Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Why Are Jews So Ethnocentric?

Why Are Jews So Ethnocentric?

The survival of the hairy-nosed wombat and the Jews

 Email

Question:

The problem with rabbis like you is your narrow view of the world. You always talk about the Jewish future, Jewish continuity, Jews marrying Jews, having Jewish children. What about the rest of humanity? Why do we have to divide between people? Can’t we speak of humans rather than Jews?

Answer:

You have a good point. Maybe I should broaden my perspective and be concerned about more global issues, and not so preoccupied with Jewish particularism. So if you don’t mind, I would like to hear your point of view on one such issue: the hairy-nosed wombat.

I have been approached by an organization that is dedicated to saving endangered species. They are campaigning to save the hairy-nosed wombat of northern Queensland, Australia, which is on the verge of extinction. They say that if we don’t do something soon, the wombats will be gone forever.

Do you think this is a good cause? I could write about it in my weekly article, but am not sure if it is worthy of promotion. This is not a Jewish issue. Should it really bother me if there are no more hairy-nosed wombats?

Reply:

Now you’re talking. I would love to see a rabbi promote conservation and eco-awareness. And by the way, it is a Jewish issue! If the hairy-nosed wombat is lost, we all lose. Every species is an integral part of the whole ecosystem. I would much rather you wrote about something like that than the usual myopic Jewish stuff . . .

Response:

I have no doubt that the hairy-nosed wombat makes an important contribution to the world—otherwise G‑d would not have created it. But I happen to think that the Jewish people are at least as worthy of preservation as the hairy-nosed wombat.

While the contribution wombats make to the world may not be obvious, the Jewish contribution is. From Moses to Maimonides, as well as from Philo to Freud to Feynman, Jews as individuals—and as a community—have given much to the world, and I don’t think we have run out of ideas. I think we have more to give.

This is not to put down any other nation and their achievements. Just as the attempt to save the hairy-nosed wombat is not insulting to any other animal, so too the desire to continue the Jewish legacy of four thousand years in no way belittles the gifts of other people.

My work is to try to keep Jewish souls Jewish, because I believe Judaism is an idea that is yet to have its time, and you can’t have Judaism without Jews. So I will continue to try to preserve Jews, whether or not they are hairy-nosed.

Please see Isn’t It Racist To Believe That Jews Are Special? and Why Be Jewish?

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Artwork by Sefira Ross, a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the discussion
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (27)
February 9, 2017
Response to Mariah
Ethnocentrism means judging other cultures by the standards of your own culture. It's a kind of bigotry. Cultural relativism means assuming that all cultures are OK and that no culture is any better or worse than any other. The problem with CR is that cultures are not monolithic: what is good for some bearers of a culture may be extremely unjust or even dangerous for others, e.g., Russian culture in some ways justifies wife beating,but not all Russians feel that way. BTW: I'm an anthropologist.
Leah
DC
February 9, 2017
ethnocentrism homework for sociology
i am learning about ethnocentrism and how a cultural relativist are different from each other. How do i look it up or can you give me advice please???
Mariah
Elizabeth
June 6, 2016
You have a God-given right to retain and preserve your identity and do not need to explain it to anyone. But I think it is funny that you use the hairy-nosed Wombat as an example, have you seen how they eat corn? very funny and they are just one big muscle, chomping through anything that comes near their mouths.
Anonymous
June 3, 2016
Other human beings, are not wombats. We are human beings that G-d created for His glory. Aren't you supposed to be The Light for the Nations?
Anonymous
Huixquilucan
June 3, 2016
Ethnocentrism: The term was coined by Franz Boas, a German Jewish anthropologist who came to the U.S. and was a founder of U.S. anthropology. He wanted to be Director of the Smithsonian Institution but was never chosen because he was Jewish. That said, the argument against working for preserving G-d's world and creatures as opposed to working only for Jews is spurious. It is not an either/or situation. One does both. One works for and cares about Jews, but that does not negate working for the rest of humanity.
Anonymous
MD
June 3, 2016
That is fundamentally a political question
If not for the massacres, genocides, ghettoization, exiles, etc. over the ages, Jews would be a much larger population in the world today and there would be less ethnocentricity among Jews due to this very large population. But the case is unfortunately quite the opposite. Jews must always be aware of the possibility of another genocide, another massacre and that being the case, are naturally more ethnocentric. Jews have a religion, a culture, a way of life worth preserving and that survival impetus strengthens ethnocentricity. Especially as so many are interested in ending that survival.
Anonymous
USA
June 3, 2016
Are we all Jews in the end?
In the Torah we do study about the special place we have as Jews with our relationship to G-d ... especially his knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps, we draw upon that relationship to become better people and in effect to try to make our world a better place. Since G-d is infinite and is by definition is everything that was or ever will be, does that also mean every person (Jew or non-Jew) is part of G-d in some way and therefore belong to Him regardless of what you believe in this life?
Michael LeGoff
Plymouth, England
June 1, 2016
The nations don't bother explaining nor do they bother logicizing their pathological drive to annihilate the Jewish people, and yet Jews are accused of being ethnocentric and even condemn for defending it's own from annihilation?
Fro
June 1, 2016
An interesting thought beautifully expressed...
"My work is to try to keep Jewish souls Jewish, because I believe Judaism is an idea that is yet to have its time, and you can’t have Judaism without Jews"
An idea that is yet to have its time. I think this is the crux of the discussion, not wombats or racism.
Esther
USA
June 1, 2016
Rabbis could do with taking some organising/campaigning lessons. Organising 101: talk about the things your target audience are interested in. Well, at least you use that as a starting point, and then find a way to talk about what you think they need to know. There are lots of Jews interested in conservation, the environment, and global issues. When you're trying to make a difference, it's actually not about you and what you are personally passionate about, it's about effectively communicating a message. Anyway, the disappearance of a species is far more significant than losing a little creature that most people would never see anyway, it is indicative of what a bad job we have done at being caretakers of G-d's world. It is indicative of our times, how important these times are, when so much is changing - far more rapidly than they ever have before. The endangered possum could be the emblem of a new campaign for a new world, one where all people will come to know God
Julie Smith
Sydney