In recent years, anti-Semites around the world have stepped up their attempts at banning Jewish religious books. A number of criminal complaints has been filed alleging racist incitement, notably in Russia. Rabbis seem to recognize that side of our books, as during the Knesset debate on the anti-racism law designed to ban the Kach Party, religious parties insisted that theological writings be excluded from the definition of racism. That, by the way, didn’t help Kahane, who presented the Israeli Supreme Court with abundant evidence that all his sayings are within the halacha; the court banned his party regardless.

No doubt, Jewish books from the Torah to Kitzur Shulhan Aruch are exclusionist—but not exactly racist, as Jews are not a race. Not exclusionist in the sense that racism is exclusive: “I’m perpetually white, you’re perpetually black, and therefore I’m perpetually better than you are.” Anyone can convert to Judaism and become as Jewish as Ruth, the grandmother of King David.

light against reason

Jews do not despise other nations. Even enemy nations, we hate rather than despise. I respect the Germans, but firmly believe that the best use of Israel’s nukes would be illuminating their towns. Not that I hope for such a development. One can argue that they were merely a tool for punishing the assimilating Jews, and that from the divine point of view they don’t deserve punishment. But Pharaoh was punished with ten plagues for oppressing the Egyptian Jews, who were also assimilated. Whatever the case, God has his time of vengeance, and we have ours.

Judaism, however, despises foreign religions. Whatever the progressive rabbis have told you, that absolutely includes Christianity. In modern times, Kitzur Shulhan Aruch equates cross-worshiping with idolatry, and in the Disputation of Barcelona Ramban ridiculed his baptized opponent, “[it seems most strange that] the Creator of Heaven and Earth resorted to the womb of a certain Jewish lady, grew there for nine months and was born as an infant… and that afterwards… he came to life and returned to his original place. The mind of a Jew, or any other person, simply cannot tolerate these assertions.” Here is a subtle issue: we despise ideas, not their bearers, whether people or nations. That restraint is not due to the fact that all humans were created in God’s image: murderers, rapists, and communists also were created in his image, and we despise them mightily for what they have done to that image. Rather, we recognize—as did Ramban in the disputation—that their beliefs are inculcated from childhood rather than acquired through logical fallacy, and they may always revert to what we consider truth. Therefore I had never had a problem with the Christian mass, which liberal Jews decry, which expresses the hope of Jews’ converting one day to that faith. I’m a true liberal: I despise beliefs but allow people to hold them so long as they do not contemplate violence against my people.

So, do we have a right to despise, to offend, to speak derisively? Most Jews have adopted a non-confrontational attitude: I’m not worse than you, but I’m no better, we’re all similar. Well, we’re not. Apples and oranges are different, and people like one and not the other. Why should we speak mildly of offensive views? Read early Christian writers, such as John Chrysostom, for vituperative attacks on Judaism; John had friends among the rabbis. Read Rambam’s derision of Islam, though he served a Muslim ruler.

The law of the Torah is straightforward: Jews are “the people that dwell alone.” We refuse to intermingle. I know, that’s insulting. But there is a whole lot of difference between refusing association with a particular group, such as blacks, and refusing association with everyone. We refuse to intermingle not out of hatred for any particular group, but because we want to be alone. It is unrealistic to hate everyone, as the strength of the feeling would dissipate, but it is possible to distance oneself from all other peoples. Our distancing is entirely neutral; it is not provoked by hatred. That is sort of the attitude which leads you to close the doors of your house even when you don’t fear theft: you have a right to privacy, to practicing your peculiar way of life.

That’s the point. Jews who lead the Jewish life have the right and obligation to distance themselves from gentiles. In fact, gentiles rarely hate such Jews. There are many examples from Soviet labor camps where cutthroat inmates respected jailed religious Jews; Dostoevsky had a similar experience in a tsarist penal servitude camp. The problem appears when Jews assimilate: the Inquisition was launched to investigate Jewish converts in Spain, and Nazism, too, appeared in the country with the most assimilated Jewry. Assimilated Jews lose a religion-based reason to be different from gentiles. Their refusal to intermingle is an unjustified affront, indeed racism, as their Jewishness is a bloodline rather than a religion. But by inertia, even assimilated Jews cling to other Jews and remain somewhat wary of gentiles, which considerably insults the latter as such Jews shy from them for no reason. When the Diaspora organizations of assimilated Jews publish books like Shulchan Aruch or their leaders speak of Jewish chosen-ness, that is of course offensive to gentiles. In the cognitive framework of normal people, religious Jews with hair locks can speak of being chosen, but Jewish pundits who are no different from any gentile next door have lost such right.

The Torah enjoins us to reproach those neighbors whom we consider wicked. Foreign worship by Jews is the ultimate wickedness, which we must reproach. There is no comparable obligation toward other peoples; we shouldn’t pour into the streets of Christian countries to announce our reservations about the immaculate conception. But we should make such views known to other Jews so that they don’t become messianic. So we’re right to criticize foreign religions harshly and derisively in books intended for Jews. It’s a contentious adult thing: if you fear being offended, don’t open our books.

Realistically speaking, Jewish books never call for violence against gentiles; our actions in the messianic era remain speculative. The criminal incitement statute is, therefore, inapplicable.

In Russia, it is a crime to seed nationalist discord, which indeed we do. Our aim is for Jews to remain different, and if this is discord, so be it. I believe, however, that discord is something stronger than mere absence of accord; it is intermingling. Jewish “absence of accord” is non-confrontational, and indeed it would be ridiculous to imagine confrontational Jews in the Diaspora countries.

Jewish leaders step in where anti-Semites fail. We should expect self-censorship, removing of the offending phrases from Jewish religious books, as was indeed the case with the Soncino Talmud. In the true spirit of interfaith dialogue, our books will be made non-offensive to atheists and Christians and assimilated intermarried Jews. But the only way to be truly non-offensive is to become similar. And so they debase Judaism into heresy.