• What do the sources tell us about being an individual vs being a member of a community?
  • What does mutual responsibility have to do with responsibility to Jewish community specifically?
  • How does the mere existence of Jewish community provide a sense of belonging to its individuals?


שכל ישראל ערבים זה בזה

The entire Jewish people are considered guarantors for one another. Apparently, any transgression makes the entire world liable to be punished.


  • What is the difference (and what are similarities) between being accountable TO someone vs. being accountable FOR someone?
  • What does it mean to be accountable to others in the Jewish community? How does this play out in your life?

(יד) הוּא [הלל] הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:

(14) He [also] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?


  • What are the dangers of only being for oneself and not for others?
  • How can we both be for ourselves and yet also for other people? Give an example of this from your own experience.

כל ברכות המצות אף על פי שיצא מוציא שאף על פי שהמצות מוטלות על כל אחד הרי כל ישראל ערבין זה לזה וכולם כגוף אחד וכערב הפורע חוב חבירו

All blessings over commandments, even though one already fulfilled the obligation, he may still fulfill another’s obligation. For even though the commandments are placed on each individual, behold all Jews are guarantors for one another, and they are all as a single body, and as a guarantor who repays his friend’s obligation.


  • What are examples of the commandments/obligations that someone else might be able to fulfill for someone else?
  • How do these sources (1-3) help define what it means to be in community together?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • Do you think if one Jew makes a commitment s/he can’t fulfill then it is incumbent on the others in a Jewish community to fulfill that obligation (guarantors for one another)? Why or why not?

(יא) הַפּוֹרֵשׁ מִדַּרְכֵי צִבּוּר אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא עָבַר עֲבֵרוֹת אֶלָּא נִבְדָּל מֵעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה מִצְוֹת בִּכְלָלָן וְלֹא נִכְנָס בְּצָרָתָן וְלֹא מִתְעַנֶּה בְּתַעֲנִיתָן אֶלָּא הוֹלֵךְ בְּדַרְכּוֹ כְּאֶחָד מִגּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ וּכְאִלּוּ אֵינוֹ מֵהֶן אֵין לוֹ חֵלֶק לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא.

(11) One who secedes from the paths of the congregation, although he committed no transgressions, but remains separated from the congregation of Israel, observes no commandments together with them, does not include himself in their troubles, nor afflicts himself on their fast-days, but follows his own path as the rest of the people of the land, acting as if he was not one of them, he has no share in the World to Come.


  • In what ways do people separate from the community? Why does this happen?
  • Are there communities you were once a part of that you are no longer a part of? Why did that happen?
  • This text indicates that even if someone strictly adheres to Jewish law but does so in isolation, they no longer have a place in the World to Come. Why would he say this?
  • What are examples of "troubles" in our modern Jewish community?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • If a Jewish person ignores challenges/distresses of the Jewish community – turns his/her head, doesn’t speak up – do you believe they should be outcast from the Jewish community? Why or why not?
ותניא כל עיר שאין בה עשרה דברים הללו אין תלמיד חכם רשאי לדור בתוכה בית דין מכין ועונשין וקופה של צדקה נגבית בשנים ומתחלקת בשלשה ובית הכנסת ובית המרחץ וביהכ"ס רופא ואומן ולבלר (וטבח) ומלמד תינוקות משום ר' עקיבא אמרו אף מיני פירא מפני שמיני פירא מאירין את העינים:
And it is taught in a baraita: A Torah scholar is not permitted to reside in any city that does not have these ten things: A court that has the authority to flog and punish transgressors; and a charity fund for which monies are collected by two people and distributed by three, as required by halakha. This leads to a requirement for another three people in the city. And a synagogue; and a bathhouse; and a public bathroom; a doctor; and a bloodletter; and a scribe [velavlar] to write sacred scrolls and necessary documents; and a ritual slaughterer; and a teacher of young children. With these additional requirements there are a minimum of 120 men who must be residents of the city. They said in the name of Rabbi Akiva: The city must also have varieties of fruit, because varieties of fruit illuminate the eyes.


  • Why would the text give a strict prescription about what needs to be in a city in order for a sage (scholar) to live there?
  • How do these 10 things help a community? hold it together? define community values?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • If you were going to rank the 10 things a city needs to have to be able to sustain a Jewish community, how would you rank these 10 things?


Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Orot, p. 144 (1920)

The relationship between the Jewish people and its individual members is different than the relationship between any other national group and its constituents. All other national groups only bestow upon their individual members the external aspect of their essence. But the essence itself each person draws from the all-inclusive soul, from the soul of God, without the intermediation of the group... This is not the case regarding Israel. The soul of the individuals is drawn from ... the community, the community bestowing a soul upon the individual's. One who considers severing himself from the people must sever his soul from the source of its vitality. Therefore each individual Jew is greatly in need of the community. He will always offer his life so that he should not be torn from the people, because his soul and self-perfection require that of him.


  • What are some other (non-Jewish) “national groups” that you can think of? Who comprises its “constituents”?
  • Kook talks about “external aspects of their essence” – what does that mean?
  • What are examples of the “soul of a Jew” being drawn from (or impacted by) the community?
  • What does it mean to sever oneself from the community? and therefore severing one’s soul from the community?
  • In what ways do we “offer our lives” to the community in order to be connected to it?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, On Repentance, p. 114 (1980)

Judaism has always viewed man from this dual perspective. It sees every person as an independent individual and also as part of a community, a limb of the body of Israel.


  • Soloveitchik makes a metaphor that each Jew is a limb of the “body of Israel.” How might this play out in our world today?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, "Bo (5768/2008): The Covenant of Fate"

[A] Jew who does not say “You” when Jews or Israel are under attack, but “Me,” has made a fundamental affirmation – to be part of a people, sharing in its responsibilities, identifying with its hopes and fears, celebrations and griefs. That is the covenant of fate and it still summons us today.


  • When Sacks says that someone who says “You” when referring to the Jewish people vs “Me” – how are these two things different?
  • Consider the Jewish community: what celebrations, griefs, hopes and fears to you share as a result of being a part of this community?
  • What is a “covenant of fate”?

Challenges to Grapple With:

  • These three texts all point to the way that the individual Jew and the collective Jewish community intersect. Do you think it’s possible to be an individual Jew, separate from the community, and still be a committed Jew (on any level of observance)? Why or why not?


    אמר רבא היינו דאמרי אינשי או חברותא או מיתותא

    Rava said: This explains the folk saying that people say: Either friendship or death, as one who has no friends is better off dead.