The Status of Non-Jews in Jewish Law and Lore Today

Posted on: Thursday February 4, 2016

On April 21, 2016 the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly unanimously approved a teshuvah entitled The Status of Non-Jews in Jewish Law and Lore Today nullifying any provisions in Jewish civil law that are discriminatory against non-Jews and specifically rejecting the teachings of such books as Baruch HaGever and Torat HaMelech, written by extreme right wing Israeli rabbis, that discriminate against non-Jews and have inspired violent actions against them, their persons and their houses of worship.

In answer to the questions: What is the status of Gentiles in Jewish Law today? What should be our attitude toward statements in traditional Jewish literature that are negative or discriminatory regarding non-Jews? this responsum, written by Rabbi Reuven Hammer of Jerusalem, affirms Judaism’s basic doctrine that all human beings are considered equal and created in the Divine Image. It concludes that the attitude of Jewish teaching in Scripture and Rabbinic sources is overwhelmingly positive toward non-Jews and that most of the laws found therein are not discriminatory against Gentiles. On the contrary, they require love of the stranger and proper consideration, equity and fairness in their treatment.

In a historical survey of the material the teshuvah concludes that discriminatory laws and negative statements concerning Gentiles appear first at times of persecution of Jews and Judaism such as that perpetrated by the Romans, but that as far back as the first century C.E. prominent religious authorities such as Rabban Gamliel II and Rabbi Akiva enacted measures to eliminate any such discriminatory laws. Furthermore the Sages also invoked the concepts of Kiddush HaShem (Sanctifying God’s Name) andDarkei Shalom (Promoting Peace) in order to prohibit discrimination against non-Jews and require treating them equally and fairly. Medieval authorities went further, declaring that many laws differentiating Jews from others had applied only to pagans and neither Christians nor Moslems are considered to be such.

Nevertheless there are laws that appear in various Jewish codes that do discriminate and there are statements in some writings, especially those of a more mystic nature, that are negative and even imply a distinction between Jewish souls and those of non-Jews. These, according to this paper, must be considered no longer authoritative. These statements are to be understood as the opinions of certain individuals rather than representing the consensus of Jewish opinion and are to be rejected, as are any beliefs in racial superiority or inferiority.

The paper calls upon Jewish leaders and educators to incorporate these findings in their preaching and teaching and to emphasize them in all their educational endeavors. We must deal honestly with the sources, admit that different attitudes have existed over the course of the development of Judaism, and candidly criticize and reject certain parts of the tradition while embracing others as representing the Judaism we wish to promulgate and which we believe represents the true core of Jewish belief beginning with the Torah itself. In view of the terrible suffering brought upon our people and others in the 20thcentury by doctrines of racial superiority, any teachings that espouse that in any way must be thoroughly rejected.