Originally published in 1971.
Judaism is the only religion which has a festival to celebrate freedom. But the freedom which the Children of Israel achieved with their departure from Egypt was liberty for the group. Liberty for the Individual is of comparatively recent growth, and its great champions, like Milton, Spinoza, Locke and John Stuart Mill, were all post-medieval men.
The Jew, therefore, can find little direct guidance from his tradition on the problems of personal freedom, what the line is between freedom and licence and what his attitude should be towards the new extension of freedom into permissiveness. But there are none the less some guidelines provided by accepted Jewish principles. Prominent among these principles is that of the dignity of the individual.
In the famous rabbinic homily, Adam is created as a single Individual because each human being is a whole world. Each person has a fraction of the divine spark which only he can reveal. This gives rise to the belief, fundamental to Judaism that the individual is free to choose. What he does can be of value only if it is the result of freedom of choice and individual integrity. On the other hand, society must protect itself by restricting the freedom of the criminal and also has a duty to protect the individual from the harm he can cause to himself. But what of the undesirable things found so frequently today in books, the cinema, the theatre and on television? How far ought Jews, in obedience to their religion, to press for restrictions of freedom in this area? Superficially, there is much to be said for censorship, but the question is, who are to be the censors? There are no means of controlling the controllers and there will always be found people who, given power, will believe they know better than we ourselves what is really good for us.
Jews have suffered enough from censorship in the past to make them extremely suspicious of claims that it should be exercised more heavily now. Here surely is a case of the cure being far worse than the disease. But there is a disease. The devout Jew cannot maintain that it does not matter what he reads, which films he sees what he does with his life. He has a right and a duty to recognise obscenity for what it is and to reject immoral conduct in the strongest possible way for himself. It is when he is led to seek to suppress these things for others who do not share his beliefs that he is in danger of acting as an inquisitor.
No way has been discovered in a democratic society of limiting individual freedom in cases where no clear and obvious harm either to a person himself or to others can be established, without at the same time destroying something that is fundamental to the rights of the individual. At this festival of freedom we are reminded how difficult it is for man to be hard on himself and yet be tolerant of others. In the kind of society in which we live, nothing less is demanded.