Rabbi Yosef’s Statement: “Goyim were born only to serve us”

A strong sense of Jewish racial superiority can be seen in some recent statements by Israeli Sephardic leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as well as quite a bit of other similar material.

The JTA article on the rabbi’s statement includes this disclaimer:

The American Jewish Committee condemned the rabbi’s remarks in a statement issued Monday.

“Rabbi Yosef’s remarks — suggesting outrageously that Jewish scripture asserts non-Jews exist to serve Jews — are abhorrent and an offense to human dignity and human equality,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Judaism first taught the world that all individuals are created in the divine image, which helped form the basis of our moral code. A rabbi should be the first, not the last, to reflect that bedrock teaching of our tradition.”

Which goes to show how easy it is for the Jewish community to project whatever image it desires–no matter what the facts. Americans and other Westerners have been long indoctrinated with the view that Jewish ethics are universalist, so the AJC’s statement will have a ring of truth for most readers, Jews and non-Jews alike. Indeed, the AJC statement implies that Judaism made an irreplaceable contribution to universalist ethics.

The transformation of Jewish ethics to a veneer of universalism was an important project of the 19th-century attempt to present Judaism as on a par with Christianity.  In doing so, it trampled on a great deal of its own history. As John Murray Cuddihy noted, “these Diaspora groups were uninterested in actual history; they were apologists, ideologists, prefabricating a past in order to answer embarrassing questions, to outfit a new identity, and to ground a claim to equal treatment in the modern world” (The Ordeal of Civility, p. 177).

As discussed in A People That Shall Dwell Alone (Chapter 6), different ethical standards for Jews and non-Jews are the norm in Jewish religious law. For example, according to the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 79a) an Israelite is not guilty if he kills an Israelite when intending to kill a heathen. However, if the reverse should occur, the perpetrator is liable to the death penalty. The Talmud also contains a variety of rules enjoining honesty in dealing with other Jews, but condoning misappropriation of gentile goods, taking advantage of a gentile’s errors in business transactions, and not returning lost articles to gentiles (Katz 1961a, 38).

One very embarrassing question is the clear evidence that the “outrageous” statement by the rabbi is actually quite mainstream in orthodox circles. Israel Shahak is the best source for this sort of thing. In Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, Shahak and his co-author Norton Mezvinsky show just how mainstream these views are. Here is a quote from Lubivitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who, as David Duke notes, has been welcomed at the White House and been given a medal by the US Congress:

We do not have a case of profound change in which a person is merely on a superior level. Rather we have a case of . . . a totally different species. . . . The body of a Jewish person is of a totally different quality from the body of [members] of all nations of the world . . . The difference of the inner quality [of the body] . . . is so great that the bodies would be considered as completely different species. This is the reason why the Talmud states that there is an halachic difference in attitude about the bodies of non-Jews [as opposed to the bodies of Jews]: “their bodies are in vain”. . . . An even greater difference exists in regard to the soul. Two contrary types of soul exist, a non-Jewish soul comes from three satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness.

Shahak and Mezvinsky note that

many Jews, especially religious Jews today in Israel and their supporters abroad, continue to adhere to traditional Jewish ethics that other Jews would like to ignore or explain away. For example, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus/Shechem, after several of his students were remanded on suspicion of murdering a teenage Arab girl: “Jewish blood is not the same as the blood of a goy.” Rabbi Ido Elba: “According to the Torah, we are in a situation of pikuah nefesh (saving a life) in time of war, and in such a situation one may kill any Gentile.” Rabbi Yisrael Ariel writes in 1982 that “Beirut is part of the Land of Israel. [This is a reference to the boundaries of Israel as including all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, as stated in the Covenant between God and Abraham in Genesis 15: 18–20 and Joshua 1 3–4] . . . our leaders should have entered Lebanon and Beirut without hesitation, and killed every single one of them. Not a memory should have remained.” It is usually yeshiva students who chant “Death to the Arabs” on CNN. The stealing and corruption by religious leaders that has recently been documented in trials in Israel and abroad continues to raise the question of the relationship between Judaism and ethics.

Jewish nationalist groups like Gush Eminum explicitly exempt Jews from normal ethical considerations:

Jews are not, and cannot be a normal people. The eternal uniqueness of the Jews is the result of the Covenant made between God and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai … The implication is that the transcendent imperatives for Jews effectively nullify moral laws that bind the behavior of normal nations. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of Gush Emunim’s most prolific ideologues, argues that the divine commandments to the Jewish people “transcend the human notions of national rights.” He explains that while God requires other nations to abide by abstract codes of justice and righteousness, such laws do not apply to Jews

As Duke emphasizes, these are not fringe groups making such statements. As I summarize elsewhere, writing in 2003:

these fundamentalist and ultranationalist groups are not tiny fringe groups, mere relics of traditional Jewish culture. They are widely respected by the Israeli public and by many Jews in the Diaspora. They have a great deal of influence on the Israeli government, especially the Likud governments and the recent government of national unity headed by Ariel Sharon. The members of Gush Emunim constitute a significant percentage of the elite units of the Israeli army, and, as expected on the hypothesis that they are extremely ethnocentric, they are much more willing to treat the Palestinians in a savage and brutal manner than are other Israeli soldiers. All together, the religious parties represent about 25% of the Israeli electorate—a percentage that is sure to increase because of the high fertility of religious Jews and because intensified troubles with the Palestinians tend to make other Israelis more sympathetic to their cause.

Particularly important is the fertility of these groups. The present Israeli government is the most ethnonationlist in its history, but these trends will be even more pronounced in the future. In the long run, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion of a universalist Jewish ethics no matter how much the AJC wants to project that image.

We do not have a case of profound change in which a person is merely on a
superior level. Rather we have a case of . . . a totally different species. . . . The body
of a Jewish person is of a totally different quality from the body of [members] of all
nations of the world . . . The difference of the inner quality [of the body] . . . is so
great that the bodies would be considered as completely different species. This is
the reason why the Talmud states that there is an halachic difference in attitude
about the bodies of non-Jews [as opposed to the bodies of Jews]: “their bodies are
in vain”. . . . An even greater difference exists in regard to the soul. Two contrary
types of soul exist, a non-Jewish soul comes from three satanic spheres, while the
Jewish soul stems from holiness.
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