Spiritual Racism: The Jewish Response to Shas’ Prejudiced Ad

In light of the Shas party’s ridiculously prejudiced ad which insulted converts and the people involved in the conversion process in Israel, I thought I might post a beautiful Midrash which sums up the proper Jewish response to converts.

(Image: frame from the Shas campaign ad)

The truth is, there’s a certain prejudice that creeps among the Orthodox community, and every so often we hear of a ger (convert) who experiences what might be called a “spiritual racism”. This racism is basically the belief that a born Jew is better than someone who converted.

If anything, we would think that someone who joins the Jewish people should be treated with a great respect, since we can only imagine how difficult it is for a person to change his or her entire life and suddenly acquire a new God, many new commandments, privileges and challenges, and a new people.

Of course, this would be hard enough if a person joined a welcoming community, and it must be much worse when they periodically come up against a painful condescension from their Jewish brethren.

The Midrash, in the Soncino translation, goes as follows:

The Holy One, Blessed-be-He, greatly loves the proselytes. To what may this be compared? To a king who had a flock, which used to go out to the field and come in at evening. So it was each day.

Once, a stag came in with the flock. He associated with the goats and grazed with them. When the flock came in to the fold, he came in with them; when they went out to graze, he went out with them. The king was told ‘A certain stag has joined the flock, and is grazing with them every day. He goes out with them, and comes in with them.’

The king felt an affection for him. When he went out into the field, the king gave orders: ‘Let him have good pasture as he likes; no man shall beat him; be careful with him!’ When (the stag) came in with the flock a,so the king would tell them, ‘ Give him to drink!’ And he loved him very much.

The servants said to him: ‘Sovereign! You posses so many he-goats, you posses so many kids, and you never caution us about them; yet you give us instructions ever day about this stag!’

The king said to them: ‘The flock have no choice; whether they want or not, it is their nature to graze in the field all day and to come in at evening to sleep in the flock. The stags, however, sleep in the wilderness. It is not in their nature to come into placed inhabited by man. Shall we then not account it as a merit to this one which has left behind the whole of the broad, vast wilderness, the abode of all the beasts, and has come to stay in the courtyard?’

In like manner, ought we not to be grateful to the proselyte who has left behind him his family and his father’s house, aye, has left behind his people and all the other peoples of the world, and has chosen to comes to us?

Accordingly, He has provided him with special protection, for He exhorted Israel that they shall be very careful in relation to the proselytes so as not to do them hard; and indeed it says. “Love ye therefore the proselyte, etc.”…

-Bamidbar Rabba, 8:2

The view given here in the Midrash, that we should be grateful to the proselyte, is a far cry from the sad view that someone who is born Jewish has some inherent quality which makes her better than even someone who converts!

This view appears in our tradition, and not necessarily uncommonly, sad as that may be. It is a spiritual racism, as we said above, and the right way to relate to our converted brethren is to simply treat them as we do any other Jew, with the exception of 2 things we must do:

  1. We should express our gratitude to the people who have sacrificed to join us. We don’t know what it’s like, and we can’t put ourselves in their shoes. It must be hard, and the fact that they have joined us gives us strength by validating our goals and adding to our numbers, and helps us serve God better.
  2. We should be careful to give them some extra support once they join our communities, precisely because of the hardship involved not just in being Jewish when you once were not, but because the emotional journey and stresses involved must be tremendous.

What’s interesting to me is that spiritual racists may express these two sympathies with the exception of their prejudice, which must be very insulting and hurtful. I have heard cases of people who did not want their children to marry a convert, or even the child of a convert, and I can’t imagine the pain involved in being the person who is snubbed in this scenario.

It’s easy to see how this kind of behavior is contrary to the 36 times the Torah commands us regarding the proper treatment of gerim.

I’ll end with a quote from Rambam, because our blog needs Rambam like Epic Meal Time needs bacon. The quote is addressed to Obadia the proselyte, in a very famous letter:

“Do not consider your origin as inferior. While we are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you derive form Him through whose word the world was created. As is said by Isaiah; “One shall say, I am the Lord’s, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob”.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Spiritual Racism: The Jewish Response to Shas’ Prejudiced Ad

  1. The ad may have been insensitive, but what about the Jews who are duping the converts, real and fake, into thinking that they really are Jewish? What about them?

    • Anonymous

      I’m not sure exactly who you are referring to. So far as I know, even those who engage in non-Halachic conversions are not doing so in a duplicitous way.
      At any rate, I don’t think that an attack ad would be the way to engage such people, and it is not the right way to engage the public.
      Yitzchak

      • Yitzchak,

        You’re kidding right?

        I don’t disagree with you on Sha”S strategy. But there ARE plenty of false converts, going through the motions to satisfy their ignorant in-laws to be.

        The video does not even address the new strategy of Christians sneaking through the process in order to make aliyah.

      • YItzchak,
        There ARE (un)Jews in Israel battling against the Torah in both overt and covert ways. They recruit goyim g’murim from the Ukraine, thinking that they will get their votes. They now want to give citizenship to foreign workers’ children. They support the so-called “movements” as legitimate “denominations” of Judaism.

        “Watering down” is an understatement.

        These people are mamash rasha’im.

        Tinoq shenishba does not even come close to describing the leadership of these people.

  2. rose

    All that you wrote is well and good. But, the conversion controversy in Israel today has nothing to do with true gerei tzedek. A ger tzedek is a true convert and a true Jew, beloved by G-D, even moreso than the born Jew. The state has seen fit to make mass conversions of people who have no interest in being Jewish and only came to Israel for the benefits and who were purposefully brought in to water down the Jewish people, Torah, and the Jewish identity of Israel. Shas was right in their ad, because what has been going in the last two decades should be obvious to anyone with a thinking mind. There is now a mishmash of people called Jewish, that only Moshiach will be able to sort out, as in the times of Ezra & Nechemiah. Mass conversions are a mockery. A real convert converts as an individual sincere in his decision to join the Jewish fold. These mass conversions are a slap in the face of a true convert. Also, the word ‘racism’ is thrown around loosely everywhere, and has nothing whatsoever to do with this controversy.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Rose,
      First of all, I did not throw around the term “spritual racism” lightly, and I defined it above. I did not know how to call what I see, and I think the term is fair.
      You may decide for yourself if the term applies to Shas.

      Also, no one was brought to Israel in order to “water” Judaism down. Where in the world did you possibly get that idea?
      While the subject of what It means to want to be Jewish is complicated, right or wrong, the conversions you cast aspersions on were done with the intention of keeping the relevant laws.

      At any rate, the attack ad was not nuanced, but a mean and hurtful insult to many. I hope you are correct that no gerei zedek were hurt, but I also hope that no one else was. It seemed to me that many may have been, and I think the ad is deplorable. This was not an ad for a product, but an insult aired on TV! Tell me-how that is proper?

  3. anonymous

    I doubt anyone will now read this but I have been living with the Jewish people for over 30 years and am sickened at the attitude to non-Jews & at how I have been treated
    Machon Pardes in Jerusalem – supposedly a liberal establishment teaches that “A Ger is not wholly Jewish
    I have been told by persons connected to institution of Efrat Rabbi Riskin training Rabbis at how much more Jewish they are than a convert
    Goodness only knows what goes on in hard line places like Kiriat Arba

    Perhaps I’d better not go on – the list is endless

    Hope you don’t mind me remaining anonymous

    • Amen to this. Yes, it is infinitely difficult to be a ger…..please be thankful that you don’t know what it feels like. Many times, I truly believe that Hashem himself is my only advocate. 😦

  4. aaa

    It’s remarkable to pay a quick visit this website and reading the views of
    all friends concerning this post, while I am also keen of getting knowledge.

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