Harry Maryles

In the Image of God

A few years ago, I had heard a recording of a Chasidic Rebbe giving a lecture about what our attitude should be with respect to ‘the Goyim’. He proceeded to say that even though we must be nice to them so as to get along in society —  as Jews we must hate them!

Last night, I heard it again… only with a slightly different twist. A yeshivishe version of the same thing. I don’t know the speaker’s name. I only heard the recording incidentally. It sounded like a high school rebbe speaking to his class. He was very clear. Lecturing in what can only be called Yeshivishe English ( a combination of English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Aramaic) he forcefully urged his students to understand that the Goyim hate us. Esav Sonei L’Yaakov!

He went on to say that even the Chasidei Umos HaOlam (righteous gentiles) hate us. Those who saved us in the Holocaust did so because they thought it is the right thing to do, not because they love us. They probably even hate us despite the fact Jewish lives were saved by them!

I believe this attitude accounts for one of the major differences between the Charedi world (both Chasidic and Yeshivish) and Modern Orthodoxy of all stripes.

Before anyone accuses me of Charedi bashing, let me say that the Charedi world has a lot to offer and a lot to admire. I have said this many times before. Their devotion to a righteous life is unparalleled in other Orthodox streams. No one pays as much attention to details than they do.

No one has as much devotion to Torah study as they do. No one sacrifices as much materialism  the sake of spirituality as they do. They are more generous with their charitable contributions as a percentage of income than any other segment – giving away the required 10% of their disposable income. And their Chesed organizations are renowned for helping fellow Jews without regard to denomination or Hashkafa.

So as I said, there is to be much admired – and even emulated about the Charedi world. But in this area, I am sorry to say they seem to fall short.

The differences in how to approach the secular world could not be more stark… as those two lectures illustrate. That is a key difference that has vastly different consequences for each.

As noted, I have been accused by the right of being a Charedi basher. And ironically — of being an actual Charedi by the left. I am neither. I am a Centrist that hopefully tries to incorporate the best of both worlds into my life and reject what I see as negative.

What is a Centrist? It is someone that sees positive value in secular studies and pursues it just as he does religious studies — realizing the primacy off religious studies in all cases. It is someone that sees positive value in that part of the culture that does not contradict Halacha or our traditional value system.

We differ with the extreme right in the sense that they do not see any intrinsic value in secular studies except a utilitarian one. And for the most part, they do not see any value at all in secular culture. To the extent that they may indulge in it, it is usually done with a sense of guilt.

We differ from the extreme left (e.g., Open Orthodoxy) in the sense that they have abandoned traditional religious values that contradict newer societal values. They favor honoring those newer values even if it means rejecting tradition — as long as there is no technical violation of Halacha. (For purposes of this discussion I am avoiding the troubling issue of their tolerance of bible critics in their midst).

But when it comes to how we view non Jews, Centrists and the left are virtually polar opposites of the Charedi world. It isn’t just those two lectures that convince me of that. I have had numerous conversations with right wing Yeshiva students about ‘the Goyim’. They reflect that disdain.  Which is obviously learned directly from their Rebbeim in lectures like the one I heard.  It isn’t even subtle. It is direct. ‘We must hate them!’  ‘They hate us!’ No exceptions. Even for the righteous among them.

Centrists and the extreme left have similar views with respect to non Jews. We differ greatly with Charedim on this issue. We see all human being created in the image of God  and treat them accordingly. While Charedim believe that too, they nevertheless go to great lengths to disparage ‘the Goy’ while warning their students to behave when they are around them.

There is an explanation for this having to do with Jewish history and the insular nature of the Charedi world. Rashi’s comment of ‘Esav Sonei L’Yaakov’ is used to explain centuries of antisemitic violence perpetrated against the Jewish people wherever they were to be found – culminating in the Holocaust. With that kind of history, it’s understandable that there is a distrust of ‘the Goy’. Even when they are nice to you. (They don’t mean it, you know.)

The non Jews I know are nothing like that. They are fine and decent people — just like us. Many have similar values. This is a secular country founded on religious tolerance — the first civilized country to do so, I believe. Its pioneers settled here because of the religious intolerance they felt back in England. That by its very nature means that this country is going to be tolerant of its Jewish citizens.

“To Bigotry No Sanction; to Persecution No Assistance” read George Washington’s Letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790. That is truer today than ever.  Certainly that is the case in post Holocaust 20th and  21st century America.  It is the rule — not the exception — that America sees all men as equal.

And yet the world of the right goes out of their way to not notice it, or if they do notice it at all, they  chalk it up to an exception.  The reason for that should be obvious. They are purposely insular — trying to avoid all contact with non Jews. To the extent that they have any contact at all, it is only as needed.  And when they do, at the back of their minds is what they have been taught about ‘the Goyim’. That insularity reinforces those beliefs and attitudes. They hate us — and we should hate them.

That type of thinking can easily impact on decisions to defraud the government — the kind financial crimes we read about from time to time. It is true that financial crime exists in all segments of society – religious or otherwise.  Greed has no religion, denomination, or Hashkafa. But when I see it in a Charedi Jew — someone whose fear of heaven is palpable — I have to believe that at least part of their motivation comes from their disdain for ‘the Goy’. This has to be in part the justification for taking advantage of them — as long as they don’t get caught.

Is there is no chance of changing things from the inside? I doubt that they will listen to anyone from the outside. If they do not change and this community continues to grow exponentially this attitude will not serve the Jewish people well.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.