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Why Are Jews So Ethnocentric?

Why Are Jews So Ethnocentric?

The survival of the hairy-nosed wombat and the Jews

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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.
Sefira Ross is 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.
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Leah DC February 9, 2017

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. Reply

Mariah Elizabeth February 9, 2017

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??? Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

Anonymous Huixquilucan 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? Reply

Anonymous MD 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. Reply

Anonymous USA June 3, 2016

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. Reply

Michael LeGoff Plymouth, England June 3, 2016

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? Reply

Fro 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? Reply

Esther USA June 1, 2016

"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. Reply

Julie Smith Sydney 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 Reply

Anonymous May 31, 2016

It really saddens me to read so many comments about how "Jews are racist". Nothing could be futher from the truth. Jews have experianced the horrors of racism throughout our entire existance. If people actually read our Torah, they would realize that we belive in peace and love for all people. I encourage these uninformed people to learn more about our religion, instead of jumping to conclusions. Reply

Anonymous Earth, Milky Way, Universe June 4, 2015

The way that hairy nosed wombat argument was pretty clever, but also very obvious. I say - false equivalency. It was self-deprecating (comparing oneself to a hairy nosed wombat - and dare I say bringing up jokes about Jewish noses? Which then makes people uncomfortable - that there are jokes about Jewish noses.) but then self-promoting and pseudo-humble. No - Jews are not a species. The species is human. The issue is cultural, and ethnic. Also, the answer blatantly assumes creationism, and starts going into the cultural fictions of Judaism. As far as the hairy nosed wombat - there are the northern hairy nosed wombats and the southern hairy nosed wombats - they are even distinct species - though I couldn't find information on if the "northern" and "southern" wombats can have offspring together. I think this is a very false equivalency - and does imply that Jews are their own species. What is this urge towards alienation? An overestimation of uniqueness. Reply

Jack Jollystein Malaysia September 23, 2014

The northern hairy nosed wombat (NHNW) is a specialist grazer that was well adapted to the more extensive and wetter grasslands that used to cover Australia. Even before European settlement it had experienced a contraction of its range (an exodus). Being a specialist it is more susceptible to extinction driven by environmental change than generalist species that have a broader niche.

So, as the environment changes the poor old NHNW is likely to go the way of the dodo unless it can evolve and adapt.

Some (not all) jews are highly ethnocentric and demand others to accommodate their archaic sub-culture in the same way as many muslims. Uniquely (unlike muslims) I think this sort of focus has a nasty eugenic quality to it.

If a NHNW could talk, maybe they too would also demand protection? Perhaps they would like an environment a bit more like 2000 years ago? Maybe they would like to kick the Southern Hairy Nose Wombat from its land given that the NHNW god promised it to them. Reply

Anonymous earth July 4, 2014

the wombat analogy perfectly underscores the subconscious ethnocentrism of the Jews...even going so far as equating an endangered species to the Jew....but the Jew is NOT a separate species, Jews are human, they don't need preserved anymore than any other human. In the melting pot of America, they are the hard nuggets that refuse to melt; constantly emphasizing their seperateness, their choseness, their specialness, instead of their unity with mankind. only when they put their humanity above their Jewishness instead of the other way around will they figure it out, and likely stop "othering" the rest of humanity and likely stop suffering the cycle persecution as well, for the world cannot persecute those that are seen as themselves. Melt. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org December 29, 2013

This is a very good reason why the position of this article is not racist. The differences between Jews and non-Jews is not a matter of race, but of ideas and G-d-given mission. The ideas of the Torah originate with a particular people, and the mission is a result of a special covenant G-d made with Israel. This covenant is available to anyone who cares to join through a proper conversion, but is not expected of those not born into it. When a Jew and non-Jew intermarry, neither is in a position to fulfill their purpose in the world. The color or tribe of origin of a person is indeed not a factor in the permissibility of marriage. Reply

Anonymous December 24, 2013

rac·ism
[rey-siz-uhm] Show IPA

noun
1.
a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

2.
a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

Discriminating against a person based of their beliefs because of an ignorant thought of the survival of a race, is in fact racist. I am white, but I would never hate on anyone in my family dating someone black because of the thought of my race being brought to extinction. We are in fact, all human and the belief a Jew should marry a jew is ignorant and racist. People do not like people who segregate. It's frowned upon and should not continue in our history. Reply

Jeremiah USA April 27, 2013

The rabbi sees the rest of humanity as an entirely different species from Jews. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA February 12, 2012

People who live within their own culture usually don't ask such a question of their own culture. Those who do, usually are seekers of a broader way of thinking. Asking why someone loves his or her own background and group of belonging is moot. You love being who you are or you don't. You can call it a name: "Ethnocentric" in either a neutral emotional way or in a snide, hateful way. Literally, the word means your passion or vision is centered around your own group. So, Xtians are ethnocentric about their beliefs, Jews are centered around the Torah, some people of color want their kids to marry people of the same color and they want adoption to be done by parents who are the same color/culture of the child. Ethnocentrism exists everywhere because we are human. Even the person asking the question is ethnocentric in some way, shape or manner, according to the literal and non-emotional meaning. Reply

Mersenne Vancouver, Canada February 9, 2012

My husband, a Lithuanian Jew with an excellent Hebrew education, has a nickname: "Wombat." Is this coincidence? Or G-d acting through a convert of Anglo descent (me)? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 17, 2011

We are not ethnocentric according to the definition, which includes having pride, vanity, beliefs of one's own group's superiority, and contempt of outsiders. Rather, we know about cultural relativism which means that individuals grow up to copy and follow the culture of their surroundings for the most part. Because ethnocentrism involves vanity, and because our Scriptures warn against vanity, then we are not ethnocentric. We even have a tenet that non-Jews can be called righteous and they can be viewed as just as worthy in Go-d's eyes as are we. The rules against assimilating are self survival rules, and don't assume others are not as good or that we are superior. On the other hand, we do have individuals who see ourselves as being superior. They are NOT following Jewish thought and morality. So, please do not judge the whole of Jewish people with what you view from some individuals in how they act or talk. It's not like that. We treat others with respect, unless they are bombing us Reply