It’s Too Easy To Condemn Modern Orthodox Racism

Gary Rosenblatt, the Modern Orthodox Editor of The Jewish Week in New York writes:

Last Wednesday, the day after the elections, Elliot Prager, the principal of Moriah, a Modern Orthodox day school in Englewood, N.J., was approached by a 9-year-old student in the hallway, who asked him if he was afraid.

“Afraid of what?’ I asked,” Prager recalled the other day. “Afraid of Obama,” the child replied. “My Mommy and Daddy told me that he doesn’t like Jews and is dangerous.”

Prager later said he was “stunned,” but thought it was an isolated incident. As the day wore on, though, he said he heard a number of reports from students and teachers that were also disturbing, suggesting that a mix of racism, strong concern for the welfare of Israel and misguided parenting had combined to make students fearful.

“Some students who voted for [Sen. Barack] Obama in our mock election were intimidated to tears,” he recalled.

Prager took the unusual step of writing a lengthy letter to the parent body of the school, which has 967 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. He called his e-mail: “Student Responses to the Election: Profound Shock and Dismay.”

Prager wrote that for students in a school that emphasizes ethical values and the religious belief in kavod ha-briot — respect for every human being — to berate classmates for voting in mock elections “for a black man” was deeply disappointing.

“I cannot help but wonder if our concerns about prejudice and racism are valid only when it comes to our own people,” he wrote. “I cannot help but wonder how we are supposed to succeed in our mission of teaching middot [values] when so many children are apparently being exposed to unwarranted distortions of information based not on political biases, but biases which go to the very core of common decency and respect for our fellow human beings.”

There are many serious shortcomings in Modern Orthodoxy but racism is not one of them. Yes, racism is rampant in Orthodox Judaism but it rarely expresses itself in destructive ways. Instead, the right to express prejudice (instinctive pre-judging) is one of the privileges of leading an observant and separate life. Orthodox Judaism imposes many burdens on the adherent but it also gives you vast room to privately express things regarded as shocking and sinful by the wider world.

Orthodox Jews (about 20% in my experience) who talk about "shvartzes" (yiddish word for black) and how they "fear the black man" don’t go out and riot and burn down black homes and commit violent crime against blacks and rape their women. Amongst themselves, they privately blow off steam about an alien culture that seems to lead the way in tearing down everything they hold dear (I mean the astonishing rates of out-of-wedlock births among blacks, it’s about 75%, the hip hop culture, astronomical violent crime, low educational achievement, the complete absence of black doctors if there were no such thing as affirmative action, the constant whining about racism when Jews have overcome such prejudices to achieve great success, the very presence of Jewish success renders "racism" a phony excuse for lack of achievement by blacks).

Gary Rosenblatt concludes: "Nine-year-olds shouldn’t be afraid of Barack Obama, and we should stop and think hard about the messages we send our children."

How does he know nine-year olds shouldn’t fear Barack Obama? Barack Obama has led a life devoid of accomplishment. He has no legacy to judge him by. All we can do is look at his friends and by and large they stink (Reverend White, Gary Rezko, William Ayers).

How come racist support for Obama — support that comes from the color of Obama’s skin, after all the man has accomplished nothing — is wonderful but instinctive racial suspicion of Obama based on his being black is bad?

Obama would not have won the Democratic nomination for president let alone the presidency if he were not black. Only because of racism — positive racism, guilty white desire to vote for a black man — is Obama president.

After 40 years of outspoken public hatred of Jews by a large number of black leaders, Jews rooted in a Jewish way of life aka the Orthodox, have every reason to feel suspicion of Obama solely because of the color of his skin.

Larry Elder, a black talkshow host, wrote April 24, 2002:

Anti-Semitism in America, according to a survey commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, stands at an all-time low. But alarmingly, the survey found blacks three to four times more likely than non-blacks to be anti-Semitic.

Black Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., urges America to rethink its support of Israel. Reverend Jesse Jackson, who once called Jews "Hymie" and New York City "Hymie-town," now demands that George Bush ensure the safety of Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat.

Jackson’s acolyte, Al Sharpton, once referred to Jews as "diamond merchants." In 1991, Sharpton turned the death of a black child in a traffic accident in Brooklyn, involving a Hasidic Jew, into a racial incident. Sharpton led 400 protesters through the Jewish section of Crown Heights. There were four nights of rock- and bottle-throwing, and a young Talmudic scholar was surrounded by a mob shouting, "Kill the Jew," and was stabbed to death.

The Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan recently likened the "plight" of black Americans to that of the Palestinians, noting blacks "were in the same position." Farrakhan also exaggerates the Jewish role in slavery, and once called Hitler a "great man" and Judaism a "gutter religion."

In the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, there is a bewildering failure on the part of many people, especially blacks, to differentiate firefighter from arsonist. Given the tremendous historical Jewish support for blacks, this insensitivity toward Jews and Israel suggests ignorance and lack of gratitude.

Fact: Jews helped to fund Booker T. Washington ‘s Tuskegee Institute. Washington asked Julius Rosenwald – a Jewish trustee of Tuskegee – to help, not only with higher education, but also with Southern black elementary schools. Rosenwald funded the building of 5,300 black schools across the South.

Fact: The black monthly magazine Emerge asked people to assess the following statements: Do blacks complain about racism? Do blacks stick to themselves? Do blacks prefer welfare? Are blacks less ambitious, too loud and pushy, not as hardworking, not as honest, have too much power in the U.S.? In every case, Jews were the least likely of any group to answer "true" to those statements. Jews showed less racism toward blacks than any other group.

It is not at all clear that Modern Orthodoxy will survive. Its leaders prefer to grandstand about trivia such as racism, global warming and the need for rabbinic ethics certificates for businesses, rather than do the hard work of practicing and teaching the sacred text (by publishing their own chumash, for instance).

Gary Rosenblatt and many Modern Orthodox rabbis want Jews to take pride in the election of a black man to the U.S. presidency. Jews who are busy with the sacred text, however, don’t worry about such narishkeit. There is nothing in our tradition about taking pride in the election of any particular skin color. To kvell over such matters is to walk in the ways of the goyim and that is prohibited.

ChaimAmalek:  I think we should make hassids wear yellow stars
ChaimAmalek:  or "R" for "racist" badges
ChaimAmalek:  Modern orthodox should be made to stand in the rain and praise Obama for hours on end
ChaimAmalek:  Hey, what do you call a black investment banker?
ChaimAmalek:  (if you are Jewish)
ChaimAmalek:  a shvartze

About Luke Ford

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