Charedi Rabbis Rush To Disavow Anti-Gentile Book
Leaders of the country’s most prominent ultra-Orthodox yeshiva are scrambling to distance themselves from a book by one of their disciples, which argues that gentiles are “completely evil” and Jews constitute a separate, genetically superior species.
Written by Rabbi Saadya Grama — an alumnus of Beth Medrash Govoha, the renowned yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J. — the self-published book attempts to employ classical Jewish sources in defense of a race-based theory of Jewish supremacy. Grama’s book, published in Hebrew under the title Romemut Yisrael Ufarashat Hagalut, includes flowery endorsements from the most revered religious scholars at the renowned Lakewood yeshiva, including the institution’s foremost religious leader, or rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler.
Kotler’s disavowal of the book on Tuesday came at the end of an intense, day-long scramble during which the Anti-Defamation League and the chancellor of Yeshiva University condemned the book, and several ultra-Orthodox communal spokesmen tried to convince the Forward not to report its existence. During the course of the day, a popular bookstore in the heavily Orthodox Boro Park section of Brooklyn told the Forward that it had just pulled the book off of the tables at the author’s request.
The controversy over Grama’s book comes as the yeshiva is close to securing $500,000 in federal funds for a Holocaust library (see accompanying story on Page 4).
Coincidentally, in his book, Grama argues that the Holocaust was both a divine punishment against the Jews for assimilation and also proof of the “true nature and face” of the non-Jewish world. The book’s title could be translated in several ways, including “The Grandeur of Israel and the Issue of Exile” and “Jewish Superiority and the Question of Exile.”
[..] Among other things, Grama argues:
- The differences between Jews and gentiles are not religious, historical, cultural or political. They are, rather, racial, genetic and scientifically unalterable. The one group is at its very root and by natural constitution “totally evil” while the other is “totally good.”
- Jewish successes in the world are completely contingent upon the failure of all other peoples. Only when the gentiles face total catastrophe do the Jews experience good fortune.
- The Jews themselves brought about their own destruction during the Holocaust, since they arrogantly endeavored to overcome their very essence, dictated by divine law, by leaving their ghettoes and trying to assimilate into Christian European society. The confrontational approach of the Zionists, their boycott of German products and anti-Nazi demonstrations in particular, only exacerbated the peril to European Jewry. For this they were massacred by Hitler who, while himself an evil person, was acting as God’s agent in punishing the Jews.
Grama also argues that in opposition to Zionism’s advocacy of Jewish national self-assertion and self-defense, which he views as an imitation of “gentile ways,” the Torah mandates that the Jews, while in exile, should employ such means as appeasement, deception, duplicity and even “bribery” in their dealing with gentiles, so as to avoid their wrath.
Grama’s full-blown racialist theories appear to break new ground, building on a handful of hints of national and racial chauvinism occasionally found in the writings of a few earlier rabbinic figures, but combining them into a racialist doctrine with no precedent in rabbinic literature. To be sure, a minority stream exists in the rabbinic tradition — from the 11th- and 12th-century Hebrew romantic poet Yehuda Halevy to the 18th century chasidic sage Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev — which sees the differences between Jew and gentile as innate, rather than merely religious. Perhaps the most extreme version of this view is found in the central text of Chabad chasidism, Tanya, whose author, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyadi, Chabad’s founder, maintained that Jewish and gentile souls are fundamentally different, the former “divine” and the latter “animalistic.” That viewpoint has gained ground in recent decades, particularly among charedi thinkers.
Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, who is considered one of the leading ideologues of the Israeli Chabad movement, has written and spoken widely on the superiority of Jews and was briefly imprisoned in Israel for racial incitement. Yated Ne’eman, an Orthodox weekly in upstate New York that is affiliated with one of Israel’s main charedi dailies, has published essays on the question of whether medical research can be understood to apply to Jews given the innate physiological differences between Jews and gentiles.
When informed of Grama’s arguments, the associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Kenneth Jacobson, described them as “pure racism.”
“It shows that we in our community are quite capable of the same kind of hatred that exists in other communities,” Jacobson said. “We have an obligation to reject hatred in our community, just as we do when it comes out of other communities.”
Allan Nadler is the Director of the Jewish Studies Program at Drew University and Senior Advisor for Academic Affairs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Ami Eden and Steven I. Weiss contributed to this report.
By Allan Nadler
December 19, 2003