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Is the God of Israel a White Racist? Race and the Essence of Judaism

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 1 Ballroom


In 1973, theologian William Jones published IS GOD A WHITE RACIST? which considered the theological implications of the history and persistence of anti-black racism in Christian cultures. Rather than dally with the parallel question if God is an “antisemite” by virtue of the history of Jewish persecution, I want to consider the dynamics of the accusations and denials that Judaism is, in itself, a racist religion. The philosopher and mystic Simone Weil derided Judaism as a religion of violence that served as a prototype for Nazi racism and militarism. Secular antisemitic theorists like psychologist Kevin McDonald insist that the architecture of Judaism—from its ritual practices to its theology—is designed for group domination. McDonald champions the organization of white gentile resistance to Jewish group colonization, an explicit racial project (alt-right identitarianism) over and against a hidden racial project (Judaism). While these claims have been treated as downright dangerous variations on an antisemitic theme, I want to examine them in light of other more pro-Jewish claims that racial considerations are part and parcel of Jewish traditions or Jewish “essence.” In 2016, the Conservative/Masorti organization The Rabbinic Assembly published a document— “The Status of Non-Jews in Jewish Law and Lore Today”—clarifying the status and worth of non-Jews. This document’s publication points to the growing number of rabbinic voices—almost exclusively in the Orthodox world—that make theological and metaphysical distinctions between the status of Jew and non-Jew. What once was an antisemitic urban legend has in recent decades become stated overtly in theological writing and responsum of Israeli settler rabbis enough so that the Rabbinic Assembly sought to clarify Conservative/Masorti opinion by making its opposition to anti-gentile animus unambiguous. Yet a more forceful Jewish theological antiracist statement needs to be formulated. This paper considers three things: a) what such a Jewish theological statement might consist of b) the elements within Jewish traditions that have served as building blocks for racist and racializing practices of Orthodox Jews and c) what resources an antiracist theological statement might draw upon.


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