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The Jewish Quarterly Review, XCIII, Nos. 3-4 (January-April, 2003) 557-579 Review Essay THE IMAGE OF THE BLACK IN JEWISH CULTURE David M. Goldenberg Abraham Melamed. 77ie Image ofthe Black in Jewish Culture: A History of the Other. London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003. Pp. 295. A theory not uncommonly heard in and out of the academic world is that anti-Black racism originated with the ancient rabbis. The Talmud and Midrash , it is claimed, first expressed that sentiment which led eventually to the horrors of racism in western civilization. These claims are not of recent vintage. Seventy five years ago, Raoul Allier, Dean of the Faculté Libre de Théologie Protestante of Paris, urged Christian missionaries to protest what he saw as anti-Black talmudic passages , "born in the ghetto, of the feverish and sadistic imagination of some rabbis." ' In this country, the claim made its first appearance about forty years ago in academic circles and was quickly repeated in works of all sorts, in history, sociology, psychology, religious studies, and theology.2 A professor at the University of Pennsylvania not long ago summed up the view: In its "depth of anti-Blackness," rabbinic Judaism "suggests how repugnant blacks were to the chosen people," and how the Jews viewed Blacks "as the people devoid of ultimate worth and redeeming social human value."3 It wasn't long before this assault spread beyond the university campus to the African American community. Black biblical scholars and theologians repeated the claims and, at times, drew explicit connections to recent history. Charles Copher, a minister in the United Methodist Church and formerly Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Old Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, wrote: "Racial myths [were] created and employed by the first interpreters of the so-called Old Testament, the ancient Jewish rabbis. They then continue through the use of myths inherited 1 Une énigme troublante: la race nègre et la malédiction de Cham. Les Cahiers Missionaries no. 16 (Paris, 1930), pp. 16-19, 32. 2 See David Goldenberg, "The Curse of Ham: A Case of Rabbinic Racism?" in Struggles in the Promised Land, ed. Jack Salzman and Cornel West (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 21-51. 3 Joseph Washington, Anti-Blackness in English Religion, 1500-1800 (New York, 1984), pp. 1 1 and 15. 558THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW from the rabbis. ... As is well known, the Old Hamite Myth was used by Jews down through the ages, and was adopted by Euro-American interpreters of the Bible tojustify the enslavement and later segregation of the Negroes."4 Jewish academics rose to defend the faith and, first in 1980 and then during the 1990s, a few articles were authored by American scholars in Jewish studies. Written from different perspectives and within different academic disciplines, the rebuttals seem to have muted some of the attack in recent years. But their efforts may all be for naught in the face of the latest onslaught . A new full-scale study has now appeared by a professor of Jewish Studies in Israel, Abraham Melamed, who claims that the attackers of the Talmud and Midrash were right all along. In fact, Melamed goes much further than his like-minded predecessors. In his book, The Image ofthe Black in Jewish Culture, originally published in Hebrew one year ago, Melamed argues that rabbinic Judaism developed an image of the Black as ultimate Other—as inferior, animal-like, ugly, dirty, sexually promiscuous, violent, cruel, and by nature a treacherous slave (passim, the fullest list in on p. 99). This image, absent in the Bible and truly an "authentic product of rabbinical culture" (3), then permeated medieval Jewish culture and continued into modern times. Needless to say, this book, written by an Israeli, a Jew, and a professor of Jewish studies no less, will cause considerable damage to Black-Jewish relations in this country. The book is a dangerous book, not only because of the harm it will cause but because it will do its damage on the basis of terribly faulty scholarship. On the face of it, it sounds strange that the Rabbis of Israel and Babylonia...


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