Why is it that the more religious / observant many Jewish people become, the more bigoted they become? I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa where the orthodox Jewish community was shameful in its treatment of black people and generally in its attitudes towards them. It exposed an unacceptable face of religion which has made me skeptical to this day. I see similar attitudes in the orthodox Jews of London and New York. If religion is about making people so narrow, it makes we want no part of it. I know you will say “we have to distinguish between the system and the people”, but I think the problem cannot so easily be brushed aside. For me it raises a number of problematic questions, such as: Is the system being taught/ interpreted in such a way as to produce bigoted and racist Jews? Are the majority of the Jews who are attracted to the orthodox way of life conservative in their outlook in the first place and so bring all this “baggage” with them?
Dear [name redacted],
I know this is not what you want to hear, but hard as it may seem, we must distinguish between the system and the people. The bigotry you speak of is an unfortunate result of a globally perceived dichotomy between G-d and the universe, and between the soul and the body. It is because the world collectively separates between our existence and its purpose, between our inner selves and our outer selves, between who we (really) are and what we do.
I should also add, that distorted “religion” can — in a perverse way — cause one to become more corrupt and bigoted than a faithless person, when the “religion” is utilized to subjectively justify one’s behavior and to allow one to feel that G-d is condoning and even encouraging bigotry. No greater distortion is possible in my eyes, and it is the sad result of a soulless “religion” that has become relegated to a technical, dogmatic bureaucracy, rather than a G-dly, divine and sacred experience.
There is however a light at the end of the tunnel, because this isn’t merely a tragic end in itself. When we recognize this dichotomy and schism for what it is, we have the opportunity to begin the healing process through unconditional love. This is the challenge of our times. For those of us that can see it — and clearly you see it with your sensitivity to the bigotry — we must deal not only with the symptoms but also with the causes. We must get to the root of the issue by reintroducing a spirit of soul — and the resulting unconditional love — into our society.
Now, your challenge is to not remain angry or bitter and skeptical; we must do something constructive with this recognition of the tragedy of so much bigotry even amongst our brethren. We only have a limited number of years to live and would be a crying shame to live them in skepticism and filled with negative feelings that just perpetuate resignation. We must generate positive energy, by taking strong and productive measures to introduce a sense of purpose and spiritual focus in our lives.
This is the only approach — the only positive way I know of to channel disappointment in the people we know and expect more from. We can either remain detached and skeptical, which is really a form of “victimization,” or we can take the initiative — take the bull by the horns — and make a change. Let us not be intimidated by the number of people who we see clouded by bigotry and racism. Each one of us can make a difference and change the tide, and especially when we join together.
You may want to check out the transcript of my last radio show on racism on the Meaningful Life Center’s website, you can find it by clicking on this link.
I welcome all your continuing questions, and look forward to seeing you at the next class.