web analytics
October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

The ‘S’ Word Has No Place In A Religious Jew’s Vocabulary

     Last week I delivered a sermon based on the Torah portion of the week and which compared Moses, the great Jewish redeemer, with Abraham Lincoln, the martyred American emancipator. When I finished, I was approached by an acquaintance who happens to be an Orthodox Jewish engineer. He seemed, up until that time, to be devout, educated, and sophisticated. But what he told me was sacrilegious, ignorant, and primitive.
 
      This gentleman maintained that Lincoln was no hero, seeing as he had freed a people who were the descendants of Ham, the son of Noah, who was cursed for humiliating his father. “Ham’s children are black, and are condemned by God to eternal slavery,” he said. “There was even a rebbe in Poland who predicted that Abraham Lincoln would be shot for liberating a people against God’s wishes.”
 
      I looked this man in the eye and said to him, “I’m confused. Judaism believes that every man is judged according to his actions. Now you are telling me that every black person in the world is cursed for something an ancestor did millennia ago. We Jews don’t believe in Original Sin, and we don’t believe in vertical accountability. So how can you tell me something so abominably racist like the fact that blacks are cursed?”
 
      He responded that I was denying scripture. I told him that his views were repugnant to everything Judaism stood for in terms of the equality of all mankind. And on an angry note, our mini-debate ended.
 
      I would not even mention this unhappy episode if I had not, at times, heard similar sentiments expressed by others purporting to be religious.
 
      The foundation of Judaism is God’s moral law. The cornerstone of the Bible is that every human being is created in God’s image. One cannot call oneself a religious Jew and harbor even the smallest hint of racism.
 

      Which is why it is time for all Jews to forever retire the odious term “shvartza.”

      From the time I was a boy I have heard the word shvartza used by many Jews to describe blacks. These were decent people with no intention of causing offense. To them, the term connoted nothing more than the Yiddish word for black. But, truth be told, the term has become one of condescension; a pejorative, a word that incorporates within it a hint of derision.
 
      My children were raised around many black men and women who are close family friends. From Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, who is like a brother to me, to Peter Noel, my esteemed colleague and former co-host on America’s oldest black radio station, to countless others, our Shabbos table has been a home away from home for African-Americans whom we have treated as family. So when my children went to a chassidic sleep-away camp one summer and heard the expression shvartza thrown about so loosely, they returned upset and disillusioned.
 
      When they asked me why so many religious Jews used the term, I had no real explanation. The overwhelming majority of religious Jews are committed to the highest humanitarian and ethical standards. Racism, to them, would be utterly unconscionable. So why use the term? There is no excuse. And it must be permanently retired.
 
      I have wanted to write this column ever since my children expressed their indignation, but refrained from doing so for fear it might be misunderstood as implying that there is racism among Orthodox Jews. To be sure, there is racism among all groups, just as there is, unfortunately, anti-Semitism among all groups. It seems that humanity is destined to forever harbor irrational hatred, even as we do our utmost to stamp it out. But of late, I have heard the term shvartza with such frequency that it could no longer be ignored. My children were absolutely right and we must all speak out.
 
      Yes, there may be racism among other groups. But among Jews it is especially reprehensible.
 
      First, because we Jews know what it is like to be hated simply for being what we are.
 
      Second, because Jews and blacks share a common spiritual history that includes slavery and emancipation, followed by discrimination and a shared yearning for entry into a promised land of acceptance and hope. We share also a mutual love for the redemptive utterances of the great Hebrew prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Micah, which formed the backbone of the most memorable speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
 
      Third – and this applies to religious Jews even more than to non-observant Jews – because we Jews are entrusted by God with spreading the message that all human beings are God’s children. The first great theological declaration of the Torah is that all people are created in the divine likeness.
 
      I don’t think there is anything as off-putting in a religious person as even a hint of racism. When a businessman wearing a yarmulke uses the word shvartza, he undermines the spiritual integrity for which that yarmulke stands.
 
      I spent the last week reading a book on the Middle Ages. Peter Abelard, the great medieval Catholic thinker, was castrated for his illicit love of Heloise. But he was hated even more for writing, so long ago, that Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus and could not be persecuted as deicides. Christianity had to go through many more centuries before it finally began purging Jew-hatred from its institutional soul.
 
      Likewise, many Muslims are today infected by an irrational hatred of Jews that belies Islamic history and which cannot be accounted for merely by the territorial dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Such racist views are a sin against Islam which subscribes to the biblical belief of the divine character of all humanity.
 
      Religious Jews, especially, must never empower such heretical views by harboring even the slightest hint of bigotry or prejudice.
 
      It is not just the Jewish engineer who told me that blacks were cursed by God. I once heard the same despicable view from the mouth of a teacher in a Jewish day school. Rabbis must be at the forefront of arguing the theological absurdity of such disgusting and ignorant ideas so that a generation of Jewish children grows up to love all humanity with the same fervent intensity of the first Jew, Abraham, whose very name means “the father of many nations.”
 

      Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s “Shalom in the Home,” the new season of which begins airing on March 4. His upcoming book, named after the TV show, will be released on the same day and is published by Meredith. Rabbi Boteach’s website is www.shmuley.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The ‘S’ Word Has No Place In A Religious Jew’s Vocabulary”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Chaye Zisel Braun
Funeral for Chaye Zisel Braun Underway [photos]
Latest Indepth Stories
Keeping-Jerusalem

Judea and Samaria (Yesha) have been governed by the IDF and not officially under Israeli sovereignty


n past decades, Oman has struck a diplomatic balance between Saudi Arabia, the West, and Iran.

The Jewish Press endorses the reelection of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His record as governor these past four years offers eloquent testimony to the experience and vision he has to lead the Empire State for the next four years.

I think Seth Lipsky is amazing, but it just drives home the point that newspapers have a lot of moving parts.

While not all criticism of Israel stemmed from anti-Semitism, Podhoretz contends the level of animosity towards Israel rises exponentially the farther left one moved along the spectrum.

Myth #1: It is easy to be a B’nai Noach. It is extraordinarily hard to be a B’nai Noach.

The question of anti-Semitism in Europe today is truly tied to the issue of immigration.

Polls indicate that the Palestinians are much more against a two state solution than the Israelis.

Turkey and Iran the 2 regional powers surrounding the ISIS conflict gain from a partial ISIS victory

Emigration from Israel is at an all-time low, far lower than immigration to Israel from Europe.

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters: “‘Klinghoffer’ is justified as ‘a work of art’…This is an outrage.”

Do you seriously think that as you kidnap our children we should medically treat and help yours?

Sometimes collective action against the heinous acts of the majority is not enough. The world should not only support the blockade of Gaza; it must enforce the dismantling of Hamas.

The Arab Spring has challenged Jordan with the task of gradual reform with regard to its monarchy.

More Articles from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meet in the Kremlin, Nov. 20, 2013.

On the one hand, Putin has been a friend to Chabad and to Israel. On the other hand, Putin is a brutal dictator.

The gradual trickle of self-hatred into the Jewish soul is evidencing itself in the American Jewish public.

Rabbi Schochet wrote the Johannesburg Beis Din: It is totally prohibited and unacceptable to hear someone like Boteach.

If you’re feeling down, stop reading right now. You’re only going to be more depressed.

The world and the United State continue to give Rouhani a pass.

American Jews – especially those working on campus – don’t accept that we have a battle on our hands.

But the most painful part of an otherwise illuminating and extraordinary Forum was Iranian President Rouhani’s speech.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-s-word-has-no-place-in-a-religious-jews-vocabulary/2007/01/31/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: