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

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

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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 Chabad.org, 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 (338)
March 19, 2015
Gd chose ALL Jews, including converts. Maimonides said so.

A convert asked Maimonides, "May I say the prayer which begins, 'Our Gd and God of our fathers'?? After all, my father was not a Jew."

Maimonides said to him, You may say it, and you MUST say it. You are a direct son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So the words, "Gd of our fathers" applies to you.

Not only to you as a convert, but also to your children, if you are female. (Every Jew is either the child of a Jewish mother, or a convert. Either way, s/he is fully 100% Jewish.

And subject to, and covered by, the covenant of Abraham and the covenant at Sinai.
For example:

If a convert marries a convert, their children are Jewish and chosen..

If a convert's daughter marries a non-Jew, THEIR children are Jewish and chosen.
Joseph
Cleveland
March 14, 2015
are jews special
I like this article, and believe every person is special in the certain way. Jews happened chosen their difficult way/path
Joseph
January 27, 2015
Nobody is demanding you assimilate. Nobody is trying to extinguish your "Jewish Flame". On the other hand you seem pretty demanding to maintain your Jewish inheritance at all costs. The fact is; aside from your beliefs, and perhaps even your spiritual essence as it relates to being Jewish, people are individuals. What one prefers, another does not, times infinity. If a Gentile and a Jew happen to find interest in one another...if the true flame of love is ignited, sustained, and nurtured between them, I find it despicable that anyone, in the name of anything, religion, ethnicity, beliefs, culture, etc. should keep them from this most sacred of unions. You claim you are not a bigot, but pardon me sir, I believe you are.
Dan
Chicago
January 20, 2015
nation vs. people
Pardon me, but here is a confusion going on: Are we talking about a nation or a religion? If God chose all the people worshipping him (means also converts from other nations), that is rather self-explanatory. It surely cannot be racist, since it includes all races. If he chose the jewish nation (excluding converts), this kind of choice will be racially selective, be it privilege or duty.
Richy
Horn
January 13, 2015
Another way of putting it.

W. N. Ewer wrote:
How odd
of Gd
to choose
the Jews.

In response, Cecil Browne wrote:
But not so odd
as those who choose
a Jewish Gd
yet spurn the Jews.

It's totally up to each person whom he chooses to worship.

If you want to worship Someone who chose the Jews, that's your choice.

Anyone who so desires could always go back to Zeus or Thor or whoever was the god of their ancient ancestors.

Or they could pick some altogether different deity. Krishna, perhaps. Krishna did not choose the Jews. Neither did Shiva or Kwan Yin. If anyone wants a deity who did not choose the Jews, there are plenty of gods and goddesses to choose from.

But, thanks to Christianity and Islam, the Gd of the Jews has become the beacon of most of the world's people, even including Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific islands. By comparison, all other gods are demigods, being subject to Fate, for example.

Gd--the Gd of the Torah--is not subject to Fate or to anything else.
Michael
Chicago
January 13, 2015
To Noah: here is what I said.

Roman Emperor Constantine proclaimed that the Christians were right in choosing to worship the Deity of the Hebrew Bible (which the Christians call the "Old" Testament).

I see I need to rephrase this.

The Christians, and thence the Romans, chose what they called the "Old" Testament (modified from the Hebrew Bible) as its basic sacred text, and to add to that scripture, basing its claims on the initial claim that the Deity of the initial sacred text was also the deity of its own "New" Testament. In so doing, they necessarily adopted the text's claim that Gd (whom they called "Gd the Father" and demoted to a lesser rank in the threesome which they called the Trinity) chose the Children of Israel, as the ancient text repeatedly attests that Gd did.

The Christians chose to adopt that text, and thereby chose to retain that text's repeated statement that Gd (or their one third, at any rate) did choose Israel.
Michael
Chicago
January 12, 2015
Being Chosen
To Howie:

I have, unfortunately, had conversations with certain Religious, Jewish, individuals who do feel that the purpose of creation is entirely for the Jewish people. In fact I was once told that non-Jews are here merely to serve Jews as slaves.

On the other hand, I know many Religious Jewish individuals who find the above idea(s) repulsive.

The way I like to see it is as follows: The Jewish people are called Hashem's "first born son". The older spiritual brother of the rest of the nations who are also Hashem's, "sons/daughters,"so to speak.

It is the role of the oldest son to assist Hashem in teaching and guiding the rest of His children (i.e. the nations). Sadly, the worst kind of hostility and jealousy on the part of the younger children/nations has mostly prevented this from happening.

To Michael:

The Romans did not adopt the G-d of the Jewish nation. They adopted a trinity and the worship of a man. They took their own gods and recast them as the G-d of Israel.
Noah
USA
January 11, 2015
Everybody is special.
If you have a tradition that your Deity chose you, I'm fine with that.

Originally, every nation had a tradition that the gods they chose to worship, chose that nation to worship them.

Nothing unusual about the Children of Israel doing this.

Basically, a people chooses to worship a specific Deity. It stands to reason that this Deity chose to be worshipped by that people.

But for some reason, the Roman Emperor Constantine proclaimed that the Christians were right in choosing to worship the Deity of the Hebrew Bible (which the Christians call the "Old" Testament).

This choice, first by the early Christians and then by the Roman empire, was new. For the 1st time, many nations chose the Deity of a different nation, a tiny nation exiled nation.
For example:
Deuteronomy 7:6-8 (KJV)
6 For...the Lrd thy Gd...hath chosen thee.....
7 The Lrd did not choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all...
8 But because [He] had sworn unto your fathers
Michael
Chicago
January 11, 2015
Please read about the religious meaning of chosen. Unlike choosing a car, hat, video, or one child over another, which is a self gratifying effort, the concept of chosen to the Jewish people, does not mean to be given special privilege, but chosen, required , to follow a righteous Path directed by G-d. Not complying with that contract, has consequences for the followers, as well as the rest of mankind! I know of no Jew who believes chosen means better than! Nor privileged ! The diversity in how Jews interrupt those mandates varies, which causes conflict with in Judaism, but is not directed at others! Chabad is attempting to find commonality , and rejuvenate A dwelling religion, to a good purpose! Bobby, I agree, must be in the family!
Howie
Ma
January 9, 2015
Good post by the Rabbi, but I don't think believing that you're the chosen ones by the creator of the universe is the same as having pride in your own race. I agree with the Rabbi's arguements as far as pride in identity and mixing goes; but that being said, I don't believe his arguements fairly cover the fact that Jews believe they are chosen by the creator. That will undoubtedly make a person believe they have something over someone else, no matter how proud the other is of their nation or race.

...Also, the Jews seemed to believe they have the right to Israel over the palestinians. Apparently many Israeli's refuse jews who cannot proove that they are from a jewish lineage. Is this really so accepting? I think these examples are a little extreme.

I appreciate the message board and how this site is open to discussion, thank you.
Anonymous
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