Racist Statements In Torah

DF writes to Marc B. Shapiro: You assert that some things, viz, negative comments about non-Jews or blacks, should be kept out of school. But there are many such statements, about both categories, in rabbinic works down throughout the centuries. Unless one wants to radically redefine the meaning of the word, they are part of Torah. So how is that not censorship? It’s no different than censoring out passages which speak of permissive attitudes towards mingling of the sexes, or countless other things to be documented in your much-anticiapted book. They want to censor in a “conservative” fashion, you want to do so in a “liberal” fashion. Both sides have their reasons. So, how is there any difference between your viewpoint and theirs?

In response to your question, I dont think I was ever taught that blacks are meant to be subjugated. Not that I can remember, anyway. But of course I’ve read of and heard of something similar to that . And who am I to say it’s wrong or right? There’s plenty of such disturbing (to some) viewpoints in Greater Torah and in the Bible itself. (No one will ever be able to explain away Leviticus 27: 3-4, for one simple example.) The same way I dont like censorship from the frum viewpoint, I dont like it from the modernish viewpoint. Obviously I dont think there’s any reason to officially include this point of view in a school’s curriculum, but then again, no one’s ever said it should. It’s never been in any schools’ curriculum. (“Lesson plan for today: First mishna in Elu Metzios; Review for navi bechina; tell students that blacks are meant to be slaves.”) It’s just one out of infinite slices of life in which the Torah has a view. Not saying it should be taught, just saying it should not be consciously excluded. Unless you are afraid of the conclusions to which an honest discussion of the subject may lead, there’s no reason why this concept shouldnt be discussed any more than discussions about whether or not the status of women in modern times has changed. It’s an authentic part of Torah, indeed, much more so, in terms of tradition, than the obscure rishonim frequently brought up in this database age to advocate for one cause or another.

Bottom line is, everyone agrees we need to raise thoughtful, caring Jews. But to achive this goal, if I’m reading right, the charedishe oilam thinks it has to hide some facts, while you think it has to hide others. I favor a libertarian attitude, and say let the student decide for himself.

Marc B. Shapiro responds:

I don’t understand your point DF? There is a difference between prescriptive and descriptive. I think you read it too quickly and didn’t catch the point.

Do you think we should be teaching children that blacks are inferior because maybe there is a rishon or Midrash that says so? In school we try to pass on important values that we believe in. Leter on, when the students are more mature, we can teach them everything when they can appreciate nuance.

And the paragraph you quote from was referring to rebbes telling the students that blacks are inferior or making negative comments about non-Jews. It was about rebbes who teach this as the Torah truth. That is what I meant that this should be kept out of schools. It was not referring to learning about what some people in the past thougth, i.e., historical study, but the expressing of viewpoints as normative which strike us as immoral.

When I speak of racism, I refer to what I heard growing up in school, negative comments about the Schvartzes etc. I think you know what I mean. Haven’t you ever had a rebbe who told you that blacks are supposed to be subjugated because of the curse of Ham? Not exactly a good way to raise thoughtful, caring Jews.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
This entry was posted in Marc B. Shapiro, Race, Yeshiva and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.