The Jerusalem Post published my new article “Comment: Is Judaism Racism?“
Through their unity or lack thereof, the Jews determine whether hatred or love of others will prevail the world over, and the world relates to them accordingly.
Just recently,Thomas Lopez-Pierre, who is bidding for a seat in the NYC council, said, “Greedy Jewish Landlords are at the forefront of ethnic cleansing/pushing Black/Hispanic tenants out of their apartments.” Zionism has already been accused of racism, but today we are seeing the argument that Jews favor only their coreligionists gaining more and more turf.
It makes sense to think of Judaism as a racist religion. After all, we are regarded as “a people who dwells apart, and will not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). Throughout the ages, we have been defined as “the chosen people,” “a light unto nations,” and other depictions that set us apart from the rest of humanity. But is Judaism itself racist? Does it aspire to subordinate other nations? Does it demand to convert non-Jews to Judaism? Does Judaism assert that being Jewish grants prerogatives that are not to be given to people of other faiths?
As we will see, the truth is to the contrary. Judaism means more commitment and more demands from its own adherents, and not from anyone else. Instead of requiring the subjugation of others, it requires the commitment of Jews to serve humanity.
Unity that Matches Enmity
Throughout the ages, numerous scholars and people of faith have wondered about the meaning and purpose of Judaism. Cambridge historian T.R. Glover wrote in The Ancient World: “No ancient people have had a stranger history than the Jews. …The history of no ancient people should be so valuable, if we could only recover it and understand it. …Stranger still, the ancient religion of the Jews survives when all the religions of every ancient race have disappeared … Also, it is strange that the living religions of the world all build on religious ideas derived from the Jews. The great matter is not ‘What happened?’ but ‘Why did it happen?’ ‘Why does Judaism live?’”
To understand Judaism, we must go back to its beginning, and connect it to its final purpose. Some 3,800 years ago in the area known as the Fertile Crescent, humanity was taking its baby steps toward becoming a civilization. At that time, Babylon was the ruling empire and governed the lush lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Even then, problems began to appear. People’s vanity began to take its toll as the Babylonian Empire and its king, Nimrod, tried to build a tower “whose top will reach into heaven” because they wanted to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). But instead of a tower, writes the book Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 24), the builders grew so hostile that they “wanted to speak to one another but did not know each other’s language. What did they do? Each took up his sword and they fought each other to the death. Indeed, half the world was slaughtered there, and from there they scattered all over the world.”
To counter the Babylonians’ enmity toward each other, the Patriarch Abraham realized that they must cultivate a matching measure of connection and unity. He understood that in creation, everything is united, and the apparent contradictions actually complement one another and form a perfect whole. Abraham also realized that if the Babylonians knew about nature’s wholeness they, would stop hating other people and would, instead, cherish the diversity and benefit from it.
Immediately after his revelation, Abraham began to circulate his concept, or as Maimonides describes it in Mishneh Torah (Chapter 1), “He began to provide answers to the people of Ur of the Chaldeans [Abraham’s city in Babylon], to converse with them and to tell them that the path on which they were walking was not the path of truth.”
Even though King Nimrod confronted Abraham and demanded that he would stop circulating his ideas, Abraham insisted on continuing until finally Nimrod expelled Abraham from Babylon. As the expat wandered toward what was to become the Land of Israel, writes Maimonides in Mishneh Torah (Chapter 1), “Thousands and tens of thousands assembled around him. He planted this tenet [of unity] in their hearts, composed books about it, and taught his son, Isaac. And Isaac sat and taught and warned, and informed Jacob, and appointed him a teacher, to sit and teach… And Jacob our Father taught all his sons.”
These three patriarchs of Judaism gave it its essence: Unity is the remedy for hatred. When hatred increases, do not push it under the carpet, but acknowledge it and nurture unity to match it. In the succinct words of King Solomon (Proverbs 10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
It follows that Judaism does not derive from geographical or biological affinity, but rather from an ideological perception that unity is the key to solving every problem. The Hebrew word Yehudi [Jew] comes from the word yihudi [united], writes the book Yaarot Devash (Part 2, Drush no. 2). In other words, the only criterion by which one can become Jewish is one’s acceptance of the principle that love must cover all crimes, and unity must be the basis of all human relations. The myriads who joined Abraham came from all over the Fertile Crescent and the Near and Middle East, and they were all welcome as long as they followed the law of unity.
The Antisemites’ Keen Perception
The Hebrews suffered just like everyone else from the intensification of the ego. The only difference between them and the rest of the nations was that they had decided not to fight each other when hostility increased among them, but rather to increase the love between them. While our ancestors often succumbed to fierce and often violent internal conflicts, in the end, they always remembered what they must do and how to achieve peace. This is why The Book of Zohar writes (Beshalach), “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love.”
When we achieved a sufficient level of unity, we became a nation and were immediately commanded to be “a light unto nations,” to convey what Abraham had wanted to convey to the Babylonians in the first place. The great kabbalist Ramchal wrote that like Abraham, both Noah and Moses wanted to complete the correction of the world in their respective times, but circumstances prevented this from them. In Adir Bamarom (Mighty One on High), Ramchal wrote, “Noah was created to correct the world in the state that it was at that time. At that time there were already the nations, and they will also receive correction from him.” In The Ramchal Commentary on the Torah, the sage writes about Moses: “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. …However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.”
The nations, too, recognized our unique role as bearers of redemption, though very few connected redemption with unity. It was actually the most satanic detractor of Judaism in history, Adolf Hitler, who was among those who did connect Judaism with unity. In his hate-filled composition, Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote both about the unique fate of the Jews and about the importance of their unity. “When over long periods of human history I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there arose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable Destiny, perhaps for reasons unknown to us poor mortals, did not, with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation.” Concerning Jewish unity or lack thereof, Hitler wrote, “The Jew is only united when a common danger forces him to be or a common booty entices him; if these two grounds are lacking, the qualities of the crassest egoism come into their own.”
Another notorious antisemite who observed the unique quality of the ancient Jewish society was Henry Ford. In The International Jew—the World’s Foremost Problem, Ford wrote, “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.” Ford wanted to take an example from the Jews, but since they are apart, he resorted to their ancestors, the “early Jews.”
Since the ruin of the Second Temple due to hatred, the Jews have been immersed in hatred. They have forgotten the principle that love covers all crimes and let hatred govern their hearts. But since they are intended to be “a light unto nations,” the world blames them for every act of hatred that unfolds anywhere in the world. Jews may not know that they have the key to ending hatred, but the world senses it and demands this of them.
The greatest commentator on The Book of Zohar in the 20th century, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, wrote in the essay “Mutual Guarantee”: “The Israeli nation had been constructed as a sort of gateway by which sparks of love of others would shine upon the whole of the human race the world over.”
Rav Hillel Zeitlin also stressed the importance of Jewish unity for the correction of the world. In Sifran Shel Yehidim he wrote, “If Israel is the one true redeemer of the entire world, it must be qualified for this redemption. Israel must first redeem their souls. …But when will this world salvation come? Is it now that this nation is immersed in bickering, fighting, and unfounded hatred? Therefore, in this book, I am appealing to establish the unity of Israel. …If this is established, there will be a unification of individuals for the purpose of elevation and correction of all the ills of the nation and the world.”
One of the criteria to determine whether a person is antisemitic is “double standard.” That is, people are tested as to whether they judge Jews and Israel differently from everyone else. If we are to be honest, we should admit that everyone, even Jews, judge Israel and Jews differently from all other nations. This “double standard” is written in the scriptures, and every person in the world feels that Jews are different.
Jews are different but they are not racists, since authentic Judaism dictates that anyone who subscribes to the idea of unity above hatred is regarded as Jewish. Yet, Jews are definitely unique.
Currently, because Jews are not “a light unto nations,” meaning they are not spreading the light of unity, the world hates them. If the Jews return to being what they were when they became a nation after committing to unite “as one man with one heart,” the world will view them as the most valuable nation on the planet. Through their unity or separation, the Jews determine whether hatred or love of others will prevail the world over, and the world relates to them accordingly.
No other text sums up this message as clearly as this excerpt from The Book of Zohar. In the portion Aharei Mot, the book writes, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together. These are the friends as they sit together, at first they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another. Then, they return to being in brotherly love. Henceforth, you will also not part … and by your merit there will be peace in the world.” Let us do what we must do.