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Isn't It Racist To Believe That Jews Are Special?

Isn't It Racist To Believe That Jews Are Special?



Isn't it racist to believe you're special because you're Jewish? How is that any different from the Nazi belief in the "superiority" of the Aryan race, for example?


I think that everyone would agree that there is nothing wrong with feeling proud of who you are. There is nothing wrong with diversity. G‑d created a magnificent world, a wondrous panorama of colors, forms and personalities. Today we recognize that this diversity is so essential to the nature of things that anyone who tries to struggle against it is fighting against the sustainability of life itself.

Read the Ohr haChayim (R' Chayim Atar, Morocco/Israel, 1696–1743) on Genesis and you will be delighted by his comments on this diversity. Other classic commentaries describe how the world contains every sort of opposite—just as a sphere is made of opposing poles—so that it will reflect the boundlessness of its Creator. Perek Shira, one of the most ancient midrashim, brings out something even more delightful: That each creature, as G‑d created it, believes that it is the most lovely and ultimate of all creatures on the planet. Not only the horse and the lion, but even the slimy, warted toad cannot imagine a creature more beautiful than itself that could sing a song more melodious than the song it croaks out each day. The same with the jackal, the vulture and even the pesty little mosquito—who believes that all creatures were created by a loving G‑d just to provide him with blood to drink.

As it is with the species, so it is with each person—for each person, the Maharal of Prague writes, is a species on his own. We raise each child to know that there is something special about him or her, something unique that no one else who ever was or ever will be will ever have. It doesn't take much persuasion—it is the nature of the human being to believe it intuitively, even before he is told. We encourage it, so that the child will grow and be able to take on the world. To take that away from the child is to destroy the person inside; to encourage it is to give life, courage and strength.

And so too, with every social entity by which we human beings arrange ourselves: Ethnocentricity is not something to be fought and crushed. Humankind does not require homogenization. To do so is to fight and crush the inherent nature of human beings. If a people are not proud of themselves as a people, believing that they have something that no other people can provide, then they have no hope to survive as distinct cell of humanity. We will lose their art, their wisdom, their heritage—all that they have to contribute to the rest of us, by G‑d's design.

Do you really believe that humanity should melt into a homogeneous mush? Such was the ideal of America at the turn of the 20th century. I grew up in Canada, with Lester Pearson's and Pierre Eliot Trudeau's ideal of a colorful patchwork. Mush, in my mind is rather pale and monotonous fare, the antithesis of life.

When is pride dangerous? When it is a sickly pride. When it is pride in the wrong things. When it leaves no room for others. When it blinds its bearer from seeing his faults. And when—and I believe this to be the core of the matter—when one is so proud that he cannot recognize anything greater than himself.

The German nation after the First World War was sickly in this way. And not without reason. An entire generation was missing. The youth were angered at the failure of their fathers, that they had stolen German pride and left them with an inheritance of shame. It was a culture of rejectionism, where the old had to be thrown out simply because it was old and anything shocking and radical was embraced just for the sake of being shocking and radical. Atonal un-music, Dada non-art, rampant pornography and such violence on the streets that had not been seen in German lands for hundreds of years were all symptoms of a society suffering a serious systemic pathology. From this it is not difficult to see a lethal sort of pride arising, a pride that was not only out to destroy the world but semi-consciously to annihilate itself as well, as the phoenix diving into its pyre.

When I look at the pride of the Jewish People, I see none of this. In what do we pride ourselves? Look to the Talmud again: "What are the three traits of this nation? They have compassion, they have a conscience and they enjoy acts of kindness." Jews pride themselves in their intellectual powers, as well. Not an unreasonable pride, given the track record.

Yes, we are not without blemish. The Jews of Europe bore scars from the ugly anti-Semitism of those lands. It's hard to be in love with those that hate you and murder you. There was spite born from that experience—but that only makes it yet more amazing that kindness and compassion nonetheless survived in the Jewish heart.

We have a long history of self-examination and criticism, from the Torah, the prophets, the Talmudic sages and all the way to this day. We have laughed at ourselves, cried about ourselves and chastised ourselves continually throughout our long and painful history. We blame ourselves for being stubborn and for giving in too easily, for being too haughty and for lacking pride. Too often, the self-blaming gets out of hand—so we blame ourselves for that, as well.

Do we leave room for others? I know of no other tradition that openly states, "the righteous of the nations have a share in the World To Come." No need to become one of us. Sure, there are some basic rules, but they are rules that leave much leeway—and mostly rules basic to the stability of a healthy society. Keep those rules, we don't care who you are—you're in.

We not only leave room, we are open to learn from others when it does not conflict with our root beliefs, as Maimonides writes in his code of law, "Take the truth from whence it comes." The great "pillar of Jewish law" cites Aristotle, Galen and many of the Arabic philosophers with deep respect. To quote the Talmud once again, "If they will tell you there is Torah among the nations, do not believe them. But if they will tell you there is wisdom among the nations, believe them."

As I stated, the core of the matter is to recognize that there is something greater than yourself. Without that, pride becomes arrogance, a sickness we are told to shun to the furthest extreme. In fact, without Torah, our sages taught, the Jew is "the most brazen and shameless of the nations." Even with Torah, a person's free choice is never taken away. There are those who use Torah as a hammer to build their throne of misled pride, for all to bow down to their scholarship and erudition. Even the Torah can be abused.

But when a Jew allows the Torah to guide him (rather than he guiding the Torah) when he accepts that he is here not for his own pleasure or pride or fame, but with a purpose, a mission given him by the Creator of All Things—then that Jew is able to balance both pride and nothingness in a single scale. As you wrote yourself, by recognizing that he is a Jew, he sees himself that much more a member of humanity. For what is his mission? To conquer? To dominate? No, it is to enlighten, to bear the torch lit by Abraham our father almost 4,000 years ago, until the entire world is afire with the luminance of that wisdom, until "all the world will work together as though they had one shoulder" in peace and in brotherhood.

Should I be ashamed that I want my daughter to marry a Jew and only a Jew? Am I a Nazi for my pride and my conviction? Should I be condemned for wanting to keep that flame of Abraham alive?

On the contrary, I believe it is those who demand that we assimilate, who cannot bear that there be a people who dare stand out from the background, who dare to preserve their heritage and their mission despite every attempt to crush and beat them to the ground—they are the true bigots. They are the ones who are out to destroy the beauty G‑d made in His creation, to destroy the very essence of life.

We are proud to be Jews and we are proud to be proud. We don't wish to be anything else and we don't wish our grandchildren to be anything else. To us, there is nothing more magnificent than to be a Jew and nothing more disastrous than to lose one. Because every Jew is a precious flame, a burning bush that will not be consumed, an eternal torch that no one has the right to extinguish—not even that Jew himself.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (352)
January 7, 2016
I personally think that Gd made a variety of covenants with different groups. Each group has a special mission in the physical universe. Each person also has a special mission in the physical universe.

So everyone is special.
January 2, 2016
No one is special
No one is special. God made us all period. A soul is no more special than another's. It's what and how we live our lives that make our time as flesh and blood "special"-meaning, productive and to the best of abilities. God is within us and should we choose to, we can do our best to exemplify Gods Love. It's not about where we come from. Because we all come from the same source-God. Spirituality and faith are not attained solely at being accepted at a special center, rather it is gained from Life, Truth, and Love in God and by loving how God created you. Be your best. Improve on your worst. God is Love. You can be too.
One of God's Amazing Creations
November 19, 2015
Gd loves you.
I have many times told a non-Jew, "Gd loves you." However, unlike the non-Jew, I mean it lovingly. I mean that Gd loves them as they are. Without their becoming Jews.

A Christian who says "Gd loves you" to a Jew has a strange definition of "love" since he adds that this "loving" Gd condemns faithful Jews to eternal torment in hell.

A Christian who says "Gd loves you" to a Jew says it in order to convert the Jew to become a Christian and to abandon Gd's Word in Torah. See Exodus 20:1-3.

Gd loves you and me. Gd wants me to remain true to Him and to His Word. But those who did not stand at Sinai need only obey the Seven Laws of Noah.

Gd loves His faithful Gentiles exactly as they are. They need not "convert" (become Jews), They can enjoy a place in the Next World without taking on the duties of Jews.
San Jose
November 12, 2015
Thank You for the Information
Thank you, Rabbi Tzvi, for this information. In my community in Atlanta, I am aware of such activities by many other Jewish branches and congregations, but not by the local Chabads, and I obviously was unaware of these activities by Chabad in other communities, as was Anonymous from Brooklyn.
Steve Gold
Tucker, GA
November 12, 2015
Here are my personal Jewish beliefs, which were reinforced by my encountering Chabad.
* Every human has a divine spirit as told of the creation of the first human from the dust of the ground and from Gd's breath which made the new creature "a human soul" (I am typing w/o looking up the exact words).
* Gd loves every human soul, including you and me.
* Jews have a duty to perform, as best as can, the commandments given at Sinai and elucidated throughout Torah, including primarily the five books of Moses. This is a duty, not a privilege. The point is to be a "light unto the [other] nations". We Jews exist to serve the rest of humanity. One way we serve is physically (see the rabbi's comments--Nepal,Milan,wherever physical suffering occurs. We are enjoined to examplify decency [most do]. The spiritual service to humanity is doing the commandments. Each time a Jew does a commandment, the universe is a bit repaired. ALL people are lifted up & the time of messianic redemption comes closer.
Houston, Tx
November 11, 2015
For Steve Gold
Steve, if you were at Chabad of Nepal after the recent earthquake, you would have witnessed thousands being fed and housed by the rabbi, his wife and all their volunteers. According to many reports, Chabad provided more relief than any other agency on the ground.

The same is occurring in Milan, where Chabad is providing meals for refugees. The same occurred when a tsunami hit the Far East. And when a hurricane hit New Orleans, and many other such emergencies.

Aside from that, I have personally witnessed countless instances of Chabad rabbis and their volunteers providing for the homeless and needy in their cities, whether Jew or gentile.

Certainly, there is a protocol. As the saying goes, "If we don't provide for our own, who will?" But any homeless beggar is far better off in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood than anywhere else. Because the hand that learns to give keeps giving.
Tzvi Freeman
November 11, 2015
How can you say G-d loves you? His ways are unknown! Don't make sense to humans , fills history with the worst of behaviors between and to humans ..
What every G-d " feels" about love of man, is not in the list. Judaism teachers to follow the laws...or else! Where in Jewish thought does it say G-d does anything for man's welfare? It is assumed, hoped, desired, but not factual ! The " Stockholm " syndrome. Explains this false sense of hope, identity ! I understand why religious Jews feel it is their follow the mandated laws . This with the intent of "saving mankind" from man kinds evil ways, as well as G-d's retribution! Based on the barbarous Bronze aged understandings of the world, modern Jewish beliefs no longer has meaning. Since God's intentions are not knowable , and mankind is faulty, some rule of order is needed. Jewish codes of behavior, void of the blood lust imbedded in to its anticipated return of the Temple, is the worlds best civilized guide .
November 10, 2015
Re: Does the Jewish God Love Gentiles?
You write: "I have never witnessed a Jew telling a Gentile that God loves them, or has any concern for how they live."

It's our fault that you haven't witnessed this, but it's not true that it's not done. The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, taught Jews to speak with their non-Jewish neighbors, business associates and acquaintances, to tell them that they are created in the divine image, beloved by G-d, and therefore have a responsibility to lead an upright life.

I encourage you to look at the materials, especially the videos, in our Knowledge Base under Noahide Laws
Tzvi Freeman
November 10, 2015
I Agree With Anonymous From Brooklyn - to some extent
I am glad anonymous expressed this sentiment. I have never known of Chabad or any other more orthodox community to reach out or join with charitable or community activities in the broader, secular world, or the interfaith world in any way. All of their activities seem 100% focused on "fellow Jews". There are, however, many dedicated Jewish people, congregations and organizations with non-orthodox affiliations who regularly engage in such activities and interfaith programs and dialogues.
Steve Gold
Tucker, GA
November 2, 2015
Does the Jewish God Love Gentiles?
You say, "No, it is to enlighten, to bear the torch lit by Abraham our father almost 4,000 years ago, until the entire world is afire with the luminance of that wisdom, until "all the world will work together as though they had one shoulder" in peace and in brotherhood."

I have never witnessed a Jew telling a Gentile that God loves them, or has any concern for how they live. (except for you know who). Assuming Judaism is correct, how can a gentile get close to god? The God of Israel has made no outreach to us and many Jewish communities wont let alone talk or intermingle with us let alone talk about God with us. Sometimes I think that Jews act as if God has to go through the Jews first and ask them for permission to act in this world. This is how Judaism looks to an outsider.