Right on schedule, Rav Avi Shafran has put out yet another piece whose logic is, at best, suspect. The object of his ire this week is an unmentioned columnist he came across who committed the sin of disparaging the Chofetz Chayyim, ztk"l:
Even with the surfeit of silliness passing these days for “Torah commentary”– the manufactured “midrashim,” “original interpretations” and Biblical passages turned on their heads – I was flabbergasted to read a homily disparaging the Chafetz Chaim.
The Chafetz Chaim, of course – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan – was renowned for his saintliness and sagacity, and for his monumental works on Jewish law, including two on the laws against slander. When the Polish sage died, in 1933, The New York Times’ obituary noted that he had shut down his store when he realized that its success born of his renown was imperiling other local storekeepers’ income.
What exercised the contemporary sermonizer, whose words appeared in an Israel-oriented magazine, was the Chafetz Chaim’s comment on an undisputed halachic ruling, that even a sinner, if Jewish, can be counted as part of a prayer-quorum. The Chafetz Chaim had elucidated the reason behind the ruling: “Even though he is a sinning Jew,” the great rabbi explained, “his holiness endures.”
Now the idea that this unnamed person had a problem with what the Chofetz Chayim wrote is difficult to understand. Too often we hear complaints from our non-religious brethren about how we in the observant community treat them differently, exclude them from feeling like they belong with us and act disparagingly towards them. The idea that the Chofetz Chayim wrote the opposite should be a source of encouragement for them. A Torah observant person who dismisses the importance of a non-observant one can now be reproved in no uncertain circumstances. But this reader did manage to find a dark lining to the silver cloud:
The magazine-homilist, a Jewish educator, found that statement “not so enlightened,” indeed “particularly problematic in an era when racism has fallen out of favor.”
Now, I could comment that this is not entirely unaccepted. Some squeaky wheels can be greased all you want and they'll still find a way to squeak. Tell this non-observant Jew that his place in the minyan is just as important as anyone else's and he moved one step to the left: Yeah? Well that means you're racist against Gentiles!
But Rav Shafran's answer makes no sense at all:
But affirmation of “Jewish election” – the concept that the Jewish people was chosen by G-d to be a holy nation with a holy mission – has about the same relationship to racism as a sizzling steak has to a slab of cold tofu...
The bottom line: Jewish chosenness, from the Jewish perspective, entails no disparagement of others. It is not a license but a responsibility, to live by the laws of the Torah and to set a holy example for others – to shine forth in belief and behavior as the prophet Isaiah’s “light unto the nations” (42:6).
Understand? Negative beliefs - you're inferior to us - are racism. Positive beliefs - we're better than the rest of you - is not.
Maybe I'm just dull about this but I can't really see the difference. While Rav Shafran notes that we have "a responsibility to live by the laws of the Torah and to set a holy example for others", too often this responsibility reverts into a licence to abuse and denigrate those who are different because they're not on the same "high level" as the rest of us.
We are different from the nations around us, but that's not racism, just an noting that the English and French are different from each other is. Drawing conclusions on superiority/inferiority based on that difference is something else and should be avoided.