Volume 15 Number 78
                       Produced: Mon Oct 17  1:06:53 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Koheleth: Silver cord, etc.
         [Jay Bailey]
Racism (3)
         [Stan Tenen, Alan Mizrahi, Robert Swartz]
racism and the modern world
         [Eli Turkel]
Torah Perspective on Racism
         [Michael Broyde]


From: Jay Bailey <jbailey@...>
Date: Sun, 16 Oct 1994 22:18:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Koheleth: Silver cord, etc.

In response to Barry (?) Friedman's question about Koheleth 12:6...
These are images of death, and there are actually 2, not 4:
1) a silver cord was traditionally used to hold a lamp. It snaps, lamp 
breaks. The lamp is thus extinguished. This is the "bowl" in the next pasuk.
2) the second image is a pitcher breaking at a fountain because the line 
it is attched to breaks on the pulley that draws it up...

The imagery is powerful; the perek up till here deals with things in life 
that had until now been strong and vibrant and are now weak and 
diminished. Water and light, 2 fundamental forces we take for granted, 
are lost in these lines...

BTW; Kohleth has some of the most powerful poetry in all of 
Tanach...worth reading again and again with translations, commentaries, 

Jay Bailey


From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Mon, 10 Oct 1994 17:27:34 -0700
Subject: Racism

I wonder if the "topological" view suggested below might help to clarify 
the issue of "chosenness vs. racism."

There is no doubt that some persons are smarter and some dumber.  There 
is no doubt that races have differences (certainly in skin color and 
other minor physical qualities) and this means that in some ways some 
races are "better" and in other ways "worse", on average, than others.
So, let's accept that Jews, on average, have some qualities that are 
"better" than others.  I'm not saying that I completely agree with this 
or that I understand "chosenness" in a way that means Jews are actually 
better in some way.  I am only saying, for the purposes of the model I 
want to use, that I am not considering this issue here.)

Now, in human terms, when some person or something is better than 
another, that can make a substantial difference.  We have finite 
abilities in a finite environment and being able to read two or three 
times as fast as another person, for example, could be a significant 
advantage in life.  But this is ONLY because we are looking at the 
problem from a human perspective.

>From a "higher"  perspective the situation can be different.  Looked at 
from the perspective of an Infinite Being, differences that are large to 
us can be infinitesimal.  Our personal and Jewish position in life is 
such that there are always persons who are better than us and persons 
whom we are better than.  But that is also true for these persons.  Each 
person better than us has someone better than themselves, and each 
person we are better than has someone whom they are better than.  This 
chain is as long as life.

Even though we are better than some, we are still in the same position 
as those whom we are better than.  Even though there are those better 
than us, we are still in the same position as they are.  Hierarchically, 
each is better than the other, in turn, but TOPOLOGICALLY, relative to a 
chain of merit that includes us and all others, we are all in the same 

Likewise, when we examine, with our limited view, the relative positions 
of others, we see significant differences.  But if we view our situation 
from an infinite perspective (perhaps similar to the infinite 
perspective of The Infinite Being), then the differences between 
adjacent levels on our chain of merit are infinitesimal and 
insignificant (compared to the infinitely greater merit of The Infinite 

For me, this helps.  It means that I cannot deny that persons and even 
races have differences and I cannot deny, consequently, that there are 
some who are more meritorious and some who are less meritorious.  
Nevertheless, from a spiritual perspective, we are all equal in the 
"eyes of G-d."

This difference is, in my opinion, very similar to the situation of the 
scouts who came back with a bad report.  They were looking with their 
"human eyes" at the physical/material situation in Canaan.  They were 
not looking with their spiritual "eyes" in the "light of Hashem."  That, 
I believe it is taught, is one reason why Hashem punished them.

When we look at the other nations, we are, in a sense, looking at 
Canaan.  We see our world inhabited by sometimes inhospitable peoples.  
That is what the peoples of our materialistic world look like to persons 
who are not so materialistic but who may lack sufficient faith to see 
deeper.  In the light of Hashem and in the context of our awe of Hashem 
(Yirat Hashem), our fears in the world are put into perspective.  
Whatever the differences between "us" and "them", they are insignificant 
when we are standing in awe of Hashem.  "Chosen" or not, superior or 
inferior, we are in exactly the same topological position as all the 
other creatures of Hashem's creation.

I'm not sure if mathematical models have as much meaning for others as 
they do for me.  Perhaps this model can help to sort out some of the 


Stan Tenen                    Meru Foundation
<meru1@...>           P.O. Box 1738
(415) 459-0487                San Anselmo, CA 94979

From: Alan Mizrahi <amizrahi@...>
Date: Mon, 10 Oct 1994 21:02:56 EDT
Subject: Racism

In mj 15:59, David Charlap states:

> One is never held guilty for his thoughts, although he should be very
> careful that "wrong" thoughts do not become wrong speech and wrong actions.

I don't think this is completely accurate.  In Parshat Kedoshim, (19:17)
it says, "You shall not hate your neighbor in your heart."  Clearly, the
Torah forbids us from feeling hatred against our fellow Jew, even if we
just think it, without doing anything about it.  The Torah recognizes
that often if we hate someone, we can act on that hatred without
thinking about it first and commit several aveirot.  Therefore we should
be very careful not even to hate someone.

The same principle can be applied to non-Jews.  Even if the curse of
Cana'an means that blacks are inferior (and I'm not giving an opinion
one way or the other) there is no need to make a concsious
acknowledgement of it on a regular basis, for there is nothing we can do
about it anyway.  Certainly we should not mention it publicly, since it
can be used as a source of anti-semitism, and can turn other Jews away
from the Torah.

I think that since blacks are not going to become our slaves, as the
curse would suggest, we should just regard them as people, and treat
them in such away as to create Kedushat Hashem (sanctification of God's

-Alan Mizrahi

From: Robert Swartz <rs@...>
Date: 11 Oct 94 10:00:11 CDT (Tue)
Subject: Racism

I would like to comment on two threads of this group, racism and women.
If the core of the Torah can be expressed in the aphorism "Do not unto
others as you would not have them do unto to you. The rest is commentary
now go study." Then it seems clear to me that racism is anti-thetical to
Torah. As people we surely do not want to be classified and treated less
well simply because we are jewish. Thus same would apply to others. Is not
the purpose of the Torah to allow us to come closer to God and does not
racism have the opposite effect?

In regard to the status of women in Torah can we not apply the same
standard? Why should anyone be treated less well? Can this not be seen
as the force behind much of feminism? Rather than viewing todays point of
view simply as revisionism one could similarly view some of the attitudes
of the past as being influenced by the perspectives of their times. I
beleive that treating others well is at the heart of Torah and that we
should always consider this when evaluating things.

Bob Swartz
<rs@...>, Mark Williams Co.
60 Revere Drive, Northbrook, IL 60062


From: <turkel@...> (Eli Turkel)
Date: Tue, 11 Oct 94 13:02:14+020
Subject: racism and the modern world

     I disagree with Shaul Wallach's approach to racism and to the
non-Torah world. We see from Parshat Noach that the world was punished
for misbehaving.  Rashi states that the generation of the tower of Bavel
was punished with an easier pinishment then that of the generation of
the flood because the generation of the tower of Bavel were united while
the generation of the flood fought with each other. Now fighting
(machloket) is not one of the 7 mitzvot which gentiles are required to
observe (actually 6 before the flood).  Nevertheless the generation of
the flood was punished because of this and the generation of the tower
of Bavel were "rewarded" for their peace. I contend because issues such
as peace (and not war) are fundamental beliefs and do not have to stated
explicitly as mitzvot. Even for Jews it is debated if starting a fight
one of the 613 mitzvot (from parshat Korach).  In any case it is
universally accepted as bad behavior whether or not it is one of the 613
mitzvot. Similarly racism is wrong whether or not it is explicitly one
of the mitzvot.

     Rav Aharaon Lichtenstein has discussed at length how the mitzva of
"ve-assita ve-hayashar ve-hatov be-einei hashem" (do the proper and good
in the eyes of G-d) includes general proper behavior that is not
explicitly included in other mitzvot. In other words there exists a
basic ethical code beyond what the Shulchan Arukh lists. Like any code
of law the Shulchan Arukh can not refer to every possible
occurrence. Hence, there are guidelines for behavior even if it does not
appear explicitly. The Gemara in several places uses this mitzvah for
the basis of rabbibical enactments (e.g. bar-metzrah - neighbors get
first rights to buy land) but it is more general than these specific

     Furthermore, there is the general mitzvah of "kedoshim te-hiu" (be
holy).  As the Ramban points out, it is possible to observe all the
mitzvot and still be a wicked person. Thus, this mitzvah also teaches
that there are fundamental ethical principles that need not be spelled
out but are still against the spirit of the Torah.

     Hence, universal ethical principals recognized by all major
cultures are automatically included within the Torah system without
being mentioned explicitly , unless of course they are explicitly
excluded. Thus, if the Torah explicitly commands us to destro Amalek
then other peoples principles are to be ignored.

     I wish to conclude with some stories I heard and read about Rav
Moshe Feinstein,

Rav Feinstein was collecting money for a charity together with a
student.  They were arguing who should pay the transportation costs for
the student, both insisting on paying. Finally the student said that if
Rav Moshe was so insistent that there must be a part of Shulchan Arukh
that supports him. Rav Moshe answered that there was not, he wanted to
pay because that was the right thing to do.

Rav Moshe once saw a black boy alone in the building where he lived. He
stayed with the boy until the mother showed up. He told students that
one should not leave little children alone. Obviously, he felt this was
a greater mitzva then the extra learning he would have done in his

When Rav Moshe was in the hospital, later in life, he made every effort
he could to ease the work of the (gentile) nurses in the ward.

There are also numerous stories of the Chatam Sofer, Rav Kaminetsky and
others who befriended non-jews and were ultimately saved because of
these acts.  Obviously, these acts were not taken with any anticipation
of reward.  Finally there is the story of Rav Shimon ben Shetach who
returned a diamond to the person who left it on a donkey he bought so
that the gentile would bless the G-d of Israel.



From: Michael Broyde <RELMB@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Oct 94 10:22:14 EDT
Subject: Re: Torah Perspective on Racism

A number of people have written about "the torah perpective" on racism.
I would like to add data to that calculus.  A number of poskim (ealy and
late) discuss whether halacha permits a Jew to do something that general
(non-Jewish) religious society prohibits.  Thus Magen Avraham rules that
halacha prohibits building a shul on Shabbat with Gentile labor
(something which technical halacha permits) since Christians would not
build their churchs on their day of rest.  This is used by Rav Yakov
Briesh, Chelkat Yakov 3:45-48 as gorunds to prohibit artifical
insemination (since the Catholic church prohibits it, we should not do
it).  While Rav Moshe Feinstein argues with this application (see
Dibbrot Moshe Ketuvot 232-248), he accepts the basic premise that one
should avoid if possible activity that secular society considers
immoral.  (He limits this rule to cases where the cost is less than
infertelity, however.)  In sum, there is much halachic basis for looking
into the general morals of secular society before one argues that a
certain conduct is practically permitted in Jewish law.  This writter
feels that racism is exactly such a case; to speak about a "torah
perspective" (never mind "the torah perspective") ignores the clear
halachic obligation which restricts us from doing actions which general
society views as immoral.  To the best of my knowledge, no normative
halachic authority disputes this concept in cases where there is no
countervaling need (like procreation).  Racist comments fall into such a
 Rabbi Michael Broyde


End of Volume 15 Issue 78