Judaism and Racism

Not surprisingly, Judaism is opposed. Sadly, however, there are misconceptions among some about what racism is. They point to the status of the Jewish people as the "Chosen people," as a license for a form of racism. Others are racist against Jews because they resent the Chosen People claim.

In all cases, the racist will explain their views with any "because." "I don't hate them because of the color of their skin, I hate them because XYZ." We've all heard that before. Is it racism? Yes. The minute the word "them" in the sentence above refers to any ethnic, national, or religious group, the racist has identified himself.

Who is one allowed to hate, then, according to Judaism? As King David said in the Psalms, "Those that cause God to be hated, those also I hate." In other words, King David expresses his hatred for those who caused the faithful to exchange their love of God for hatred. Those who perform evil deeds are deemed worthy of hate.

Jews have traditionally been in the forefront of the fight for civil rights. That is based deeply in our tradition. And yet, on occasion we will hear of hotheads in the Jewish community expressing racist sentiments towards Arabs. We all know that an ongoing war between Israel and the Arabs exists. We know that, despite our best efforts, peace has not yet broken out. Is it fair to expect one to not be racist against one's enemy?

Actually, fair is not the question. The question is, what does Judaism think? What does God want?

God tells us. "Do not despise the Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land." This is shocking. Egyptians enslaved us, beat us, and threw our male children into the river. Some hospitality! Why shouldn't we despise the Egyptian? They were our enemies! They behaved terribly.

The answer is, it is legitimate to despise the Egyptian who beat you and threw your child into the river. But not every Egyptian did that. There were also more Jews murdered in Poland during World War II than in any other country. There were many Poles who cooperated with the Nazis.

And there were more Righteous Gentiles in Poland during World War II than in any other country. The point being that you can never generalize. Just because someone was Polish didn't mean they were going to kill you. They very well might have risked their own life to save yours.

Jonah the Prophet was summoned by God to go and call upon the people of Nineveh to repent. Jonah did not want to, and attempted to flee. Why did he resist? Because he saw in prophecy that the Assyrians that he would save would someday make war on his own people of Israel. Therefore, he did not want them to repent, so that God should destroy them.

Now, Jonah was clearly choosing the welfare of his own people over the welfare of a future enemy. That might seem fair! But God didn't think so, and through the whale, made sure that Jonah fulfilled his mission. The results was that the people of Nineveh indeed repented and were saved.

After this, Jonah was very upset about what he had done in saving Nineveh. He still didn't get it. You see, Jonah made a fundamental ever. He believed you can be racist against your enemy. How else can we explain his preference to see such a large city destroyed? What he didn't realize was that Israel's battle with Assyria will be Israel's fault, because they will not be righteous. And even if Nineveh would have been destroyed, God would have found the appropriate nation to perform His will and chastise Israel.

Then God makes his point clear by causing a tree that had grown overnight and given Jonah shade, to wither and die. Jonah was distraught about the tree. God rebuked him by saying, "You have mercy on the tree that came overnight and disappeared overnight. Shall I not, then, have mercy on the city of Nineveh, with all of its people and living things?"

In other words, every human being is precious in the eyes of God. Those who perform evil should be taught to repent. If they fail to change, then they may be hated. But to hate a nationality, ethnicity or religion, in toto and through generalization, is against the will of God. Each nation is made up of human beings who have great potential, and who are dear to God.

I hope that the hotheads, who are, thankfully, a small minority, will start chanting "Life to the Arabs, life to the Arabs, death to the terrorists, life and strength for the good people." That's what God wants, life. He wants His creations to love one another.