What is the Practice of Hospitality?


I believe that Judaism is a way of life that revolves around the practice of hospitality.  Cultivating this practice is one of the most authentic ways to embody a Jewish life.  To practice  Jewish hospitality is to imitate both God and exemplary human beings of the past and thus honor it as an ancient and continuous tradition of Jews up to the present.   To practice Jewish hospitality is to enact the teachings of the Torah that enjoin us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to repair our fractured world.


I intentionally use the word practice to describe acting hospitably.  It is not merely a disposition of a friendly or outwardly social person.   It is not merely a business practice to attract customers or to profit by providing travelers with the basic comforts while they are on the road.   Nor is hospitality in our day a mode of welcoming to attract adherents to your faith.   The practice of hospitality I subscribe to is much more than these things.


I came across a website that catalogues spiritual practices of which hospitality is listed.  The site is ecumenical, seeking to cross the boundaries of many religious traditions.


“We are practicing hospitality when we welcome guests — including strangers and enemies — into our lives with graciousness. An open house reveals certain things about us: we are well-disposed toward others, we focus on the positive, and we believe the universe is basically a friendly place. Sometimes hospitality requires that we cross boundaries and dismantle some of the barriers erected in our society to keep “the other” out. Sometimes it means entertaining ideas that might be alien to us.”



Most of us live lives within the confines of our existential cliques, what our computers and smart phones call our FAVS.  Practicing hospitality is an intentional moving beyond our FAVS to welcoming others who do not necessarily travel in our orbits.  Hospitality is a readiness to share our lives with others and to allow others to share their lives with us.  Hospitality is a form of crossing boundaries and entering new worlds.  It carries a certain risk to it and may arouse a fear of the unknown.  To be truly hospitable takes courage and fearlessness.


In Judaism the practice of hospitality is revered but has been historically constrained because Jews themselves were stigmatized as others and outsiders.    It also may be said that Judaism in antiquity saw hospitality as a practice for gathering adherents in its attempt to differentiate itself from what it saw as the immorality of idol worshippers.


The practice of Jewish hospitality needs to be reinterpreted and applied to a new world of increasing diversity and mixing.  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks expresses a new perspective on how we might revive a Jewish hospitality practice:


“There is all the difference in the world between the attempt to impose your faith on others and the willingness to share it with others.  Our faiths are different. Judaism is not Christianity; Christianity is not Islam; the Abrahamic monotheisms are different from Eastern mysticisms on the one hand, scientific humanism on the other. Yet when we bring our respective heritages of wisdom to the public domain, we have no need to wish to convert others. Instead, we are tacitly saying: if this speaks to you, then please take it as our gift.  Indeed, it is yours already, for wisdom (unlike revelation) belongs to us all. The willingness non-coercively to share our several traditions of moral insight is, in a religiously plural culture, an essential part of the democratic conversation, indeed of societal beatitude.”  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World p. 126


My task in the upcoming writings is not only to uphold hospitality as part of the democratic conversation, but more significantly as part of a Jewish religious practice-a mitzvah-central to what it means to be a Jew today.

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