Respect for the Dignity of Others
Two weeks ago, I told the story of a father of a close friend who refused to sell a valuable diamond once he found that it was to be set in a wedding ring for an intermarriage.
A few days later, I came across an essay in First Things by Maureen Mullarkey, describing her feelings upon being told by a Jewish jewelry store owner that he would not sell her a particular wedding ring. The reminiscence was triggered by the author’s realization that in today’s more contentious climate she could have protested the denial with “accusations of anti-Christian bigotry,” and likely have had a legal case against the store owner.
Such a reaction, however, never occurred to her or her fiancé, and her description of why serves as a model of respect for the religious beliefs of others.
Mullarkey describes how she and her fiancé went searching for wedding rings in New York City’s diamond district. They found exactly what they were looking for in the showcase of an older jeweler, his forearm tattooed with his identification number from a concentration camp. Her eyes were drawn to simple bands embossed with phrases from Tanach in Hebrew letters. She chose Ruth’s words to Naomi, “. . . wither thou goest. . .” for her ring. She ached to claim the “stirring statement of friendship . . . for myself and wear it for the rest of my life.”
The jeweler asked them whether they were Jewish or in the process of converting to Judaism. Told that they were not, he refused to sell them a ring with that Biblical phrase.
Mullarkey understood why. The passage from which the words she chose are taken concludes, “thy people shall be my people and thy G-d my G-d.” The words she had selected, she writes, were not just about friendship. “The story of Ruth is one of conversion that affirms the Jewish nation. It testifies to peoplehood.”
The intensity of the store owner’s “concern to honor the sacred core of the text” moved the young couple. They perceived the “grace in his refusal,” and why he could not grant them the words they craved. For had he done so, “he would have violated the grandeur of them. Ruth’s commitment was not simply to another person but to a covenanted community bound together since the call of Abraham.”
They recognized the jeweler’s moral right not to sell to them. More, they felt themselves in the presence of one of those borders – between Jew and gentile – without which a nation cannot survive nor a culture endure. “That day in the Diamond Exchange we stumbled against the very wall a man had clung to in the camps. It was the same one that had kept Jewry from disappearing centuries before modern nation states existed.”