A Sordid Defamation of Judaism

Why is only Judaism, of all the faith communities that strive to preserve their profile and encourage 'in-marriage,' designated racist?

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Israel's two chief rabbis: Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, left, and Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.
Israel's two chief rabbis: Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, left, and Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi and Uriel Koby / Wikicommons
David Landau
David Landau

We look back with justified pride at Ambassador (later President) Chaim Herzog's dramatic tearing up of a UN draft resolution declaring that Zionism is racism. Many readers were doubtless moved to emulate the envoy – physically or virtually – upon reading Haaretz's editorial last Friday which declared, in effect, that Judaism is racism.

The print headline was "Racism with a Kippa." The article was ostensibly about the Chief Rabbinate election. It asserted that the "central mission" of the Chief Rabbinate is "official state coercion to preserve the 'purity of the Jewish People' through laws governing personal status The Rabbinate represents an ideology that strives to preserve the genetic profile of the Jewish community and [create] serious difficulties for those who want to join its ranks. Such an ideology must be called by its true name: racism."

I am no defender of the Chief Rabbinate, certainly not of its creating serious – and gratuitous – difficulties for would-be converts. And I can readily understand a position advocating the disestablishment of synagogue from state, or one advocating civil marriage.

But what has any of that to do with the obscene charge of racism? How can a religion, or indeed a rabbinate, which accept converts of all races and colors, fairly or logically be accused of racism?

The leader-writer confronts this problem of logic by disingenuously inserting the word "genetic," redolent as it is with terrible associations: "An ideology that strives to preserve the genetic profile of the Jewish community"

But that is as specious as it is sordid. Judaism, like other religions, does strive to preserve the profile of its community. Rabbis encourage Jews to marry – ideally - within their community. That goes for liberal rabbis – Conservative and Reform – as much as for Orthodox ones. (The liberal streams are more lenient on conversion.)

But it is their faith community, not their "genetic" community, that rabbis, like other clerics, try to preserve.

Catholic rules require and Catholic priests encourage Catholics to marry Catholics. That's not "genetics" or "racism." It's religion.

The leader-writer has a perfect right, of course, to eschew religion, all religion. But s/he must have the intellectual honesty to recognize his principled position and not fudge it with his specific hang-ups about Israel and its Judaism.

Some of these hang-ups, as I've noted, are entirely justified, in the eyes of Israeli believers as much or more than in the eyes of Israeli agnostics. Believers earnestly hoped the Chief Rabbinate election would produce a friendlier, more open, halachically more creative rabbinate. Above all, they hoped and prayed that the new rabbinate would resolve the national scandal of hundreds of thousands of ex-Soviet immigrants, who were urged by the state to make aliyah, but whose Jewishness is not recognized and whose path to marriage is impeded.

Here too, though, the leader-writer lets his prejudice – let's call it by its true name: anti-Jewish prejudice – show through. Rabbinical coercion (exercised through the state), he writes, involves "laws [that] prevent marriages between Jews and non-Jews and even marriages between a cohen and a divorcee."

But marital constraints are a primary method, often awkward and sometimes cruel, by which all religions try to keep their flocks in line. Various Christian churches impose various limits on marriageability. The Queen of England's daughter, Princess Anne, for instance, had to marry her previously divorced husband in Scotland because the Church of England does not allow divorced persons whose former spouses are still living to remarry in its churches, while the Church of Scotland does under certain circumstances.

With the birth of Prince George, the Haaretz leader writer ought surely to be thundering about his circumscribed future choice of marriage partners.

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