Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Racism Pure and Simple

Back in 1993, halfway through medical school I did a 7 week elective at a hospital in Israel.  In the first few days I met lots of people and was very interested the various backgrounds.  One of the things that has always amazed me about Israel is the wonderful ethnic diversity of the Jewish population.  As opposed to the homogenized Oreo-cookie model that seems to predominate in most North American community, in Israel we come in all colours and sizes and I think that's a wonderful thing.  We are not a race, we are a nationality and Israel's diversity proves this.
A few days in I met one nice young lady with a darker than average complexion and while talking I asked her where her family was from.  She got an awkward look in her face and said "Morocco.  Did you still want to talk with me?"
Being a naive North American, I had no idea was she was talking about.  Morocco sounded exotic and from what I knew about it (culled mostly from the movie Casablanca) I thought it was quite neat to meet someone from there.  It sure beat the usual "Yeah, where in Poland?" follow-up line.
So the next day I told a friend about the girl's reaction and asked why she had acted like that.  "Oh," he said, "she knows a Morokai's proper place in society, that's all."
Disgusted is probably not quite strong enough to describe how I felt.  Yes, I was aware that there were tensions between the religious and secular in Israel, along with all the difficulties the Russian influx had brought with them but I was really blindsided by the depth of hatred some in the Ashkenazic community felt for our Sephardic brothers.
Another friend of mine experienced something similar when he took a Moroccan bride.  To their credit, most of his chiloni friends didn't care but most of his Chareidi friends stopped talking to him afterwards.  What a shandeh!  A good Ashkenazi boy marrying a Morokai?  Never mind that his marriage has been bliss and produced five beautiful children.  Such a p'gam.
And now, following along in the blogsphere as I do, I notice the regular flow of stories from the Israeli education system on how certain elements would like to keep their pure Ashkenazi children safe and undefiled from contact with the lower Sephardi lifeforms:
Israel - The ultra-Orthodox Beit Yaakov school in Immanuel is not taking measures against parents who are refusing to send their daughters to school in the wake of a High Court of Justice order to integrate the institution's separate classes for girls of Ashkenazi and Mizrahi origin.
About 150 students are enrolled in the school's two tracks: "Hasidic," for girls of Ashkenazi (European) origin, and "General," for those of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) background.
In August the High Court ordered the removal of "every formal and material sign of this rampant discrimination," and the Education Ministry ordered a merger of the two tracks.
Since mid-December around 75 students, most of them of Ashkenazi descent, have been studying in private homes. In response, the ministry ordered the Immanuel Local Council to take legal action against the parents for violating the mandatory education law.
Several sources say that in a High Court session last week, it was disclosed that the Independent Education Center had instructed principal Rivka Stern not to take measures against the parents on the grounds that such action would be considered a violation of din moser - the religious prohibition against revealing information about a Jew to non-Jewish authorities.
Attorney Menahem Yanovsky, who represents the independent school system, confirmed that Stern would be exposed to din moser if she sent letters to the parents as part of the procedure for getting them to return their daughters to the school or to prosecute them.
"Even the judges told the Education Ministry attorney that the principal will not sign the letters," an education center official said yesterday. "We won't be policemen and the matter doesn't concern us. It's the parents' decision not to send their daughters" to the school.
What's the reason for the hatred?  Jealousy of their superior cooking?  Jealousy of their greater piety?  Jealousy of their great Torah scholarship?
This is a selective application of halacha as bad as, if not worse than anything the Conservatives have ever dreamt up.  Such concern over not being a moser or spreading loshon horo.  What righteous tzidus.  That the observance of these rules is in violation of the rule of dina d'malchusa dina and, even more importantly, in violation of the sin of spreading hatred amongst our people, is completely lost on these moral imbeciles. "We're racist," they are shouting, "and we're proud."
No, they're disgusting and their filth shouldn't be mistaken for yiras Shamayim.


FrumJewInYU said...


Daniel said...

racism? I think not. Bigotry yes.
I realize that Israelis call any dispute racism, however following that logic one allows Israel to be called apartheid. Besides Jews are from the same racial stock

David said...

Interesting but, tragically, not surprising. Orthodox Judaism encourages lots of isolationism-- we look down on goyim, we look down on Jews who aren't sufficiently frum, or don't wear the right kippot. Why not look down on people who were born into some other ethnicity? Clearly, if being a pasty-faced, black-hatted Ashkenazi was good enough for Moishe Rabbeinu, it should be good enough for those Sephardim, too, and if they don't like being treated like garbage, they should have thought of that before they decided to pick zeidas who weren't born in Poland.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

This isn't an 'Orthodox' problem in its origin; it is Ashkenazi overall. It started as a widespread European-origin chauvenism lording it over the poor, unsophisticated, unenlightened immigrants being saved from North Africa, Yemen, etc. by the gracious, cultured elites who realized their responsibility to their poor, unfortunate brethren.

Seriously, though, at the same time that the massive efforts were successful to bring Jews home from North Africa, Yemen, Iraq, etc.; the attitude of the Ashkenazi ruling class towards these people was despicable. The tremendous work, self-sacrifice, and expense (when their was no economy to support this) is a proud moment in our history. But Sfardim of all sorts were treated as second class citizens by communist left-wingers the same as they were treated by religious Ashkenzim once they arrived in Israel. Only now, the average Israeli has largely outgrown such bigotry (much as I believe most Americans have outgrown color bigotry), while it persists among (mostly Hareidi) religious Ashkenazim. Even so, I still remember a non-religious relative (now in his late 80s) commenting one day when noticing one of the first Ethiopian Jewish women on the streets of Jerusalem, "you wouldn't marry a black woman, would you?"

For what it is worth, I will point out that I truly didn't notice any of this first hand in the Religious Zionist circles I was educated in. The beit midrash in Mercaz Harav was truly mixed. The rabbinic staff of many of the yeshivot hesder was truly mixed. (When Har Etzion appointed new heads of yeshiva a while back, one was Ashkenazi and one Sfardi.) Youth groups are/were mixed. When young couples met and married, many of them were from mixed backgrounds, as borne out by many of my friends' homes today (we are in our 50s and 60s).

The bigotry is a despicable, poisoning remnant of the Ashkenazi exile. It is an attitude that was displayed by religious and non-religious both. As much of the hareidi sub-culture refuses to evolve (and improve!) with organic developments brought on by our renewal in Israel, this is a result.

It is poison. It is sick. It is despicable. It has no justification of any sort. It has no place in the Jewish world.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

As a side comment to David's attributing this to an Orthodox attitude: to what do you attribute the Galveston Plan attitude. Wealthy Reform Jews, of German origin, in NY funded shipping Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to America to the Western US in order to avoid the embarrassment of having these religious ostjuden arrive in the East. What appears as magnanimous on the surface, was an expensive effort to avoid social embarrassment for the assimilating elites in NY, and to get the unstoppable immigration to land out West where they would be swallowed up and forgotten.

Also an 'Orthodox' thing? Or maybe just a desperate desire to assimilate coupled with lack of respect for more 'traditional' appearing Jews and Judaism?

E-Man said...

I agree with you 100 percent garnel. I think these people are perverting our religion.

David- orthodox judaism does not promote anything you just said. True there are people that act that way, but judaism does not promote it.

Also garnel, I believe that dina demalchusa dina does not apply in eretz yisroel. I remember learning that sugya in gittin.That doesn't mean it is right, but I don,t think that is an issue. However, there are a lot of halachic issues otherwise. Like sinas chinam and other things.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

E-man, the rule of 'dina d'malchuta dina' may very well apply in Israel. The Rishonim were divided on the issue; both on whether it applies, and how it applies. The same is true for Ahronim. Many Ahronim would hold today that it applies as long as the law does not defy halacha, for instance.

See, for instance, Rav Zevin's summary at the end of that erech in Encyclopedia Talmudit.

Mike S. said...

"Dina D'malchuta dina"? what about "V'ahavtah l'rayacha Kamocha"? or "Lo tisna et acheecha b'levov'cha"?

Garnel Ironheart said...

David, Rav Scher is quite right about it not being a specifically Orthodox problem. Enlightened German non-religious Jews were quite inclined to see themselves as superior to the Ost Juden. My father recalls that even in the camps during the war the German Jews would not associate with the Polish and Russian ones.

Shalom, Cherry Hill said...

In my experience in Israel, there isn't much of this left in the Dati-Leumi community.

I do remember a terrible example of this type of disgusting behavior back in 1980, but from a different direction. A cousin of mine had married a Yemenite man, who was an absolute 'mench' but it didn't work out and they divorced. She later married a Moroccan, who happened to be pretty much of a bum. The first time that I met him was when I had a night off in the army. I was young, very idealistic, and when he started saying all kinds of disgusting things about Yemenites because of their darker skins, I was absolutely amazed and disgusted.

I also recall a cousin of mine who had changed his 'Europeanized' last name to a Hebrew one some thirty five or forty years ago upon making aliyah. A few years ago when I saw him after many years it turned out that one of his sons who had become Haredi changed it back to the 'Europeanized' name. When I asked why, he said that the Hebrew name sounded sort of Sefardi, and it would hurt the grandchildren's shidduch chances. I told him that if it was me, anyone who didnt want to go out with me or my kids because of that could kiss my a$$.

David said...

It's not an exclusively Orthodox problem (nor did I claim that it was). You're all quite right-- bigotry exists elsewhere, too, and, while I might lament it, I'd never deny it.

Nevertheless, I did give some reasons why Orthodoxy lends itself to this sort of thing. Nothing any of you have said (e.g., "no it doesn't!" "Yeckis do it, too!") would seem to be evidence to the contrary.