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Is Judaism racist? Or is it racist to say Judaism is racist?

Interesting piece in the Guardian yesterday.

The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, issued a rallying cry for Jews today to defend their schools from English law after the court of appeal decided that admission on the basis of a parent's Jewish status was discriminatory. Writing in this week's Jewish Chronicle, he condemned the ruling, saying it branded Judaism "racist".

Go here.

Who is being racist, if anyone? I take racism to be unjustified discrimination on the basis of race (note "unjustified" - there's nothing racist about, e.g. targeting treatment for an illness on the particular race that suffers from it).

Sacks' line seems to be that Jewish schools discriminate on the basis of religious orientation, not race, and this boy was not technically of Jewish faith because (i) his mother was not Jewish, and (ii) neither the boy nor the mother had converted by an appropriate mechanism.

The idea that having a Jewish mother is sufficient to make you Jewish, in the sense required for entry into a Jewish school, or Israel, surely is a criterion based on "race" rather than belief (assuming schools don't also require religiousity - which Israel doesn't, I believe). Neither your mother nor your mother's mother, etc. need be a believer. Just a member of the right "race". So the charge of racism might stick.

But only if this discrimination on the basis of "race" was unjustified.

It's possible that, by this criterion, many contemporary Palestinians are Jewish (it would depend on when the Jews as a "race" began - if the answer is more then 8K years ago...). Go here and here:

About two-thirds of Israeli Arabs and Arabs in the territories and a similar proportion of Israeli Jews are the descendents of at least three common prehistoric ancestors who lived in the Middle East in the Neolithic period, about 8,000 years ago.

I use "race" in scare quotes because I am unsure precisely what a "race" is in this context, given the very close ancestry and genetic inheritance of supposedly different "races".

I am by no means expert on precisely what Jews believe about the nature of Jewishness, so if I have got something wrong, apologies and do please correct me.

POST SCRIPT. Notice Sacks insists that the discrimination is religious not racial. However, the school's own website makes the actual judgement clearer:

"the Court decided that, since the test of who is a member of the Jewish faith is based on descent or conversion, it is a racial test."

Notice "by descent". It is sufficient that you be descended on the mother's side from someone of the Jewish faith. But by how many generations? If neither your mother nor your grandmother were practising Jews, you still get to go to the school if great-grandma was. This is, in effect, discrimination on the basis if being ethnically Jewish. If you are - you're in (even if you and your Mum are atheists). If you're not, well you or your mother (or grandmother, etc.) have to pass a faith test. This is ethnic or racial discrimination - whether or not justified (argue that it is, if you like). It's ethnic discrimination dressed up as faith-based discrimination.

The school says:

"any criteria based on membership of the Jewish faith has been held by the Court to be unlawful,"

That is not true, it seems to me. If the school applied only a genuinely faith-based test (as other religious schools do), that would presumably be ok. But this school also says it is sufficient to gain entry that you be ethnically/racially Jewish. If it simply drops that racial or ethnic criterion, it is presumably back within the law. What's being legally objected to is discrimination in favour of a race or ethnic group.

In Sacks article, he says:

"if Jewish schools are compelled by English law to impose a test of religious practice instead of the existing test of membership of the Jewish faith, they will no longer be able to teach the Jewish faith to those who have little or no experience of practising it."

Correct. Ethnic Jews who aren't practising won't be able to get in to the school, if non-ethnic Jews who aren't practising can't either (just as non-practicing Catholics can't get into many Catholic schools). Trouble is, Sacks has no interest in teaching the Jewish faith to non-ethnic Jews with little or no experience of practising it, but who want to attend the school. He wants them banned as pupils. Why?

Because they are not ethnically Jewish. That's the legal problem.


Perhaps the discrimination could be defended like this. A Jewish school teaches a Jewish heritage. And, arguably, those that are ethnically Jewish should get first dibs. In the same way that e.g. a college teaching about African-American heritage might argue African Americans should get first dibs on places, as its their own heritage that's being taught (but that analogy is not quite right, as Jewish schools don't just put ethnic Jews first in line, they actually prohibit non-Jews from attending).

POST POST POST SCRIPT. Notice by the way, that Sacks defines someone as being of the Jewish "faith", and passing the "faith" test (you are thereby a "member of the Jewish faith"), if you are militantly atheist, are descended from a long line of atheists, but your mother's, mother's, mother's, mother's mother happened to be a Jew. That's obviously not really a "faith test" at all, as most of us would understand the phrase. It's a racial or ethnicity test. "Faith" is being defined in terms of bloodline.

POSTPOSTPOSTPOST SCRIPT. There is a much fuller and more informative report here. This is also helpful in explaining what being Jewish involves.


Martin said…
Poor old Chief Rabbi has to confront his demons and understand that Judaism is racist. I couldn't convert, not because I couldn't do the religious practice, but because I am from the wrong race.

This isn't a huge issue for me, I don't want to convert, and I am happy for Jews to practice their religion however they want. Except in the secular issue that presumably the school receives state funding, and why should I be paying for children to be taught Judaism?

The law seems to define religion in terms of religious practice, not racial pedigree. When Sacks claims that Jewishness depends on the religion of the mother, then he makes a claim which is not recognised under UK law. We have rights as individuals under the law, not rights inherited from others. Except all our own peculiar exceptions that is, like the monarchy and inherited Lords, and probably a good few others.
Martin said…
I found Sack's original article here.
anticant said…
I don't care how Jews, Christians, or Muslims run their exclusive schools as long as thry don't get a penny of my money for doing so.
Tony Lloyd said…
It saddens, and concerns me, how the religious will ignore basic logic if defending a religious position.

If a school has "A" as the admission criteria then it doesn't stop having "A" if it adds "or B". It doesn't now have criteria that are solely "A", but then it doesn't have criteria that are solely "B". Yet when this school has "race or religion" as its criteria Sacks claims that it is solely religious. There is a school which says "you can come to this school if your mother is racially Jewish" and, somehow, cannot see that as a racial criterion. Sacks is an intelligent man and I very much doubt that, in reality, he can't see it. He seems to choose not to see it. It's like 1984: "the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to [your religion]" (I've just been re-reading 1984, the parallels between Ingsoc and the authoritarian religious are striking).
anticant said…
Really, Tony, do you seriously expect religious pundits to abide by the rules of logic? If they did, they would all be obliged to quit their jobs instantly. Most of them have no comprehension of what logic is, anyway.
Anonymous said…
It is my feeling that it's legal cases like these - showing the absurdity of faith based admissions - that will eventually finish faith schools. (No party with a chance of power seems to have have the desire or conviction to stand up to the religious lobby.)

I write as someone who feels the effect of this. Where I live there are two state schools within walking distance. One has the best "raw" academic results for the city, the other one of the worst and is regarded as a "sink" school by many parents. The former is a CofE school which selects on the basis of parent's faith; the other takes whoever is left. The selection (and self selection by application) of pupils and the good results of the school are obviously connected. (Although this is unlikely to stop the Church using such schools as part of its case for the continuation and expansion of faith schools.)

Going back to the original point, the admissions to the CofE school is based purely on church attendance. Ethnicity doesn't come into CofE membership. But it still has its problems: I might attend, but not believe. My children might not be baptised; should I get priority over parents who do believe, with baptised children but don't attend as often (for whatever reason)? It is not hard to come up with absurdities.

I am powerless to change the system as an individual. Alternatives are (1) fee-paying schools which I can't afford and don't agree with either, or (2) move house - again not financially viable at the moment and would uproot my children.

I feel I must put my daughters' best interests first. And this means doing my best to avoid them going to the "worst" school.

I've been an atheist since the age of 12, I have a degree in Philosophy, and am a member of the National Secular Society. But, with gritted teeth and a feeling of hypocrisy, I have begun attending church.

I am posting this anonymously (I sometimes post here under my own name) as I need to keep my non-belief quiet for the next few years.
Steven Carr said…
Don't worry. As soon as it is convenient to do so, Jew will play the racist card.

If Muslims are prejudiced about Jews, that is racism.

But determinations by Jews of who is Jewish and who is not Jewish are based on religion, not race.
Patrick Hurley said…
I'm a relatively new reader of this blog (I actually think this might be my first comment here) so I'll take this opportunity to say "hello".

I've long argued that the religious dimension to ethnicity in terms of personal identity should not be underestimated. Seen thus, objections to short-tempered attacks on religion are less an attempt to defend "irrational beliefs", and more an attempt to assert common identity in the face of antagonism from outside the ethnic grouping.

Accordingly, and being a proud anti-racist campaigner, I can have no problem per se with ethnically-based schools, as long as the justification is genuinely to protect a racial heritage rather than to assert a spurious racial supremacy.

It seems that this wish to continue the protection of racial heritage is the case here (I doubt very much that a Jewish school would have an ethos of active hostility to other races).

ps. I must make plain that, like Stephen, I'm no expert on the details of what Jews believe makes a person Jewish. I'll merely comment that "race" is primarily a concept of the social sciences rather than the physical sciences, and should properly be regarded as belonging within that discipline.
Tony Lloyd said…
Patrick, I'm not quite with you on the idea of a "racial heritage" What is a "racial heritage" and why would it need "defending"?

I'm also unclear on how any action can be taken by a school on the basis of race that would not be "hostile". Surely excluding someone from a school because they are the wrong race is "hostile".
Patrick Hurley said…
Jews are a historically persecuted minority in Europe, so preservation of Jewish heritage must be seen in that context. I see that Stephen considers this as a possible reasonable defence in his second post script above.

As for the alleged hostility of school place allocation procedures - I don't agree that differentiation on ethnic grounds is necessarily hostile. It may well be, but not in all cases. It depends, again, on the wider context.
Tony Lloyd said…
Hi Patrick

I appreciate that Jews are a historically persecuted minority and that has consequences. I'm still hazy, however, about what a racial heritage is.

A cultural inheritance may be the history behind a culture. To the extent that you inherit the culture, presumably by being brought up in it, then it could be said to be "your" cultural heritage. Similarly if you are brought up in a religion then you could be said to have a "religious heritage".

What do you "inherit" with a race, other than some DNA? Sadly, you may inherit the dislike to outright hatred of others but that's something to be got rid of rather than preserved.

As for "hostility", it may be a strong word but, as Stephen pointed out, there is a difference between giving members of a group "first dibs" and simply excluding others because they are not members of that group.
Patrick Hurley said…

There's a large overlap. A racial heritage can essentially be seen as a cultural heritage, especially when we remember that there is often greater physicial variation within so-called "racial" groups than between them.

As Stephen points out, many Arabs and Jews share a common ancestor from just 8000 years ago, so any notion that Jews are a different race physically must be a false one.

Therefore, pretty much the only way in which Jews can be considered a discrete race is once cultural and social factors are taken into account (including, but not limited to, the maternal line).

If one way for Jews to maintain the Jewish race in a modern, culturally pluralistic setting is to exclude from a full introduction into their culture those who are not from the maternal line, then I honestly can't see a problem.

The issue, I believe, comes down to there being two political goods - on the one hand, the wish to promote cultural pluralism. And on the other, the wish to minimise unjustified racial discrimination.

Once race is defined in terms of culture, these two goods can sometimes seem superficially contradictory. But if we maintain that the promotion of plural cultural identities is a public good, this can then justify exclusion on the basis of race.

In any case, I see no reason to think that any of this should necessarily be seen in terms of mutual hostility between races.
Steven Carr said…
What this country needs is more religously segregated schools.

wombat said…
While I don't particularly defend the schools stance it would seem that the court is taking an odd view of race. Usually descent would be considered both through the mother or father's sides e.g if someone was described as half-Asian we could not tell which of the parents were Asian. Another option would be to look at expressed characteristics such as eye colour etc.
Not so in the Jewishness case. Note also that conversion is possible by means of appropriate religious action involving a qualified Rabbi; this would not be possible in any other racial context. Presumably if the mother had used an Orthodox Rabbi all would have been well.

The interpretation appears to be a purely ritual one and is surely therefor religious in nature.

Here's a link with some background
Who is a Jew - Four basic disputes

Interestingly there seem to be groups of Indian, Southern African and Chinese Jews!
Anonymous said…
I am an open-minded person interested in world religions
but I think Judaism teaches hatred(both racial and religiuos) and thus supports racism.

'Goyim'(plural)=gentiles or non-Jews
'Goy'(Singular).synonym 'Akum'

What makes me think so follows below:

1."The Jew is the living God, God incarnate: he is the heavenly man. The other men are earthly, of inferior race. They exist only to serve the Jew. They are the
cattle seed!" The Jewish Kabbala.

2."Murdering Goyim is like killing a wild animal."Sanhedrin 59a

3."Do not save Goyim in danger of death." Hilkkoth Akum XI

4."Even the best ofthe Gentiles should be killed. " Abodah Zara 26b

5."Show no mercy to the Goyim." Kilkhoth Akum X1

6."Jesus is in hell and is being punished by being boiled in hot semen.Christians are boiled in dung."Gittin 57a

7."To communicate anything to a Goy about our religious relations would be equal to the killing of all Jews, for if the Goyim knew what we teach about them, they
would kill us openly."Libbre David 37

8."Jews must always try to deceive Christians."Zohar 1,160a

9."Jesus fornicated with his jackass." Sanhedrin 105ab

10."Sexual intercourse with a little girl is permitted if she is three years of age." Yebhamoth 11b

11. "A goy (Gentile) who pries into The Law (Talmud) is guilty of death." Sanhedrin 59a

12."If it can be proven that someone has given the money of Israelites to the Goyim,
a way must be found after prudent consideration to wipe him off the face of the earth."Choschen Hamm 388,

13. "The Jew is allowed to go to the Akum (Gentile), lead him on, do business with him,to deceive him and take his money. For the wealth of the Akum is to be regarded as common property and belongs to the first who can get it."Choschen Ham (156,5 Hagah)

14."A goy (Gentile) who pries into The Law (Talmud) is guilty of death." Sanhedrin 59a

I thought people were anti-semitic for saying part of what is included above until I confirmed the above to be true.Incredible.
Paul Crowley said…
Looks like that list of "Talmud quotes" is largely a fabrication of the KKK:

No doubt there are all sorts of horrible, bigoted things in the Talmud, it's what you'd expect from a religious text, but I'd need hyperlinks into a reliable online Talmud to take such a list seriously!
Zack Carr said…
As a former member of a messianic synagogue, i can tell you from personal experience that Judaism is a race based religion. I attended this synagogue for over a year. they claimed that "Jew and gentile are one in messiah", but that was a load of garbage. Whenever a Jew became messianic, a big deal was made of it, while a gentile conversion was no big deal.

The organization also did not allow non-jews to enter, because they feared, "they would destroy messianic judaism". I was denied membership for being a non-jew, even though I shared the same faith. They believed that no on could convert to another race, so the standard for conversion was completely racial.

I and a friend who was jewish (we joined together) became students to a prominent Messianic Rabbi. He would teach us together, but he would always prefer the company o my friend over mine. I was a student, and who was i to question my rabbi. Eventually my friend confided in me that the rabbi regularly made fun of the "goyim" for wanting so badly to be jews. Even though most of those people were extremely knowledgeable and very faithful.

And this guy wasn't just some shmuck, this guy was co-rabbi with the president of the MJA, the Messianic Judaism Association. Since that day I've given up all illusions, judaism is a race based religion. No different that the crazed race based pseudo-religion of the Nazis.
Stephen Law said…
Thanks for post Zack. Bit depressing though...
Thomas said…
To Zack Carr: I'm sorry, but you are using your experience in messianic judaism (aka Jews for Jesus) as a descriptor for Judaism in general? No Jewish denomination, from orthodox to reconstructionist, considers 'messianic judaism' to be anything but evangelical protestantism, under a jewish label.
Tom said…
And Zack: The reason, I suspect, your messianic church was so interested in having Jewish converts, as opposed to gentile ones, is because the Jewish converts would give them MUCH more credibility in establishing themselves as an authentic 'Jewish' denomination- rather than simply an evangelical church using Jewish terminology and imagery.
Anonymous said…
The ambiguity between race as determined by the Mother and belief or faith is very typical of Jewish life overall. It is never clear just what being Jewish means. A Jew, for example, can be a Frenchman or an Englishman, but a Frenchman can't be a Jew unless he has the right mother. This ambiguity exists in the nationalist identity of Israel as well: One is not a national by virtue of where they live and the culture in which they participate, but by virtue of their mother's racial identity. The ambiguity is always there and it is intended to confuse, to keep critics at bay and allow Jews to go on building a racial state at the expense of the universalist democractic West.
Aussie Bob said…
Please, people, let's just call a spade a spade. The Judaic faith/race is about as racially discriminatory as Nazism ever was. Just ask the Hebrew Israelites (Black Jews), who aren't even considered for "official recognition" by the majority of mainstream Jewry.

The "Curse of Ham" is also another (extremely racist) Talmudic myth that was authored by the world's least tolerant people. Some people even consider the Hamitic myth to be the birthplace of modern White Supremacism. Let's be honest folks, Judaism is about as racist as it gets.

[Regardless of what the mainstream Zionist media would have us believe]

Interesting discussion by the way. I thought the original article was very thought-provoking as well. Good stuff.
Anonymous said…
I agree with many of the comments above but I think the real point is simply that there are differences between races, that some groups wish to preserve these differences ( Jews are intellectuals who often succeed in whatever they do from the arts to the sciences) and that we need to accept that instead of constantly go against the grain. It's fine to say certain dog breeds display certain characteristics but all humans races are 'same'.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous, Jews tend to stone wall non Jews in democratic environments and promote other Jews if at all possible. This means that Jews will have support from Jewish members of juries, administrators, managerial staff, and all non Jews will be stalled, diverted, and their ideas examined and conveyed to the Jewish competitors. It is delusional racism and they are against progress of humanity at large unless it can be construed to have been a Jewish win.
Anonymous said…
I feel that the person who commented on June 17th 2013 hit the nail on the head. I am not of Jewish descent but I fully recognise their strengths and clearly different races display different characteristics. Until the obsession of brain washing the masses with the idea that all races are equivalent is overthrown then we will go on round in circles. For that concept will never be globally accepted because the evidence we witness daily does not support it. Quite the contrary actually. And boiling everything down to the lowest common denominator will not work either.

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