In our day and age, the terms "tolerance" and "acceptance" have become interchangeable. This is a terrible development because it has led to different groups imposing their way of life on others under the guise of tolerance. Here is the basic difference that has been lost:
Tolerance - the capacity to disagree with someone or something, but put up with it anyway
Acceptance - the act of approving someone or something
While we must be able to tolerate those who differ with us, it doesn't mean we have to accept their opinions or way of life. The only exception to this is when it comes to basic ethical standards. For example, tolerating murder, theft, or physical abuse will lead to the moral dissolution of society. However, we have to allow others the freedom to form their own views on the more subjective areas of life. Overall, tolerance is a virtue - and perhaps the most difficult to inculcate.
The Hebrew word for tolerance is sovlanut, which is derived from the word sevel, meaning to suffer. Since Hebrew is known as Lashon Hakodesh, the holiest of languages, the words have deeper meaning. In this case, the message is pretty straightforward: we must be able to endure a certain amount of discomfort in order to tolerate views with which we disagree. There is a similar Hebrew word, savlanut, which means patience. This may be providing us with another suggestion: we must be patient when dealing with people whose views we believe are wrong.
A rather trivial example of how we can put this into practice comes by way of how we each pronounce Hebrew. Those who use the Asheknazi custom will pronounce the Hebrew word for Sabbath as Shabbos, while those who use the Sephardi custom will pronounce the same word as Shabbat. Although you might personally believe that only one variation is correct, this would be a classic case of where we must tolerate those who hold a different view.
On a more serious note, there are some very significant political stories unfolding. Just recently, Helen Thomas decided to retire after being caught on video making blatantly anti-Semitic comments. In case you have been under a rock the past few days, here's the video:
Apparently, she would rather force everyone to accept Arabs living in "Palestine" than tolerate any Jews living in their biblical homeland of Israel. The implication, of course, is that we should all go back to the ovens. In response, both Lanny Davis (a liberal, and former White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton) and Ari Fleischer (a conservative, and former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush) were united in strong opposition to the anti-Semitic sentiments of Thomas. Unfortunately, this provides a case in point that if we don't unite under our own volition, we will be forced to do so by those who wish us ill. Let's hope and pray we only have to deal with more verbal attacks - not terrorist attacks.