Our Relationship With Gentiles

letter-447577_1280

Except for one point, I will not respond to comments on my previous posting “Have We Become Right-Wingers?” The exception is the attitude of Orthodox Jews to persons who are not Jewish. This is an issue that I feel strongly about, as the following note indicates. I have published it twice before, initially in the RJJ Newsletter and then in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society that is published by the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School. While I received many comments — including from persons within the yeshiva world — no one indicated disagreement with the position that I took. Here is the note:

A noted Harvard University professor who is a committed Jew recently told of a student from an Orthodox home and strong day school background who had abandoned religious life because his experience at Harvard showed him the falsehood of what he had been taught about Gentiles.

Likely, there’s more — perhaps much more — to this young man’s story and journey. Doubtlessly, other factors were at work. Yet, what strikes as too close to home is the reference to derogatory remarks about non-Jews, the sort of gratuitous and nasty fare that is all too common in our religious life and our schools. Such remarks have become part of our vernacular. I have heard far too much inappropriate talk, specifically including by people who declaim readily about shmiras halashon, of the need to be careful in speech.

It is lamentable that we have to stress the obvious principle that no individual or group is elevated by putting down other people. Groups and individuals are elevated by what they do, not by the behavior of others. For Jews, the concept of chosenness arises only out of our living sanctified lives in accordance with the Torah’s commandments. When we speak pejoratively of Gentiles, we may in a sense diminish them, but for sure in the process we are diminishing ourselves.

We also come dangerously close to the forbidden zone of Chilul Hashem, of desecrating G-D’s name, by deprecating for no other reason other than that they are not Jews those who are created in the image of G-D. It pains me to say that some of the things I have heard are a form of nivil peh, of vulgarity.

There are, we must acknowledge, deep and still open emotional and physical wounds arising from our encounters with the outside world, most horrifyingly in the ineradicable experience of the Holocaust. The admonition expressed here is not intended to soften our feelings about the murder of millions of Jews or the centuries of persecution that preceded the European Churban. Nor should we turn a blind eye toward contemporary anti-Semitism or to cultural excesses and life-styles that are antithetical to Torah values.

In fact, derogatory language against Gentiles generally is not intended to express hostility to that which merits hostility. In a curious way, the impact, if not the intent, of blanket negativism toward non-Jews makes the inadvertent point that it is not anyone’s wrongful actions that are evil but merely one’s status as a non-Jew. This notion is at once absurd and abhorrent. It is also rather poor strategy for the Jewish people. After all, there are only a handful of us and I very much doubt that G-D put us on this earth to wage war against six billion of its inhabitants.

Even if as I have suggested the tale of the Harvard student has more to it, it remains that some in our ranks are repelled by the words that they hear about Gentiles and, as a consequence, they move further away from Judaism. Surely, kiruv efforts are being undermined by inappropriate language and attitudes.

Those of us in the yeshiva world who have become inured to and accepting of the language that I regard as wrongful are likely to be critical of what I have written here. My suggestion is that they reflect on the example of Torah leaders whom we turn to for guidance. In my experience, I never heard such transcendent leaders as the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood or Rav Moshe Feinstein or Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky or Rav Pam ever employ the kind of language that is so promiscuously used these days by lesser figures in our community.

My further suggestion is that they keep in mind that no one is ever elevated by putting down someone else.

You may also like...

25 Responses

  1. Edvallace says:

    Joel,
    you wrote, “Is there a cognitive dissonance in telling them they live in a medinah shel chesed which allows them to practice their religion as they please but the values of the people in the medinah are rotten?
    KT” Joel Rich

    I don’t believe there is at all. The idea of Medina Shel Chessed simply means that our country as a whole, which was founded by all kinds of people, many of them Jews in fact, is indeed a Medina Shel Chessed and therefore we must be grateful and loyal citizens of our country. That does not in any mean that we must assume the values of the country. There’s a huge difference between patriotism and values of individual cultures.

    In fact, that is precisely what the idea of Medina Shel Chessed represents. It means that we aren’t forced to assume Christian, Protestant, Muslim, Atheistic, Agnostic, or any other values. We are free to choose our own set of perspectives so long as we respect THE RIGHT of others to do so as well. Respecting their right of course, doe not mean that we have to agree with them as long as we don’t pressure them to change. It would be utterly absurd to expect that respect to extend to whether we may express our differences to our children and ensure that they don’t go down that road.

    Again, I stress, our rejection of their values must be done sensitively but to be honest, I’d rather err on the side of making my point clear to my children than risk blurring the distinction in favor of being PC.

    Those who believe that this derision is what causes them to deride us are in denial of some basic Jewish history and rather explicit verses in the Torah that tell us otherwise. Their historic unwillingness to tolerate the Jew stems from something else altogether.

  2. Zev says:

    Re. Congnitive dissonance:

    I don’t think so. The chesed is a good midah. Others are bad middos. It’s not that difficult to differentiate.

  3. Elie says:

    “Edvallace wrote: “but I feel there is a strong benefit to deriding them to some extent”. The part I questioned, not criticized, were the following two words: “deriding them”.

    Edvallace, if you meant “lifestyles” as opposed to the people, then we are in agreement.”
    ==============================
    …then you cannot complain when we Jews are similarly derided…to some extent.

    Not good enough for me, sorry.
    Elie

  4. joel rich says:

    Is there a cognitive dissonance in telling them they live in a medinah shel chesed which allows them to practice their religion as they please but the values of the people in the medinah are rotten?
    KT
    Joel Rich

  5. Zev says:

    “Edvallace, if you meant “lifestyles” as opposed to the people,”

    He didn’t just mean it, he actually said it. My problem with what you wrote is that you mischaracterized what he said.

  6. Sholom Simon says:

    Rather, Zev, what problem do you find with what I wrote? Edvallace wrote: “but I feel there is a strong benefit to deriding them to some extent”. The part I questioned, not criticized, were the following two words: “deriding them”.

    Edvallace, if you meant “lifestyles” as opposed to the people, then we are in agreement.

    Which is what I said the first time.

  7. Edvallace says:

    Thank you Zev for pointing out what I wrote. For the doubters out there, here is an exact quote, “Of course, a balance must be struck and this idea must be imparted with great care but there is a place for ridiculing their lifestyles as well. Note, I said lifestyles, not lives.”

  8. Zev says:

    Sholom Simon,

    What exactly is your problem with what edvallace wrote? If you look again, you’ll see that he clearly differentiated between criticism of “their lifestyles” and criticism of “their lives.” In other words, the ideas not the individuals, which is precisely your point. Don’t cherry-pick the comment. Read the whole thing.

  9. Sholom Simon says:

    JZ asks: “What does he propose we teach our kids? That the culture’s lousy and antithetical to what we stand for, but the people pushing this culture are just great?”

    No, teach them that the culture’s lousy and antithetical to what we stand for, but that people, if they need to be judged, need to be judged individually — and carefully, after all, we don’t stand in their shoes.

  10. Nice Gentile Girl says:

    “What does he propose we teach our kids? That the culture’s lousy and antithetical to what we stand for, but the people pushing this culture are just great?”

    Sort of…

    it is the story of r’ Meir and his wife Bruria from a recent daf yomi. Berachot 10a

    http://www.geocities.com/m_yericho/ravkook/PSAL104B.htm

  11. JZ says:

    Mr. Simon admonishes us to condemn people’s actions, not people themselves.

    A nice jingle, but meaningless.

    What does he propose we teach our kids? That the culture’s lousy and antithetical to what we stand for, but the people pushing this culture are just great?

  12. Sholom Simon says:

    Edvallace writes “Of course, it’s important not to speak negatively about Non-Jews”, but then writes:

    but I feel there is a strong benefit to deriding them to some extent especially to ones children and students [in an appropriate manner]. Their lifestyles are by and large anathema to a Torah lifestyle

    My question is: who is the “them” that you are referring to? If by “them” you mean non-Jews, my question is: why are you ignoring all the non-halachic Jews who have a lifetyle that are anethema to Torah? If you mean to include them, too, are we to speak negatively of our fellow Jews, too?

    Rather, may I suggest, that we condemn the actions, and not the group and/or person simply based on his religious affilation. If we want to codemn the lifestyle of a large majority of American’s, that’s fine. If we want to condemn “non-Jews” — then we’re right back where we started — feelings of smugness, superiority, and so forth, which leads to bad results on how we think of, and treat “the goyim.”

  13. Edvallace says:

    Mr. Schick,
    You make an excellent point but I take issue with one aspect of it.
    Of course, it’s important not to speak negatively about Non-Jews [BTW – the PC term these days is Non-Jews. Gentiles or Goyim is very derogatory for all you non-pc’ers out there] and certainly not in mixed audiences. Different River’s story about the Kiruv shiur which was one long rant on how inferior Non-Jews are is either a fantasy or an example of someone who shouldn’t be in that field [every field has some of those – wouldn’t you agree?] Typical Kiruv workers bend over backwards to avoid any such talk, and prepare long and hard to deal with questions of that nature.
    I still feel however, that much as you may wish to deny this [and many a MO person would – I don’t know your affiliation so excuse me if you identify differently] but I feel there is a strong benefit to deriding them to some extent especially to ones children and students [in an appropriate manner]. Their lifestyles are by and large anathema to a Torah lifestyle and that’s a fact not so easily discerned by young impressionable children. Our children need to know that their views, lifestyles, perspectives etc. are NOT OURS and we actually hold strong opposition to them. In other words, we cannot allow our children to feel that they just live “an alternative lifestyle”. Sorry, that’s not an option for me and many other Torah Jews. I would compare it to “Letzeinussah D’Avodah Zarra” [the obligation to mock Avodah Zarrah]. Avodah Zarrah in its various forms was the dominant culture of its day – no different than secularism or evangelism.
    Of course, a balance must be struck and this idea must be imparted with great care but there is a place for ridiculing their lifestyles as well. Note, I said lifestyles, not lives.
    As far as your story about the boy going off the Derech because in college he was exposed to the beauty of Non-Jews and their lifestyles, I find it incredible. Nearly every frum person I speak to tells me the greatest affirmation of our lifestyle is stepping foot on a college campus and seeing the emptiness and disgusting behavior that masquerades as “higher learning etc.” I personally expereinced that as well. My guess is this boy had major issues or a king-sized Yetzer Harah and this was his convenient excuse for ditching Yiddishkeit. [Might I ask – did he just become a clean-cut secularist or did he end up using drugs etc.?]

  14. M. Hillson says:

    Another anecdote about R. Yaakov Kamenetzky O.B.M. mentioned in the book “Reb Yaakov”:

    Near his home in Monsey there was a convent.

    The nuns were quoted as saying that he was the only Jew to say “good morning” to them – instead of looking the other way – when he and they crossed paths on the street.

  15. Yaakov D. Homnick says:

    If I may also point out the fact that all the Talmudic information about Adam and the essence of being human is in the 4th Perek of Sanhedrin, entitled Echad Dinei Momonos, the acronym of which is Adam. The message seems to be that the honor accorded to people’s money in the law, equating it with the respect given to life itself, proves the ultimate value of being human.

    Since the Torah forbids thieving from a non-Jew, the implication is that his humanity must be respected by the Jew.

    Please note, as well, that the criticism of Jews for not learning life lessons from the better Goyim, included in the prophecy of Ezekiel (5:7), is brought at the VERY END of that Perek (39b), as punctuation to the overall message of the Perek.

  16. Shimon says:

    I wonder, though, how you would explain the section of the Hadran text said upon completion of a tractate of Talmud, which compares those who have studied with others.

    Obviously there is no lack of negative references about non-Jews in Torah literature. Yet there is also no lack of negative references about Jews.

    At the same time, there is also no lack of positive statements about both Jews and non-Jews. To pick one over the other and form a worldview about it — worse, to posit that this is Chazal’s worldview is very wrong. Our relationship with the peoples of the world does not begin or end with the lashon of the hadran.

  17. Yaakov Homnick says:

    There is a specific Midrash that teaches not to say Losho Hora about Gentiles. It learns it from “Teshev b’achicha tedaber, b’ven imcha teetenn dofi”.

  18. joel rich says:

    No Zev, it doesn’t justify it. Keep in mind however that being the am hanivchar and saying shelo asani goy can be misinterpreted as that we are superior by nature. There may be some who believe this but I was taught that it means we have a superior burden to bear and if we bear it well, then we make HKB”H proud of us because of what we do, not because of what others don’t do or are not given the opportunity to do. Being the am hanivchar means we need to understand noblesse oblige-the belief that the wealthy and privileged are obliged to help those less fortunate, not to treat them as less than human. Another side-effect of treating them as less than human is it desensitizes us and we’ll eventually treat other Jews in the same way as well.
    KT

  19. Max says:

    I agree that emotions toward people never justify improper speech or improper actions toward them. However the question is: are we justified in hating certain gentile nations or nonJews as a group? Are we justified in hating Ukrainians who did not merely slaughter Jews throughout their troubled history but whose capital today hosts in its central square monument to Bogdan Chmelnitskiy, one of the most notorious butchers of the Jews. Are we justified in hating Arabs who have devalued human life in general and of Jews in particular? Finally, are we justified in hating the gentile world whose representative organizations afford little value to our claims toward national homeland or toward our right to self defense, and who only a generation ago stood by at best inaction and often in complicity with the efforts to annihilate us totally? It may be politically correct in contemporary Western society to forget and move on but is it the right moral choice and does it make us vulnerable as a nation to the future threats to our safety and existence as we view the nations that surround us in naive and innocent light.
    Can one who identifies with his Jewish brethren in this generation, and generations past, harbor in his heart sincere hatred toward gentile world, without expressing it verbally or in actions, while at the same time giving each gentile individual a benefit of doubt that despite their surrounding the Image of God has not been corrupted in them?

  20. Zev says:

    “Because if it is common, chos v’sholom, the antisemites have a point…”

    Really? You really think that a feeling of Jewish superiority justifies what the anti-Semites have done and would like to do again?

  21. mykroft says:

    Excellent post-it requires “zero tolerance” of such language. It has to be treated as important not merely by gdolim such as Rav Moshe ZT”L. Rav Aaron ZT”L, and Rav Yaacov ZT”l but by the mechanchim from nursery level on up, It has to be treated at least as seriously as talking during tfilah. One assur drabbonan-one can chas vshalom cause chillul Hashem. At times we don’t include enough shiurim etc on basic hashkafa-kdoshim tiyu, ADAM nivra bstelem elokim etc.To quote I believe Rav Soloveitchik ZT”L “Halacha is a floor not a ceiling”

  22. Yaakov Menken says:

    I would like to think that the attitude you (Different River) describe is extremely uncommon — I’ve heard many different Kiruv speakers on two continents, and have never heard anything like that. What you describe is incredibly bad “outreach,” because we live in a pluralistic society and are raised on the value that “all men are created equal.” Most Kiruv audiences are grappling with — not relishing — the concept of being a “Chosen People,” and would respond negatively to a Rabbi who spoke so badly about non-Jews and our obligations towards them.

    A story with far greater resonance is that of Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, who was Rav of a city before the war. One day the postal teller gave someone too much change. The (Jewish) customer asked the Rav what he should do, and Reb Yaakov told him to return the extra money. The teller was so impressed by this Jew that he deliberately tested several others, and every time they gave back the extra money they had received.

    This teller later saved many Jewish lives during WWII.

  23. I once attended a shiur aimed at the “kiruv population” — the recently-became-frum and the might-become-frum. (I was not really in the target audience, but I went anyway — for a short time.) Over the course of the few weeks I attended, the Rabbi consistently and repeatedly stressed that our obligations to “goyim” are different and lower; in particular that the prohibitions on loshon hara and returning lost objects do not apply to non-Jews.

    Now maybe this is technically correct, but it was taken to such an extreme that in learning Eilu Metzius (Talmud section on lost objects), anytime anyone asked a question along the lines of, “So if I found such-and-such and object in the street,” the rabbis answer began, “Well here in America the majority of the population are goyim so there’s a presumption that the person who lost it is a goy so you don’t have to return it. Well, maybe if you found it on [insert name of main street in Jewish neighborhood].” He actually ridiculed the notion that someone might want to be “a nice guy” and return a lost object to a non-Jew (when forced [by me] to admit that this was not actually forbidden!).

    It actually got to the point that it was impossible to discuss the substance of the Gemara without prefacing every single question with, “So if I found this object — and I had reason to believe the person who lost it was a Jew, a shomer Shabbos Jew, maybe a rabbi — [continue with substance of the question].”

    Like I said, maybe this is technically correct, but it seemed like an awful lot of “class time” was taken stressing the idea that non-Jews are not worthy of our courtesy — perhaps as much time as was actually spent on the material in the Gemara.

    Keep in mind that this was a “kiruv class” — and it appealed primary to the biased instincts of the audience, the instincts that say “I’m Jewish therefore I’m better than you are” — in the hopes that this would lead to greater Jewish observance. In other words, observe the mitzvos of the Torah not because Hashem gave them, but because He gave them to us, and by observing them you can show that you are better than everybody else.

    (Needless to say, I didn’t stay in that shiur long…)

    How common is this attitude? Because if it is common, chos v’sholom, the antisemites have a point…

  24. Shira Schmidt says:

    I agree with you almost completely. I wonder, though, how you would explain the section of the Hadran text said upon completion of a tractate of Talmud, which compares those who have studied with others. The structure is: We arise early, and they arise early, but we arise….for something positive and they arise… for something negative; we toil and they toil, but we toil for something positive and they toil for something negative, etc. Here the two groups are not Jews vs gentiles, but Jews who arise early to study and those who arise early for something negative. Why is the text structured this way, and why does it not just state the positive half of each example without putting down the other parties?

  25. Bob Miller says:

    The urge to condemn non-Jews indiscriminately, which Marvin Schick addresses above, appears to have the same root cause as Lashon HaRa, even though it falls technically into a different category. Actualizing this urge through vulgar speech will damage the speaker and cause “collateral damage” to the the rest of us. The middot improvement campaigns in our schools should directly address how we should interact with all our neighbors.