The Color of Judaism: The Gift of Making Many Colors One…

There is an important respect in which Judaism lags behind both Christianity and Islam. And that is in terms of its public image with regard to ethnicity. It is readily understood that anyone of any color and ethnicity can be a Christian. And while there is a respect in which we associate Islam with Arabs, the typical person is well aware of the fact that that, for example, many blacks on the content of Africa are Muslim. With Judaism, however, the link to whiteness is so strong that a non-white who claims to be Jewish often finds that she or he must proffer an explanation as to how this can possibly be – not only to non-Jews, but to Jews as well.

Now, part of the explanation for the strong association between Judaism and whiteness has to do with the Holocaust. As we know, Ashkenazi Jews were the primary target of the genocide of Nazi Germany; and by-and-large Ashkenazi Jews can be countenanced as white.

There is no denying the horrendous wrong of the Holocaust. What is more, we all agree with Elie Wiesel that we should never forget the Holocaust – a statement which I hold applies to all human beings be they Jew or non-Jew. Yet, we should not let the Holocaust define the “face” of Judaism itself. We have, for instance, Sephardic Jews and Ethiopian Jews. Neither one of these two groups were targeted during the Holocaust.

I shall always remember the experience that I had in Jerusalem, on the eve of a Shabbat. While sitting on a bench at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, I observed people from many different ethnic backgrounds, so of different skin shades, wearing a yarmulke and rushing about in preparation for Shabbat. The diversity that I witnessed Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station is the real face of Judaism.

It is most significant that in the Torah, it is clear that Jews are very diverse. There was nothing monolithic about the 12 tribes. Indeed, they did not all get along. What is more, although the Torah is full of many descriptions, the Torah never declares that Jews are white.

Is this because Hashem forgot? Is this because Hashem simply understood that Jews would all be white? There is not a shred of evidence that would warrant this line of thought. Besides, the creator of the universe surely knows that color of skin has nothing whatsoever to do with being righteous.

We can all agree that Jews have a common ancestry, whatever its color might be. That assumption, however, is compatible with enormous diversity over time. And if anything is true, it is true that Jews have time on their side. So there is simply no reason whatsoever to suppose that taking Abraham as the Father of Judaism restricts Judaism to a single color or ethnicity.

In terms of sheer numbers, there are roughly a billion Christians and a billion Muslims. So, 100 million Christians could be black or Asian, and there would still be lots and lots of non-black and non-Asian Muslims. The same holds Christianity. But, of course, if there are 100 million blacks or Asians who are Christians or Muslims, we would have a population of black Muslims or Christian who would not be ignored. Everyone would know that there are blacks and Asians who are Muslim or Christians. What is more, the diversity of Christianity or Islam would be secure.

The number of Jews in the world does not come close to being a billion. At best, there are 30 million Jews. So groups of Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic Jews are much, much smaller. There is nothing wrong with this reality regarding the population of Jewish people.

What is wrong, though, is ignoring the reality that Jews need not be Ashkenazi or Sephardic. Every Jew sees the Holocaust as a most despicable event. Even if the target of the Holocaust was Ashkenazi Jews, Asian Jews and Ethiopian Jews, and so forth could be portrayed expressing their utter dismay over the Holocaust. Thus, without changing the face of those targeted in the Holocaust, namely Ashkenazi Jews, and without in any way diminishing the standing of the Holocaust, expressing despair over the Holocaust could nonetheless be an occasion itself to change the face of Judaism.

Now, it should be noted that I have not attributed negative motivations to anyone. I have not claimed that Ashkenazi Jews are being racist against Asians or whomever. I harbor no such thought.

On the other hand, though, I should note that indifference is not a virtue. And the time has surely come for Jews of every color and ethnicity to be mindful of the diversity of Judaism. There are no exceptions here.

In this respect, the work of Fraternit? Jud?o-Noire merits special mention. The aim of the association is not to promote blacks who are Jews. Rather, the association’s aim is to underwrite the equality of Judaism for all. The difference here is not just a ledger de main. There is a difference between (a) claiming that everyone’s voice is to be heard and (b) claiming that the voices of some deserve to be heard more than others (owing to this or that reason). The association Fraternit? Jud?o-Noire claims (a). It does not claim be. Indeed, Fraternit? Jud?o-Noire eschews in every way the idea that there is a “black” way to be a Jew. Yet, it has the ever so laudable goal of changing the face of Judaism.

Fraternit? Jud?o-Noire holds the following very simple view: No one who claims to be a Jew should have to contend with a look of incredulity on account of the color of her or his skin. It is especially the case that no such person should have to contend with such a look from a fellow Jew, of all people. That is surely right. It is Judaism as it should be.

As I remarked above: The creator of the universe knows that righteousness has nothing to do with skin color. This truth should not just be a spiritual ideal, but a living reality.


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