A Helpful Reminder of Kavod Habriyut

Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) is our yearly reminder of the Jewish concept of kavod habriyut. Kavod habriyut is the value of unqualified universal respect that applies to all human beings, whether young or old, sick or healthy, tzadik (righteous person) or rasha (criminal), independent of social status, identity or context. Related to that idea is the Jewish value — and our mental health value — of all human beings being created in the image of God, b’tzelem Elohim. As such, they are born with divine value.

Every February, JDAIM seeks to unite Jewish communities worldwide to raise awareness and to champion the rights of all Jews to be accepted and included in all aspects of Jewish and community life like anyone else. Kavod habriyut is first referenced in Ethics of the Fathers.

Ben Zoma says:‎ Who is honored (mechubad)? He who honors (mechabed) others (habriyot), as it is said: 'For those who honor Me (God) I will honor, and those who scorn Me shall be degraded' (Samuel I 2:30).

For some, this value even supersedes the values of legal prohibitions.

Come and hear: Great is human dignity, as it overrides a prohibition in the Torah.

People who aren’t born with the challenges of living with a disability can lose sight of those members of our communities or, even worse, consider those individuals as less important than themselves. Jewish tradition anticipates this aspect of the human experience, seeks to establish the concept of equality among all peoples and encourages us to see ourselves as equal. Once again, we find this in the Ethics of Our Fathers.

Rabbi Mattia ben Charash says: Be the first to greet every person, and be a tail to lions, and do not be a head to foxes.

The Derekh Chayim, a commentary on the Ethics of the Fathers written by the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel c.1512 – 1609), explains:

This notion of greeting every person first and not waiting until the other greets them…is a matter of humility. This shows that there is no other person who is lower than himself in their eyes, for one for whom others are lower in their eyes will not greet other people unless they greet them first.

This advice is a primary example of what we should be considering all year long and especially this month: What are you doing to ensure every member of your community is heard, supported and included? How can we fully and actively embody the value of kavod habriyut? 

Max Hollander

Max Hollander

Max Hollander (he/him) is the Marketing and Content Manager at the Blue Dove Foundation where he is driven by a desire to help communities create supportive spaces for individuals experiencing mental illness. He focuses his time on content production, resource creation, graphic design, digital communications, social media, and building organizational partnerships. His career so far has led him to opportunities in a wide spectrum of Jewish denominations, working in a variety of mediums.

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