Judaism and Racism

The Laws of Conversion are, without a doubt, among the most wondrous laws of the Torah. In contrast to the claim of the nations of the world that we are racists, in the most negative meaning of the term, the Torah comes to tell us that any non-Jew who sincerely truly wants to join Am Yisrael can do so.

The German Nazis, may they be erased from all existence, didn’t allow a person from any other ethnic group to join their lowly ranks. Even Jews who assimilated and declared that they had adopted Christianity were still considered Jews by the racist Germans. In great contrast, the Nation of Israel is willing to accept any Gentile who seeks to become a member of our Nation according to the halakha.

It is true that we are racist, but in the positive meaning of the word. We believe it is our Divinely chartered task to uplift mankind, and to benefit all races, spiritually and physically, in every way we can. As God’s Chosen Nation, we feel a responsibility to perfect the world. As Rabbi Menashe from Ilia said, “As long as there is one pain-stricken worm stuck in a crack in a rock, it is a sign that the Redemption has not arrived.” Our most natural desire is that all people live a life filled with goodness, and we are constantly working to improve the world in a myriad of paths, whether it be via science, technology, computer engineering, medicine, economics, agriculture, education, justice, art, as well as in being a light to the nations through the great moral ideals of the Torah.

How very opposite were the Nazi racists, who believed that they were the “chosen nation,” only they expressed it in the most contradictory and morally polluted manner possible, proclaiming their supremacy and dominance over everyone else, and believing that the rest of mankind was created to serve them – whereas Am Yisrael expresses its chosen stature through its orientation of love and compassion toward the brotherhood of man. Even toward our enemies, we show unprecedented mercy.

Therefore, if a German, or an Arab, should come, even the son of a vehement hater of Israel, wanting to join our Nation with all of his heart, we are prepared to accept him and to love him as one of us. Additionally, we are commanded to show an extra love toward the convert, as the Torah states: “And you should love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Devarim, 10:19).

Our Attitude toward the Convert

A convert (ger) is like a Jew in every aspect. Furthermore, one must carefully guard his honor, even more than the honor due to a Jew from birth, because of the many difficulties that a convert faces in his or her path to becoming Jewish. Among other things, he must break away from his family, his nation, and often his land, to join a wise and enlightened people who possess a rich and ancient tradition which is not easy to adopt even after many years of committed learning. Because this extreme transition demands great mental, emotional, and spiritual effort, even the slightest insult can undermine a convert’s sense of security and bring about a deep depression.

Therefore, the Torah was very strict in warning that anyone who causes a convert to suffer, violates three prohibitions of the Torah (Baba Metzia 59B). Firstly, a convert is like every other Jew, and anyone who afflicts him violates the precept, “You shall not harm one another” (Vayikra, 25:17). In addition, he violates, “You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Shemot, 22:20); and, “If a stranger sojourn with you in your Land, you shall not wrong him. But the stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God” (Vayikra, 19:33-34).

In addition, we were commanded with two positive precepts to love the convert (Rambam, Hilchot Daot 6:4). First, we are to love him as we are to love every Jew, as it says, “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra, 19:18); and to love him for being a convert, as it says, “And you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Devarim, 10:19). Therefore, it is proper and just behavior to show a convert added love, for, out of his own free will, he left his former countrymen and people, and chose to attach himself to Am Yisrael. Thus he deserves a double measure of our affection.

Furthermore, the Holy One Blessed Be He, loves the convert, as it says, “And He loves the stranger to give them food and clothing” (Devarim, 10:18). May it be God’s will that we all merit to love converts, to bring them closer to us, and to welcome them warmly into our fold. In this way we can reveal the special chosenness of Am Yisrael.

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper; His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English; Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
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