Volume 15 Number 20
                       Produced: Fri Sep  2  0:42:30 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Judaism and Racism
         [Jules Reichel]
Marc Shapiro and racism
         [Abe Rosenberg]
Racism (2)
         [Frank Silbermann, Binyomin Segal]
Racism and the curse of Ham
         [Julius Lester]


From: <JPREICHEL@...> (Jules Reichel)
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 19:31:34 -0400
Subject: Judaism and Racism

Marc Shapiro made only one attempt to define his hot word "racist". He
tells us 1.Cross the street to avoid: Not racist, 2.Object to lower
class blacks: Not racist, but 3. Object to middle class blacks: "racism
pure and simple".  That model of the world is too simple even for
liberals. In truth, neighborhoods can demographically "tip" and even the
shift of middle class blacks frequently results in harsh outcomes. All
three cases are rational.  Does that make them liberal and not racist?
IMHO Marc is confused about what is and what is not racist. Extreme
xenophobia and unyielding obstinacy my be very negative characteristics,
but they are not racism. They can be condemned for what they are. To me,
racism is hate-mongering applied to race. Hate mongering is bombastic
demonization and unwarranted villification delivered with malice. When
Marc says that most New Yorkers are racist, that is a racist
statement. Why? Because he asserts that New Yorkers are demons or devils
in their heart. Once they are so labeled he can proceed to understand
that each little act is only a consistent part of their larger
darkness. Now he doesn't know that any of this is true. How, may I ask,
did he even attempt to separate rational fears and minor comments from
racism? I'm not trying to nit-pick his words. But I don't think that
painting everyone with the brush of an undefined and unverified racist
label permits rational analysis.  I might also point out that Marc's
remedy of joining liberal organizations has not proven to be
effective. If you watched the Afro-American NAACP conference on TV last
week, you would see that many are now especially angry at Jews because
Jewish liberals have meddled in their lives and imposed Jewish big
government solutions on them, and it's choking them to death. Jewish
liberals should be contrite for the pain they have brought upon their


From: <JacAbraham@...> (Abe Rosenberg)
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 03:25:15 -0400
Subject: Re: Marc Shapiro and racism

I do not believe... I have NEVER believed, that the Torah condones or
even tolerates racism in any way, shape or form.  The fact that one's
racism tends to grow as one's Torah knowledge and religious attitude
increases (a most questionable assumption, but let's leave it alone for
argument's sake) proves nothing about the inherent lessons of the
Torah. It does, however, speak volumes on man's capacity to misinterpret
Scripture, and, worse, to use Kisvei Kodesh as a club with which to beat
others over the head.
     I have found that as some Jews grow in their observance, they tend
to focus more on the technical minutae of the various laws and
customs. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, unless in so doing, one
loses sight of the main themes, or relegates them to the realm of "baby
stuff" or cliches. The same Torah that offers meticulous criteria for
kashruth also orders us to love one's neighbor as oneself. The same
Torah that provedes exacting specifications for lulav and etrog also
orders us to treat the Ger with respect. The same Torah that carefully
enumerates the forbidden Shabbat Melachot also insists on "V'asita
HaYashar V'Hatov". These are not cliches, and their monumentally
critical importance should not be subject to capricious pseudo-halakhic
dissection. It is clearly un-Jewish to be a racist.
       One more thing... crossing the street when confronted by young
blacks IS racist. So is opposing blacks...ANY blacks...moving into a
 The fact that the racism is based on fear.. justified fear or
otherwise...  does not change the fact that it is racist. Racism is in
the eye of the beholder, and when a black family hears that Jews in the
neighborhood don't want them, or when black teenagers see Jews running
across the street, the thought that enters their minds isn't
"fear". It's "racism", and probably "hate". And that's a shame. We can
do better than that.

Abe Rosenberg


From: Frank Silbermann <fs@...>
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 08:21:37 -0400
Subject: Racism

Years ago I read the first volume of Ma'am Loez (sp?), an English
translation of a popular Ladino biblical commentary.  After each small
bit of scripture, this commentary inserts a medly of related laws and
legends (aggadah, midrash).  When I read about the curse of Ham,
I remember thinking,

	"This could easily be cited as a basis for white supremacy"

(or at least anti-black racism, as I'm no certain which son of Noach
was the father of the East Asians).  Now I hear from mlj that some
Hassidim do claim this -- that Africans are destined to be slaves
and servants as a result of Ham's curse.

It was my impression that this part of the curse only applied
to Ham's youngest son Canaan -- by castrating Noach, Ham ensured
that Shem would remain the youngest son and hence obligated
to serve Noach always, so in retribution, Ham's youngest son
Canaan, who would have served Ham, would instead have to serve
Shem.  This became fulfilled when the descendents of Canaan
became wood-cutters and water-bearers for the Hebrews.

I must admit that I am quite uncomfortable with the idea
using Bible quotes to justify the eternal oppression of any
(currently-existing) nation.  It strengthens the hand
of those X-ians who still wish to cite the Crucifixion story
"proving" that oppression of Jews is obligatory.

Still, after debating with followers of the late Rv. Meir Kahana,
I realize that one cannot refute an argument based in Torah
except via a better argument based in Torah.  Therefore,
I think it is imperative that we seek out solid _Torah-based_
arguments against anti-black racism.  For example, I have been told
that racially-based Halachot became invalid once the Assyrian
conquerors mixed the various peoples of the world.  Would this
also apply to the curse of Ham?  What else can one say?

Frank Silbermann	<fs@...>

From: <bsegal@...> (Binyomin Segal)
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 12:57:14 -0400
Subject: Racism

Allow me to play devil's advocate a bit.

We have had an ongoing discussion about how awful it is that orthodox
Jews are often racist. However, we have been unable to quote any Jewish
sources that indicate that racism is wrong. (In fact, at the intro to
this discussion Robert Klapper writes (mj 14:84), "I'm aware that i'm
assuming it is in fact forbidden, and I'm clinging to the fond if
illusory hope that no one out there disagrees.")

The attempts to find sources in Jewish literature to forbid racism were
shown to be inconclusive by Robert Klapper in mj15:2.

It seems then that everyones assumption that racism is bad is based not
on Torah sources and Torah values, but rather on "Western values" (an
oxymoron if ever there was one).

Further, since we all seem to agree that much (most?) of the orthodox
world is racist, there would be a strong halachik presumption that this
was ok.  (Granted that conclusive sources to the contrary would indicate
they are wrong, but without those sources...)

This discussion ties in with another discussion we had recently about
whether there are ethical values outside halacha. (I for one would
suggest that although _halacha_ may not be all inclusive of ethics,
Torah is, ie aggadah has something to teach as well.)

Now what I'm _not_ saying. I'm not suggesting that racism or racial
slurs are _good_ or should be done. Online we have had two cogent
reasons for that:

1. Rabbi Bekhoffer points out that its bad kiruv. And we are _all_ doing
kiruv all the time.

2. Robert Klapper suggests that "it not only defiles the speaker but
denigrates others". This seems to me to be correct (though not
neccessarily halachik) and as such someone striving for perfection of
character would be careful here as well. (Vaguely related is the story
of Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky. It seems he lived near a Convent, and always
greeted everyone there cheerfully. As opposed to other Jews in the area
that ignored them.  Or the story about the ammorah/tanna that says of
himself that he is proud to always be the first one to greet someonew
else - even a non-Jew.)

Reason 1 though merely points to our need to project positively to
people with western values, and two referes to speech - but neither
address the underlying issue of racism in thought.

I have more I could ay, but I must run (oh ill be away for shabbos so
dont expect responses to the inevitable flames till after Rosh Hashanah
;) )

ksivah vchasimah tova to all
binyomin - <bsegal@...>


From: Julius Lester <lester@...>
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 02:56:10 -0400
Subject: Racism and the curse of Ham

In Mail-Jewish, Vol. 15, No. 15, Marc Shapiro's post on Judaism and 
Racism included the following:

>In 1992 a book was published by a leading member of the Satmar community 
>entitled Artzot Ha-Hayyim. On p. 52 he explains, and quotes other 
>rabbis, that the reason Abraham Lincoln was killed was because he freed 
>the blacks. this is also the reason why Kennedy was killed, i.e. because 
>he was good to the blacks. He continues by saying that this will be the 
>fate of any who adopt a progressive attitude towards blacks, because they 
>are meant to be enslaved. His source for this is Ham's curse (I have 
>tried to find out if this comment has a Jewish source but so far have not 
>been successful. Does anyone know its origin.)  

First, it is not Ham who is cursed but Canaan, Ham's youngest son. Ham 
could not be cursed by Noah because G-d has already blessed Noan and his 
three sons when they come off the ark.

The sources are several:

(1) The Legends of the Jews - Ginzburg, Vol. 1, p. 169:

"The descendants of Ham through Canaan therefore have red eyes, because 
Ham looked upon the nakedness of his father; they have misshapen lips, 
because Ham spoke with his lips to his brothers about the unseemly 
condition of his father; they have twisted curly hair, because Ham turned 
and twisted his head round to see the nakedness of his father; and they 
go about naked, because Ham did not cover the nakedness of his father. 
Thus he was requited, for it is the way of G-d to mete out punishment 
measure for measure."

(2)	Midrash Rabbah (Soncino) Vol. 1, p. 293:

"AND HE SAID: CURSED BE CANAAN (Breishit 9:25): (Commentary omitted)...R. 
Huna also said in R. Joseph's name: You [i.e. Noah is speaking to Ham) have 
prevented me from doing something in the dark [i.e. cohabiting with his 
wife], therefore your seed will be ugly and dark-skinned. R. Chiyya said: 
Ham and the dog copulated in the Ark, therefore Ham came forth 
black-skinned while the dog publicly exposed its copulation."

(3)	T. Sanhedrin (Soncino), p. 745, 108b:

"Our Rabbis taught: Three copulated in the ark, and they were all 
punished - the dog, the raven and Ham. The dog was doomed to be tied, the 
raven expectorates [his seed into his mate's mouth], and Ham was smitten 
in his skin." (This is footnoted and the footnote reads: "I.e., from him 
was descended Cush (the negro), who is black-skinned."

(4)	THE TORAH ANTHOLOGY (translation of Me'am Lo'ez), Vol. 1, p. 392-3:

"Ham received five punishments:

1. Because he looked at his naked father, his eyes became red, always 
appearing bloodshot.
2. Because he mocking told his brothers about his father's condition, his 
lips were made thick and gross, like those of a Negro.
3. Because he turned his head to see his father, the hair of his head and 
beard became kinky.
4. Because he did not cover his father, it was decreed that he always go 
naked. We thus see that slaves in Egypt go naked. They even did so in 
Egypt. This was not because of poverty, since it is impossible to imagine 
that none of them would have enough money to buy clothing. The reason is 
that they live in a hot, damp climate, and it is very uncomfortable to 
wear clothing.
    The reason for this is their geographical location, since the Hamatic 
tribes live in tropical climes. It was this curse that caused them to 
live there. They must therefore go naked and become blacked by the sun.  
    The fifth curse will be discussed later."

I was not able to find the discussion of the fifth curse. 

The curse of Ham was something I learned of as a child and could not 
understand its origin from the words in Genesis. The curse of Ham was 
widely used by slave owners in the South to justify the enslavement of 
blacks. In my studies of slavery I was unable to find the basis. Only 
when I began studying Torah and various commentaries did I find the 
source. Somehow the rabbinic commentaries made their way into Christian 
culture and became an underpinning for anti-black racism.

Marc Shapiro writes:

>How to defeat racism? Torah is obviously not the answer since so many 
>Jews who spend their whole lives immersed in Torah are racists. 	

Two brief comments: 

I am not sure "defeating racism" is a practical or feasible goal. That 
people are racist or anti-Semitic does not concern me as much as when 
they *act* on their racism or anti-Semitism - and action can be words or 
deeds. Thus, perhaps Torah is the answer, i.e. it is not enough to 
immerse one's self in Torah. Torah must also be lived. For some, Torah is 
an intellectual exercise instead of a very demanding and rigorous 
spiritual discipline. Torah is the answer but we must speak the answer 
with our lives, not only our intellects.

Julius Lester


End of Volume 15 Issue 20