Racial Equality:

Judaism’s View

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: Based on Ramchal, a Noachide organization and a Rabbi are teaching that Jews and non-Jews are two different species of humanity: “God has removed the ability of the non Jew to do Tikkun (rectification), which can only be done by the Jew,” so they claim. They suggest that the soul (neshama) of the non-Jew is on a lower level.

Rabbi: More than once I have heard this arrogant Jewish view of “Jewish superiority.” Jews have egos like every human, but it should never be expressed by any person (Pirkei Avos 4:4). Humility is the trait for which God praised Moses (Num. 12:3) and Sarah (Rashi on Gen. 18:9). But some Jews wrongfully boast an imagined superiority: a sinful and destructive act. These Jews are not thinking. God never created 2 types of souls. God never invented a “new human”: all mankind descend from the same first couple. To claim that certain descendants are superior is to contradict God. Abraham was a non-Jew and he attained the highest level of man through perfecting his ideas and character. He had the same genetics as the rest of the world. God sent Jonah to Ninveh and Moses to Pharaoh that they repent. This shows God’s plan of human equality; He wants the good for all His identically designed humans. If gentiles were inferior, why did God select Ruth the Moabite (gentile) to be the grandmother of kings David and Solomon? Ruth is also the great grandmother of the Jewish Messiah, may he soon arrive. And the Messiah will attain the greatest human perfection next to Moses. Yet, he descends from a gentile. Many times Torah says, “One law for the gentile convert and the born Jew” (Num. 9:14, 15:16, 15:29, Exod. 12:49). This means all mankind have the identical capacity for following Torah. God is clear: Judaism’s view is that all men and women are created equal. 

Jewish ethics are derived from Torah, the Bible: a book of laws, truths and morals. God records Abraham “running” to serve gentile strangers a lavish meal. This is a lesson for all mankind on how to treat others:

Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on—seeing that you have come your servant’s way.” They replied, “Do as you have said.” Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick, three measures of choice flour…knead and make cakes.” Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant-boy, who hastened to prepare it. He took curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree as they ate. (Gen. 18:2-8).

Rebecca too “ran” to serve the gentile Eliezer, a stranger at a well. She labored to even water his camel herd:

Eliezer said, “Please, let me sip a little water from your jar.” “Drink, my lord,” she said, and she quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and let him drink. When she had let him drink his fill, she said, “I will also draw for your camels, until they finish drinking.” Quickly emptying her jar into the trough, she ran back to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. (Gen. 24:17-20)

Why did both Abraham and Rebecca “run” when they served strangers? Was it not enough that they surpassed most people by treating a stranger as an equal? But Abraham and Rebecca were not only of perfected character, but were also of perfected wisdom. They both knew the recipients of their kindness would be overjoyed by their kindness alone. But Abraham and Rebecca wished not only to address the strangers’ physical needs, but also their psychological needs. They both knew that people are humbled and even embarrassed when receiving a free gift. As they didn’t wish to humble the stranger, they ran. Running to serve another instills dignity. They prevented the strangers’ humility and loss of dignity as they were in need of food and water. Running to help another person displays a genuine concern. One can respond to another person’s need for water and then walk away. But that leaves the recipient feeling humbled; depending on kindness makes one feel that they bothered the donor. To avert the recipient’s loss of dignity, Abraham and Rebecca both ran to meet the needs of others, maintaining their dignity. 

Judaism teaches to treat others equally, as we are equals. It is today’s foolish and sinful Jew who rejects God’s words, and acts arrogantly and speaks of baseless “Jewish superiority.” Abraham and Rebecca knew all people exist as God’s will, and therefore they treated all others with utmost respect and care. God recorded their kindness as a lesson for mankind. 

Reader: I am a gentile. So should I believe what Ramchal—a great Jewish commentator—says about non Jews, that God took away our ability to do Tikkun after choosing Abraham?

Rabbi: Even Moses erred. It doesn't matter who the author is, it matters whether you can validate the concept, and this concept of Jewish superiority contradicts God’s Torah. And those Jew who think they are superior, are in fact inferior. God never marginalized the gentiles’ spiritual or intellectual capacity. That would be unjust. 

Another quote from Ramchal with which you commenced appears to be inline with human equality:

Yet from His great goodness and kindness, may He be blessed, He made room even for the branches of other nations to uproot themselves from their roots, by their choice and their actions, and to include themselves in the branches of our father Abraham, peace be upon him, if they [so] desired … However, if they do not make efforts about this, they will stay within their root trees, according to their natural situation.

Ramchal speaks of “roots and branches,” referring to humans as varied species of plant life. He speaks in metaphor about descendants—“branches”—following the philosophies of their ancestors—“roots.” Other nations who “uproot themselves from their roots” are gentiles who disavow their inherited idolatry and convert to monotheism. No change has been made to their souls when they abandon fallacy and follow truth. In fact, the moment when the intelligent gentile rejects his inherited idolatrous religion before he converts, he a gentile who is following intelligence. This means gentiles possess no less intelligence than a Jew. “However, if they do not make efforts about this, they will stay within their root trees” refers to a gentile who remains following idolatry. All mankind possess free will and can choose to blindly follow their parents, or use their minds to question what is true and then follow truth.

Judaism must not be assessed by corrupt or arrogant Jews, but based only on God’s words. Just as we don’t judge a book based upon opinions of those who never read it, we don’t judge Judaism based on those who don’t follow it. If one does, they expose their foolishness. Judaism should be assessed based on fine people like Abraham, Rebecca, Ruth, Moses and King David. The more we study Torah, the more we find that Judaism validates racial equality. Moses married a black woman. Joseph and King Solomon married Egyptians. They were the most perfect people as God highlights them in His Torah as model human beings. These great people did not view gentiles as inferior, but as equals. This explains why Jacob blessed Joseph’s Egyptian children before this death (Ge. 48:20). Jacob did not view Joseph’s Egyptian wife and Egyptian children as inferior. Jacob placed Joseph’s Egyptian sons on equal status with Jacob’s own 12 sons. Jacob was correct. This must be every person’s view, as it is God’s view. Talmud Avodah Zara 2b says that God initially offered the Torah to the gentiles but they rejected it. This means that they have the same capacity for perfection as a Jew. 

Reader: Did God lower the soul (neshama) of the non-Jew when their ancestors rejected the Torah?

Rabbi: Torah says no: “Is it My desire that a wicked person shall die?—says the Lord God. Rather, I desire that he shall turn back from his [evil] ways and live” (Ezekiel 18:23). That means God desires a person to follow Him. Therefore, He certainly would not cripple him by lowering his soul, a notion that has no validation, for it contradicts God. Furthermore, God doesn’t punish descendants for their father’s sins: “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime” (Deut. 24:16).

Reader:  If a gentile chose not to convert, will he/she remain at a lowly state?

Rabbi: Gentiles who don’t  convert are equal to Jews who does not keep the Torah. Meaning that one’s perfection is proportionate to the amount of their true ideas and proper actions, not who their parents are or which religion they follow. And a gentile that accepts Judaism is equal to an observant Jew. 

Reader: The Jew who does not keep Torah is still part of Abraham’s branch, if we go by Ramchal's analysis. He/she is still at a higher level compared to the non-Jew who keeps Torah but did not convert.

Rabbi: You misunderstand Ramchal. No human being has any inherent merit. The Jew is “part of Abrahams branch” provided he follows Abraham’s teaching. The gentile can follow this life too and be equal to the Jew. As I mentioned above “One Torah for the convert and the born Jew.”  And the Jew who abandons Torah is no longer viewed as the “branch of Abraham.”  

“Better is the day of death than the day of birth” (Koheles 7:1).  Ibn Ezra comments that at birth, one doesn’t know how this infant will turn out. Will he become good or evil? But at death, we can say he lived as a good person. Ibn Ezra applies this to both Jew and gentile. Thus, the Jew at birth has no advantage over gentiles. We must wait until he completes his life to assess if he was good. And this is sound reasoning for the infant has not made choices yet. How then can he be better?