On Racism

Last week, I blogged about the Jewish community’s (and particularly the Orthodox community’s) confrontation with residual racism (in light of the Obama victory).

Well, the ever-wise Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has continued this movement with a sensitive and important post over at Cross-Currents.

As always, Rabbi Adlerstein is willing to take a hard and honest look at communal problems: “This was no isolated incident. Frum teachers in our community use racial and ethnic slurs in the classroom; too many rabbonim still use disparaging language – or words like shvartze – thinking that they are harmless within the “inâ€? group.”

But more importantly, Rabbi Adlerstein acknowledges that there are those who believe that racism is, in effect, condoned by Judaism — and he argues forcefully against this possibility.

A third reason can be found in the selective reading and misappropriation of rabbinic texts. Many people “knowâ€? that all non-Jews hate all Jews. Chazal said so. הלכה ×”×™×? בידוע שעשיו שונ×? ×?ת יעקב. Underscoring “halachaâ€? means that this is a fixed, immutable rule.

Just how Esav turned into all non-Jews, rather than just one group of them, is a bit of a mystery. In fact, I have a hard time figuring out how Esav the person turned into Esav the nation. Searching a few Torah databases a few years ago, I could find no source before the end of the 19th century that took Esav to mean a group of people, rather than Esav the biblical figure – who had every reason to hate Yaakov!…

More puzzling is the assumption by some of us that Genesis 9:25, 27 consigns all black people to perpetual servitude. This becomes the basis of looking down upon black people. (MORE)

According to Yeshiva World News, this last notion was cited — after the Obama election — by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, considered by many to be one of the gedolei hador.

Maran Hagon Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita is quoted as having said [on Wednesday] – following the election of Senator Barack Obama as America’s next president, that this is not the first time that a black person was elected to a leadership post, ‘News1′ reports.

Yiddishkeit believes a person with black skin is a descendant of Cham, the son of Noach, upon who it is written “he will serve his brother�. Rav Kanievsky stated in regard to the president-elect that he will be a “servant who rules�, adding there is a historical precedent with King Herod (Hurdus), who was also black. “Herod made Tzaros for Am Yisrael, but he also built the Beis HaMikdosh� stated the Rav. (MORE)

Indeed, Rabbi Adlerstein may be referring to Rabbi Kanievsky in the last paragraph of his article when he writes: “Statements that have been attributed to names in New York and Israel simply elude my comprehension, if there is any truth to them in the first place.”

In any case, Rabbi Adlerstein deserves our admiration for taking on this issue so forcefully and honestly.

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