Biblical Affirmative Action: Noah As A Product Of His Generation

The talmudic discussion of Noah's righteousness sheds light on our understanding of affirmative action.

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Your Midrash Navigator

1. What ambiguity of the verse in Genesis is the Midrash coming to explain?
2. How does each Rabbi interpret the verse differently?
3. According to each Rabbi's interpretation how do we look at the individual in relation to the environment that he/she comes from? Do we judge people based totally on their own merits in isolation or do we take into account the environment that one comes from?
4. What do the metaphors used to describe the position of each Rabbi tell us about their outlook? What do they tell us about how each one views Noah in relation to his generation?
5. If you were Rabbi Yehudah, and the dean of admissions at the university that Larry is applying to, then would you accept him? What if you were Rabbi Nehemiah? Why? Would it make a difference if you were a Democrat or a Republican?

A Word

Often affirmative action is framed as redress for wrongs done to minorities in the past. The lack of fairness and discrimination in the workplace demand that favor be shown to minorities for university admissions.

The rabbis frame it differently, at least Rabbi Nehemiah does. He would say that if a person could make it to school each day and slug out a "B" average even though he came to school hungry, if he passed an abandoned home being used as a "crack house" each day on his way to school, then he deserves a place at the table of the finest institutions in America on merit! How many of those sitting at our august institutions would have fared that well under those circumstances? That is the question and that is how our talmudists would have framed the discussion.

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Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.

Rabbi Ilan Haber is the director of Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), a college campus Orthodox outreach program sponsored by the Orthodox Union in collaboration with Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and Torah MiTzion - Religious Zionist Kollels. He was previously the Orthodox Rabbinic Advisor at Yale University.