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The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism -

THE CLAIM that the Cha­sidic clas­sic, the Tanya, is a racist work is as­tound­ing. Its ac­cusers are ob­vi­ously un­fa­mil­iar with the vo­cab­u­lary of Jewish phi­los­o­phy and mys­ti­cism which un­der­lies its text. Let us re­view the rel­e­vant pas­sage: “The souls of the na­tions of idol-worshippers are from the other, the im­pure ‘shells’ which con­tain no good at all, as stated in Etz Chaim 49:3. All the good that the na­tions of idol-worshippers do is done for their own sake, as stated in the Tal­mud [Baba Bathra 10b] on the verse ‘The kind­ness of the na­tions is sin’ [Proverbs 14:34], ie that all the char­ity and kind­ness per­formed by the na­tions of idol-worshippers is done for the sake of self-glo­ri­fi­ca­tion.”

If the crit­ics have prob­lems with this pas­sage, their com­plaint is against the Bi­ble, the Tal­mud and the writ­ings of Rabbi Isaac Luria. The Tanya is merely quot­ing th­ese sources. Our Bi­ble has more rad­i­cal s t a t e me n t s about the peo­ple of Is­rael be­ing God’s cho­sen peo­ple and God’s wit­nesses on earth.

The pas­sage speaks of idol-worshippers de­void of re­vealed re­li­gion. Else­where the au­thor of the Tanya makes it quite clear that the “pi­ous of the na­tions” (gen­tiles who fol­low the moral dic­tates of the Noachide Code) are ex­cluded from the def­i­ni­tion of idol-worshippers.

The crit­ics’ con­fu­sion is rooted in their ig­no­rance of the kab­bal­is­tic term “im­pure shells”. In their view this seems to im­ply that those idol­aters are rooted in some de­monic or Satanic source dis­tinct from Divin­ity. In Ju­daism, of course, there is no such thing of some­thing de­void of Divin­ity.

Had they at­tended a class in Tanya, they would have dis­cov­ered that the realm of “im­pu­rity”, too, is in­fused and sus­tained by the Di­vine ema­na­tions (the “holy se­firot”), without which noth­ing could ex­ist. The “im­pure shells”, too, are Di­vine cre­ations for the pur­pose they serve, and the dif­fer­ence be­tween “pure” and “im­pure” is sim­ply how hu­mans are to re­late to them.

Most likely, th­ese crit­ics ob­ject also to the clas­si­cal con­cept that Jews pos­sess an ad­di­tional “spe­cial soul” which dis­tin­guishes them from non-Jews, and cited in the Tanya. To them this surely is the ul­ti­mate racism. Yet the self­same crit­ics them­selves pro­claim

t h i s dis­tinc­tion and sep­a­ra­tion loud and clear at the con­clu­sion of ev­ery Sab­bath and fes­ti­val when they re­cite the hav­dalah bless­ing, and ev­ery fes­ti­val when they re­cite the sec­tion “ Atah bechar­tanu” (“You have cho­sen us”) in the Ami­dah. They do so be­cause the To­rah it­self states this ex­plic­itly in Leviti­cus 20:24 and 26, “I have sep­a­rated you from the na­tions to be Mine.”

Jews are in­fused with an ad­di­tional soul pre­cisely be­cause they need this spe­cial en­dow­ment to en­able them to ob­serve the To­rah with its 613 com­mand­ments and to carry out their mis­sion to be a Di­vine bea­con to the na­tions, which re­quires in­ten­si­fied “en­ergy” for this pur­pose. Racist? Then to claim that out­stand­ing artists or sci­en­tists are en­dowed with spe­cial and ex­traor­di­nary tal­ents would also be an ex­pres­sion of morally ob­jec­tion­able racism.

To fol­low any re­li­gion fer­vently means to be­lieve that you are in pos­ses­sion of an ab­so­lute truth that has an ad­van­tage over all other re­li­gions. Oth­er­wise you have no rea­son to ad­here to it with all your mind and soul.

The pro­test­ers ar­gue that if a lo­cal church were to teach a course claim­ing Chris­tians are spir­i­tu­ally su­pe­rior to Jews, they think that should not be tol­er­ated. What do they think is be­ing taught there? Ob­vi­ously the New Tes­ta­ment. And isn’t that pre­cisely what the New Tes­ta­ment is teach­ing?

In short, if the eru­dite crit­ics at Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb in­sist on can­celling a class in Tanya at their syn­a­gogue be­cause of that text’s al­leged racism, they should be con­sis­tent and also can­cel all classes in the Jewish Bi­ble, Liturgy, Tal­mud and the Codes. Any­thing less is pure hypocrisy. Yitzchak Scho­chet is rabbi of Mill Hill United Syn­a­gogue

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