A fascinating debate took place on Thursday on Swedish TV: May one live in Sweden and not shake hands with women/men? And…is there really religious freedom in Sweden?
Rabbi Alexander and Leah Namdar were invited for the Jewish perspective on the subject. Others on the debate were the Imam of Sweden, lawyers, authors and politicians.
The debate was intense, with members of the invited audience becoming heatedly involved, both for and against religious freedom. Rabbi Namdar diffused some of the tension by proclaiming that in Sweden, a country of religious freedom, all people should be free to practice their religion, as long as doing so does not harm anyone else. He also said that respect for others can be conveyed in other ways than a handshake. The host of the evening offered his hand to Leah Namdar during the show. She promptly produced a notebook and said, “I’ll take your autograph instead.” This produced laughter and applause.
Jewish viewers of the show were enthusiastic about the event. One woman said, “there is too much racism in Sweden.” Others expressed pride at being represented, and felt that the response was “good for the Jews,” “the funniest on the program,” and “beautifully spoken, Rabbi!”
The host of the debate, Jarl Josefsson, announced that 50% of the Swedish population say that Moslem women should not wear head coverings and 80% believe that all who live here ought to assimilate into the culture of the country.
The program was a positive breakthrough for religious freedom.
The Imam of Sweden spent about twenty minutes before the program in friendly conversation with the Namdars, who told him that by divine providence, the Torah portion of the week spoke about the birth of Yishmael. They discussed together their common belief in one G-d and respect for tradition.