Toldot 5780

Is Judaism a Racist Religion? Toldot
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
Last Shabbat, we read Chayei Sarah in which Abraham commands his servant, Eliezer, to go to the land of his birth, Aram Naharayim, to find a wife for his son Isaac.  (Aram Naharayim is the land between the two great rivers – the Euphrates and Tigris - later called Mesopotamia, today on the Turkish-Syrian border.) Abraham warns Eliezer and makes him swear not to bring Isaac a wife from among the women of Canaan, but rather only from among his family in his native land.  And so, Eliezer arrives in Haran, meets Abraham’s relatives, and brings Rebecca to Canaan to marry Isaac: “…and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her” (Genesis 24, 67).


In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we deal with the same topic.  Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him his older brother Esau’s blessings.  Esau becomes infuriated and intends to take revenge and kill Jacob.  Rebecca, aware of Esau’s scheme, warns Jacob and tells him to escape to her native land – Haran in Aram Naharayim – where her older brother Laban resides.  Isaac, who is unaware of Esau’s plans, is told a different story:

“And Rebecca said to Isaac, "I am disgusted with my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth like these, from the daughters of the land, of what use is life to me?”
(Genesis 27, 46)

In response, Isaac instructs Jacob:

"You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram…and take yourself from there a wife of the daughters of Laban, your mother's brother.”

And then Isaac adds:

“And may the Almighty G-d bless you…And may He give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you…”
(Ibid 28, 1-4)

Isaac teaches us that the blessing of Abraham is contingent upon the purity of the marriage.  If one is stringent about a kosher marriage, one merits the blessing of Abraham.  And indeed, the Jewish nation throughout the generations has viewed this as a core principle: intermarriage is seen as a very serious transgression.  Jews only marrying Jews has been crucial to the survival of the Jewish nation.  Amazingly, despite the nation being dispersed all around the world for thousands of years, we have maintained our faith and lifestyle, allowing us to survive and return to our homeland.  A survey of other nations from ancient times that have not survived and comparing them with the Jewish people raises an essential understanding that a nation that did not preserve marriage within the nation and intermarried with other nations was not able to preserve its national culture or traditional lifestyle.

There are those who see the prohibition to marry a non-Jew as racist.  This mistake stems from a misunderstanding.  Judaism does not disqualify any person or any race.  Anyone, of any race, can join the Jewish people – if they take upon themselves the principles of Jewish faith and the commandments that stem from it.  No one has ever been disqualified from joining the Jewish nation due to the color of his skin or the land of his origin!  Furthermore – research into the ideological foundation of the entire equal-rights concept will not find its source in classic Greek thought or anywhere else that might have influenced western thought.  The equal-rights concept originated in Judaism that sees every person – irrespective of gender, race, or religion – as someone created “in G-d’s image”.

However, Judaism has also ingrained in us the important understanding that there is no way to preserve the principles of faith and lifestyle while assimilating in a society that stands for different principles.  This separatism is essential in order to preserve Judaism, while pride and arrogance are disgraceful traits and racism is a crime intolerable to Judaism.


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