Rabbi Ian Silverman, East Northport Jewish Center:
If tolerance is defined as permissive, patient and broad-minded in regard to other faiths, then I think that tolerance is enough. If tolerance is defined as grudging acceptance, then I think that it is insufficient. On the other hand, if tolerance is defined as open-mindedness to the point of giving every interpretation of a religion a free pass, I think that can be irresponsible tolerance, something akin to political correctness gone wild. Loving one's neighbor is important, and that love ought to extend to their religious beliefs if they don't preclude the legitimacy of others. All of us who adhere to the U.S. Constitution are required to give everyone the right of religious belief and practice. But that doesn't mean we ought to tolerate chauvinism, extremist ideologies and violent expressions that stem from such interpretations of religion. Tolerance ought to include beyond grudging acceptance, an openness that there are many paths to spirituality and to God. But it's tolerance run amok that sanctions "anything goes."
I think the problem with being "tolerant" of one another is in the word itself. Most look at being tolerant as a good thing. But the word doesn't support that. The word "tolerate" has two main meanings, (1) to allow the existence, presence, practice or act of [something] without prohibition or hindrance; permit, and (2) to endure without repugnance; put up with. To allow or permit? To endure? To put up with? Sorry, I don't sense warmth here. When most people "tolerate" something, they are simply putting up with it but their attitude of disdain is still evident. Harmony is seldom created by two people who are "tolerating" one another. Instead of being "tolerant," I believe we need to "embrace" one another. As a musician, I know that for harmony to occur, you have to sing your notes, and I have to sing "different" notes (otherwise, it's not harmony but unison).
"Tolerance," as a model for treating those of different beliefs or practices - or appearances or abilities or politics or what-have-you - has shown itself to be sorely insufficient through the decades. Tolerance means, essentially, "endurance." We might tolerate loud noises, or bad behavior. We might tolerate insults. We tolerate what offends us, what we essentially disapprove of. Tolerance will not get us to a peaceful, pluralistic community, nation or world. What is needed is respect. Mutual respect grounded in humility and genuine curiosity. Throughout our communities and around the globe, from the workplace to the projects to Palestine, the absence of respect has fueled resentment and conflict, and impoverished our interactions. We all feel that we are on the outside of something. Someone or some group doesn't get us or see our basic human dignity. This hunger for respect shapes our lives and directs the course of history. If we look at the ways in which our own actions fail to give the gift of respect to our fellow sojourners here on Earth, we hold the key to making ourselves more humane.
To be tolerant means to hold back your destructive impulse, whether it be of words or deeds. For the good of the society and some of the people in it, therefore, toleration is an improvement over doing damage or waging war. However, from the point of view of spiritual growth and goals, most world religions aim beyond the constraint of destructive impulses to an active embodiment of compassion and the promotion of harmony as a creative manifestation of divine joy in all of life. As such, respect for and an active interest in diversity and the appreciation of the variety of human cultures are essential to spiritual aspiration. Whereas toleration is called for most especially in the face of people who act, look, think, believe or speak differently from "us," spiritual maturity compels us to step outside the comfort of our worlds to see what can be learned from those who are different from us that may enrich the common life of our world community.