Yesterday I blogged about our need, as a community, to confront the darker corners of our textual tradition. I worried that if we don’t study and address Judaism’s “racist and anti-social” texts, we risk the possibility of them being embraced and invoked.
Dig around online and you’ll find several articles posted by white supremacist and extreme Muslim groups “exposing” the “racist” teachings of the Talmud. In fact, the Talmud has a particularly bad reputation amongst those less inclined to view Jews favorably. (The article most disseminated, is “The Truth About the Talmud“.)
Many people will say that we have no obligation to respond to lunatic anti-Semites, but I’m not so sure that these texts and traditions are irrelevant. Though my modern orthodox education wasn’t explicitly racist, there is no doubt that non-Jews were implicitly looked down upon; and other religious traditions were, indeed, at times, explicitly mocked. I believe that these teachings eventually do have practical ramifications.
Noah Feldman has gotten much slack for mentioning Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir in his article about modern orthodoxy, but coming from a similar educational background as Noah, I totally understood why he believed they were relevant. It is not coincidental that Goldstein carried out his massacre on Purim, where there is a tradition of invoking violence against Amalek.
So now I’ve talked a big game and said we need to start figuring out what to do with these texts. So what do we do? Well, let’s start by identifying some. I’ll start with one today, and then when I’m back from a brief vacation next week, hopefully, continue with some more.
Difficult text #1 might be random, but it was the first one that made me really internalize the issue at hand, a teaching of Maimonides mentioned in Israel Shahak’s Jewish History, Jewish Religion. Shahak, an anti-Zionist, Israeli Holocaust survivor, who passed away a few years ago, is a good source for these texts. His work, much of which claims that anti-Gentile traditions are part and parcel of Zionism, is well known in the Arab world and amongst those in the international left.