Two concepts of which Torah observant Jews should be aware are acceptance and tolerance. Although they seem to be similar, there is actually a tremendous difference that needs to be appreciated.
Why is this important? As the Gemara in Yoma 86a tells us, Torah observant Jews are God's ambassadors in this world with all the responsibilities that implies. Whatever we do in public, for good or bad, reflects back on our Torah and God Himself. As a result, the need to be upstanding is a constant one, not an easy duty for many. Yet with the potential kiddush HaShem at stake, it is worth the effort.
So what is the difference between acceptance and tolerance?
Tolerance is, put simply, live and let live. It is certainly a meritorious philosophy and one that leads to peace where practised. I may not like what my neighbour is doing, or how he takes care of his garden or celebrates his holidays but I ignore my dislikes and rise above them. I tolerate his differences. And, in a successful neighbourly relationship, he does the same. He knows I don't like his music so he keeps the volume down so as not to bother me. And there is peace between us.
Acceptance goes much deeper. Acceptance, by the very meaning of the word, implies a degree of agreement. Going beyond tolerance, it states that the views and beliefs of my neighbour are correct in my eyes. While in many cases this might not pose a problem - he believes quinoa to be a superior grain, I never eat it so I can accept this in the absence of a competing belief - it just as easily can create conflict.
An interfaith example is the easiest way to illustrate the difference. I cannot accept that Muhammed was a prophet and received messages from God. But as long as he doesn't go all jihad on me, I can tolerate my Muslim neighbour.
Within the complex Jewish community, the difference between tolerance and acceptance is often blurred. Specifically on the left and right sides of our people, the words are quite often used as logical consequences one of the other.
For example, the current politically correct beliefs of secular liberalism go beyond tolerance in seeing acceptance as a superior qualty. It is not enough to tolerate different cultures, for example, but one must accept them as legitimate, as different or odd as they may be.
On the other side of the spectrum, the very religious amongst us often try to show their "frumness" through their intolerance. Why such strong intolerance? Because they also believe tolerance leads to acceptance. If one tolerates behaviour that is against their interpretation of the Torah, one may come to accept it as normative in time. So they bar the gate with intolerance.
Neither philosophy seems to lead to positive Jewish success. Of the futility of the secular liberal open acceptance little needs to be written. As the old saying goes, if you'll believe anything, you'll fall for everything. Today's non-observant Judaism is a mishmash of politcal correctness and humanism devoid of any authentically Jewish values.
But on the other side, the Chareidi community continues to define itself outside of what has been traditionally Jewish thought over the ages. Consider the Talmud which consists of one debate over another, sometimes not leading to a right answer, someones leading to several right answers depending on your perspective. Consider the give and take of halachic discourse over the centuries, the arguments, the idea of separate rules for separate communities,each being correct for that community. Is there anything left of this in today's "You have to do what Daas Torah says because it's Daas Torah" philosophy?
If we wish to appreciate and participate in the deep complexity that is Torah Judaism, we must remember at all times to keep the differences between acceptance and tolerance in mind. On one hand, we must be tolerant of those who differ from us. Not through force, intimidation or sacred self-righteousness shall we convince people to tread on the road of Torah. As Koheles says, the world of the Sages are heard when said quietly. What's more, by tolerating we create peace in the world without compromising our values and present a positive impression in the eys of others as to the nature of Torah Judaism.
At the same time, we must remember that we cannot step beyond tolerance. We can tolerate Jewish driving on Shabbos in this day and age; after all we are not God's policemen. But we cannot accept that driving on Shabbos is ever appropriate behaviour for a Jew.
By combining this lack of acceptance with a demand for tolerance, perhaps we can reach out to our brethren in a more successful way and creat a better Jewish community.