Eli Ben Dahan 370.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Imagine for a moment that the religious affairs minister in some democratic
country – England or Switzerland for example – were to make a public statement
that “the souls of all Christians are superior to the souls of Jews.” Would
Israel not make a fuss? Would not the ADL and the Weisenthal Center cry out in
protest? Would not Jews in that country demand the immediate resignation of such
an official? But in Israel, the man who fills such a slot – Deputy Religious
Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan – recently said just that about
Christians. He is quoted as saying in an interview which he knew would be
published that the souls of all Jews are higher than those of Christians or
Muslims or anybody else, yet his job is secure.
Nearly a week has passed
since his outrageous statements were printed in Ma’ariv and, to the best of my
knowledge, nary a peep of protest has been heard from any member of the
government, from the president and prime minister on down, nor from our esteemed
chief rabbis, who should know that silence is equivalent to consent.
have waited to hear the head of Ben-Dahan’s Bayit Yehudi party, Naftali Bennett,
who supposedly represents enlightened Orthodoxy, say, “it isn’t true, all humans
are equal,” but that hasn’t happened. Nor has Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid favors
progressive religion and who is responsible more than anyone else for Ben-Dahan
having his position, denounced this teaching. A government that had an ounce of
integrity or shame would have insisted on the resignation of a person in charge
of religious affairs who dared to make such a statement. How can he represent
Israel to leaders of other religions or be allowed to represent Judaism to Jews?
Unfortunately Ben-Dahan’s view of the inherent superiority of Jews over gentiles
is not his alone. He represents a well-known teaching prevalent in certain
circles, including many hassidic texts such as those of Chabad. These concepts,
that view the gentile as somehow inferior to the Jew, are diametrically opposed
to the teachings of Judaism’s basic texts – the Torah and the prophets, as well
as to those of many great rabbinic sages.
The most fundamental teaching
of the Torah is that human beings – all human beings, men and women, Jews and
non-Jews – are created in the image of God.
“And God created man in His
image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”
(Genesis 1:27). It was on that basis that murder was forbidden.
sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in His image did God
made man” (Genesis 9:6). When the prophet Amos said, “To Me, O Israelites, you
are just like the Cushites – declares the Lord” (Amos 9:7), he was expressing
the concept that although Israel has a covenantal relationship with God, there
is no inherent superiority in the people of Israel. All peoples are God’s equal
The Sages taught the same lesson. “Why was only one human being
– Adam – created? So that no one should say to his fellow, ‘My father was
greater than your father’” (Sanhedrin 4:5). Ben-Azzai said that the greatest
principle of the Torah was expressed in the verse, “This is the record of Adam’s
line – When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1),
stressing again that God created all human beings in His likeness. Rabbi Akiva
based his theology on the idea that “Beloved is man for he was created in the
Image; greater still was the love in that it was made known to him that he was
created in the Image of God, as it is written, ‘For in the image of God made he
man’” (Avot 3:15).
As the midrash says, “I call heaven and earth as
witnesses: The spirit of holiness rests upon each person according to the deed
that each does, whether that person be non-Jew or Jew, man or woman, manservant
or maidservant” (Seder Eliyahu Rabba 9).
The pernicious doctrine that
Jewish souls are higher than other souls is a perversion of these Jewish
teachings and should be denounced as a dangerous heresy. It is dangerous because
any such teaching of superiority of one group over another leads to actions in
which humans can be treated as inferior, as less than human and eventually can
be disposed of as well. We have suffered from this ourselves, and teaching it to
our children will only lead to Jews treating others badly, as indeed has already
happened. It may be that others who held prominent positions in our governments
have held the same view as Ben-Dahan, but at least they never uttered it in
public. By doing so, Ben-Dahan has rendered himself persona non-grata and should
have the good grace to resign. If not, he should be told to leave. We are
constantly asking others to condemn those who speak disparagingly of Jews or
Judaism. We have asked more than one pope to change the liturgy so as not to
show Jews in a bad light. Should not we ask the same thing of ourselves and
denounce any Jewish teaching that demeans non-Jews? Israel must not be in a
position in which others can point to us and say, “Look what your government is
teaching about non-Jews before you complain about what others are saying about
As Hillel said, all of Judaism can be encapsulated in the idea that
we are not to do to others what is hateful to us (Shabbat 31a). Ben-Dahan has
violated that rule.The writer is a former president of the International
Rabbinical Assembly, a well-known lecturer and writer, whose most recent book is
The Torah Revolution.