Jews & Racism

An Orthodox Jewish friend says to me: “We’re not racists. We’re bigots. We prefer people who are part of Judaism to those outside of it.”

Luke: “But if Jews are a race, which was how Jews were referred to a hundred years ago, the Jewish race, then Jews when they prefer other Jews are racist.”

“No great rabbi has ever written a book against racism. There are no laws against racism in Judaism.”

Friend: “Somebody of any race can become Jewish. A black man converts to Orthodox Judaism and he is one of us, no questions asked. So if anyone of any race can become Jewish and accepted as one of us, then Judaism is against racism.”

That’s a strong argument on the surface, but it is more complicated than that. Fewer than 2000 people a year convert to Orthodox Judaism in America (and probably fewer than 5000 a year worldwide). Of those converts, probably half give it up within a decade, and at least half of the remainder are on the fringe of Jewish life. Converts are low status in Jewish life until they prove themselves. Traditional Jews are not going to want their children marrying converts.

In short, converts are an insignificant part of Jewish life. It is possible to convert to Orthodox Judaism, it is far from a formidable process on paper, but in effect, it is hard and few people can pull it off.

By allowing a conversion process, Jews win arguments by saying anyone can become Jewish.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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