by the struggle between Chazal, who represented this egalitarian approach, and the noble priestly families, who inclined for the most part to the Sadducees, believing in the sanctity of their ancestry and in their special standing. Many of the midrashim and stories related by Chazal can best be understood against this backdrop:

Abba Sha'ul the son of Botnit said in the name of Abba Yosef the son of Chanin: Woe to me, on account of the house of Boethius, woe to me on account of their curses. Woe to me on account of the house of Chanin, woe to me on account of their charms. Woe to me on account of the house of Katros, woe to me on account of their quills. Woe to me on account of the house of Yishma'el the son of Pi'akhi, woe to me on account of their fists. For they are High Priests, their sons are treasurers, their sons-in-law are trustees, and their slaves beat the people with sticks. (Pesachim 57a)[3]

A man is given priority over a woman to save his life and to restore his lost property, and a woman is given priority over a man regarding clothing and ransoming her from captivity... A kohen is given priority over a Levite, a Levite over an Israelite, an Israelite over a mamzer, a mamzer over a netin, a netin over a convert, and a convert over an emancipated slave. When? When they are all equal. But if a mamzer is a Torah scholar and the High Priest is an ignoramus, the mamzer who is a Torah scholar is given priority over the High Priest who is an ignoramus. (Horayot 3:7-8)

From where do we know that a gentile who engages in Torah study is regarded like a High Priest? The verse states: "Which if a man do, he shall live in them" (Vayikra 18:5). It does not say "kohanim, and Levites and Israelites," but rather "a man." Thus, you learn that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is regarded like a High Priest. (Bava Kama 38a)

Elsewhere (Yoma 71b), it is related that a certain High Priest was offended by the fact that the people showed greater respect to the Sages Shema'aya and Avtalyon, who the descendants of converts, than to him. Thus, when Shema'aya and Avtalyon came to greet him, he said: "Let the sons of the nations come in peace," to which they answered: "Let the sons of the nations come in peace, those who act in the manner of Aharon, and let the son of Aharon not come in peace, he who does not act in the manner of Aharon."

While regarding the gap between Jews and gentiles the question remains open, Chazal's position regarding the various components of Jewish society is emphatically clear: the priestly tribe is in no way superior to the rest of the people. What is important is acting in the manner of Aharon, and not inheriting his genes.

THE NON-JEWISH POSITION

In the distant past, non-Jewish thinkers rejected the idea of absolute equality. Aristotle vigorously argued that certain people are destined from birth to be slaves, they being essentially different from free men. Today, however, the idea of innate equality is one of the cornerstones of Western thought. The philosophers of the Enlightenment asserted this idea over and over again:

Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. 13)

The underlying assumption here is that regarding the essentials, those things that define humanity, all men are equal. We shall cite a number of fundamental historical proclamations that emphasize this point:

Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good. (Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, France, 1789)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (America's Declaration of Independence, 1776)

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948)

SOCIAL EQUALITY

The French declaration cited above raises an additional question. The authors of the declaration recognized that even if there are no essential inborn differences between men, there are differences between them with respect to social class. The declaration suffices with the demand that "social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good." Are social distinctions really necessary, or perhaps here too we should aspire to equality? On this point, there are, of course, many different opinions. The Communists aspired to create a world absolutely free of social distinctions:

Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, chap. 2)

There were others, however, who argued that class distinctions are necessary in order to create a class of leaders who are trained from early childhood for leadership and values. Power must remain in the hands of a special class, which is qualified and trained to exercise it in a fitting manner. This position was expressed by Edmund Burke, the English thinker who came out against the French Revolution:

The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, and that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself. It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue... The possessors of family wealth, and of the distinction which attends hereditary possession (as most concerned in it), are the natural securities for this transmission. With us the House of Peers is formed upon this principle. It is wholly composed of hereditary property and hereditary distinction, and made, therefore, the third of the legislature and, in the last event, the sole judge of all property in all its subdivisions. The House of Commons, too, though not necessarily, yet in fact, is always so composed, in the far greater part... Some decent, regulated preeminence, some preference (not exclusive appropriation) given to birth is neither unnatural, nor unjust, nor impolitic. (Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France)

What is Judaism's position on this question? We spoke earlier about the essential inborn and genetic equality between kohanim and ordinary Israelites. But there is no question that socially speaking kohanim enjoy special standing within the Jewish people. Chazal recognized this too, for they agree that if a kohen and an ordinary Israelite are equal in Torah, priority is given to the kohen. This does not reflect any inborn, genetic distinction, but rather a social distinction between the various classes, each of which plays a different role. While Chazal restricted this priestly advantage, they clearly recognized it. There are those, however, who disagree about this as well:

True divine service does not require priests. If the Law of Moses still left room for kohanim and Levites, it was only because in the ancient period people were unable fully to grasp that divine service is possible without priests.

Proof may be adduced that the priesthood does not reflect the true intentions of the Torah: For the [divine] service was originally supposed to be performed by the firstborns, and it was only because Israel sinned with the [Golden] Calf that the service was removed from the firstborns and given to the Levites.

In other words, if Israel would truly have remained on a high level, they would not have needed special Levites. Each family would have worshipped God in accordance with its own understanding. When they bowed down to the [Golden] Calf, the children of Israel demonstrated that they too were strongly attracted to the forms of worship common in their day. There was no alternative; it became necessary to create a class of kohanim and Levites.

This notwithstanding, the attempt was made to the extent possible that the kohanim and the Levites should not achieve domination over the Jewish people. (Hillel Zeitlin, Alef Bet Shel ha-Yahadut, p. 83)

Rabbi Hillel Zeitlin argues that the entire priesthood is an institution of second choice; ideally there should be no class distinctions whatsoever. It would appear, however, that Zeitlin has overstated his case. While the Rishonim do in fact disagree whether the kohanim were chosen before or after the sin of the Golden Calf, the plain sense of Scripture surely follows the understanding of Ramban, that the kohanim had already been chosen (in Parashat Teruma-Tetzave) prior to the sin, and it was only the standing of the Levites that changed in its wake. And furthermore, even the firstborns, who were originally supposed to perform the divine service, constituted a class of its own. Zeitlin sees the firstborns as family representatives, but practically speaking a special class of firstborns would have come into , who would have raised themselves over the others (though less so than did the kohanim). According to him, it is not at all clear why from the outset God had designated certain people to perform His service. Social divisions are necessary so that each class can gain expertise in a particular role. It is true, however, that the Torah tries to minimize the gaps, and also to emphasize that spiritual ascent is barred to nobody (as we saw with respect to the laws of the Nazirite).

With respect to slavery, we already saw that Aristotle understood that there is an inborn, metaphysical distinction between slave and freeman. Not only did Judaism refuse to adopt this view, but it even tried to minimize the social distinctions between the two. All of the Torah's laws regarding slavery are meant to narrow the gap between freeman and slave.

Judaism, however, does not stand for absolute social equality. It was Korach who called for total equality:

And they gathered themselves together against Moshe and against Aharon, and said to them, You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you raise yourselves up above the congregation of the Lord? (Bamidbar 16:3)

The entire episode of Korach is meant to show the people of Israel that the kohanim and Levites were chosen to perform the divine service, and that while the entire congregation is holy, there are some who are holier than others. Chazal picturesquely illustrated Korach's argument:

Korach jumped up and asked Moshe: "If a cloak is entirely of blue, what is the law as regards it being exempted from the obligation of tzitzit?" Moshe answered him: "It is subject to the laws of tzitzit." Korach retorted: "A cloak that is entirely composed of blue cannot free itself from the obligation, yet the four blue threads do free it!" "If," he asked again, "a house is full of Scriptural books, what is the law as regards its being exempt from the obligation of mezuza?" He answered him: "It is under obligation of having a mezuza." "The whole Torah," he argued, "which contains two hundred and seventy-five sections, cannot exempt the house, yet the one section in the mezuza exempts it!" (Bamidbar Rabba 18:3)[4]

The midrash seems to be describing Korach's fundamental argument: The people of Israel are comparable to a cloak that is entirely blue, and therefore should not require tzitzit! The answer, however, is that even a cloak that is entirely blue requires tzitzit.

Rav Kook draws a connection between Korach's fallacy and the contemporary arguments regarding the equality of nations:

The call going out to all the nations who are immersed in all the filth of uncleanness, in all the depths of wickedness and ignorance, in the most frightening abysses of darkness: "You are all holy, you are all children of God, there are no differences between peoples, there is no holy and chosen people, every person is equally holy" - this is the Korach-element of man, the new Kayin-element from which man suffers. (Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Orot, pp. 32-33)

Rav Kook emphasizes here not the genetic difference between Israel and the nations, but the difference between them in culture and spiritual level. He connects the call for absolute equality not only to Korach, but also to Kayin, who wished to rise to Hevel's level without investing hard work and effecting a significant change in his personality. The Torah rejects such an approach.

The Torah describes a social structure that is not marked by absolute equality. We argued above that Chazal's glorification of Torah scholars reflects their understanding that the kohanim are not endowed with any inborn genetic superiority over the rest of the Jewish people. That very glorification, however, reflects the social superiority of the Torah scholar over the ignoramus! Chazal recognized this advantage, but tried to minimize it:

A pearl in the mouth of the mouths of the Rabbis of Yavne: I am a creature, and my [unlearned] friend is a creature. My work is in the city and his work is in the field. I rise early to my work and he rises early to his work. Just as he does not distinguish himself by doing my work, so I do not distinguish myself by doing his work. And perhaps you will say: I am able to study extensively, whereas he would only be able to study minimally. We have learned: "Both the one who does much and the one who does a little [are equally rewarded], provided that each directs his heart toward Heaven. (Berakhot 17a)

Before concluding this section, let us cite another passage written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. In a recently discovered letter, Rabbi Halevi perceives the world as hierarchical in all areas:

Not every living thing is human

And not every human being is a Jew

And not every Jew is a kohen

And not every kohen is Moshe or Aharon

And not every place is Canaan

And not all of Canaan is a gate to heaven

And not all gates to heaven are Jerusalem

And not all days are fixed times

And not all fixed times are Sabbaths And not all Sabbaths are Yom Kippur

And not all divine service involves offerings

And not all offerings are whole-burnt offerings

And not every whole-burnt offering is brought inside.

(Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, Shalem VII, p. 44)

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi wrote this letter in order to explain his intention to emigrate to Eretz Israel.

what next?

There is no question that our era is characterized by a total adoption of the idea of equality. The general consensus is in favor of equality for women, blacks, homosexuals, and ethnic or racial minorities. Some suggest that the next step will be a demand for equality for children:

As long as children were perceived as objects lacking the right to choose, it was possible to justify the educational system's attitude to its target audience, one that is based on coercion and finds expression in the Law of Compulsory Education. Today changes are taking place in the social and legal status of children... The circle of those benefiting from the protection of these principles is expanding, so that today it includes as self-evident women and ethnic and racial minorities. In the last generation, its application has expanded further, so that it has begun to include sexual minorities and children as well... The paternalistic attitude that was accepted in the previous century, placing primary emphasis on the welfare rights of children at the cost of their rights to choose and their political rights, has gradually been abandoned in favor of an attitude that sees children as people with the right to choose. (Roni Aviram, in "Chinukh be-Idan ha-Postmodernit," p. 111)

In this context, it is important to keep in mind the instructive words of the Admor of Piaseczna, who saw great potential harm in the blurring of the hierarchy of adults and children:

Why in previous generations was every type of education effective, the students of every teacher and the sons of every father, almost every one of them becoming [faithful] servants of God, which is not the case now? The primary and simple answer is that our youths have begun to consider themselves adults before their time... This folly has caused our youths to regard themselves as adults in knowledge and will, when their knowledge is still upside-down and their will unripe and bitter... This has become so widespread that we are sometimes astonished to see really small children, in whom independent spirit and false courage have sprouted forth so that they regard themselves as adults. (Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapiro, Chovat ha-Talmidim, pp. 15-16)

Judaism has established a graded social structure. Even if our Sages attempted to temper the differences and contrasts between the various classes, in no way whatsoever did they call for a totally classless society. There is no reason for us to align ourselves with the prevalent mood and automatically support sweeping social equality.

[Note: This lecture does not deal with the status of women. One of our future lectures will be devoted to this issue.]

FOOTNOTES

[1] I.e., at the time of the exodus from Egypt.

[2] Nor is a special social-educational background necessary. We shall deal this issue below.

[3] This appears to have been a popular song against the noble priestly houses, which was adopted by Chazal.

[4] Based on Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 10. There another argument is cited, one that does not fit in with our explanation: If a person has a spot of leprosy the size of a barley grain, he is ritually unclean, but if the leprosy spreads over his entire body, he is ritually clean.

(Translated by David Strauss)