Monday, 28 October 2013

On Slurring Gypsies and Others - Parashat Chayei Sara

Note form only

A sermon from Shabbat


Two people who make up the back story.

Foreground Abraham, seeking for a burial ground for his wife and a wife for his son.

In the background, Ephron, who own a cave that would be suitable, and Lavan, brother of Rebecca.

Both relatively blank canvases on the surface of the text, both painted darkly by tradition.


Laban – pure white in wickedness.

Eliezer sent to find a wife for Isaac finds a kind generously spirited woman.

Gives her gifts.

Laban runs out to welcome him in – when he sees that Rebecca has been given gold.

A generation later, a similar story, Rebecca’s now adult son Jacob, arrives on the horizon, again, Laban comes running, hugs him – Rabbis say to check if has gold in his pockets, kisses him – Rabbis say to check if has gold hidden in his mouth.


One of the best known verses in the whole Torah – Arami oved avi, Passover seder, my father was a wandering Aramean – in its Biblical place, without question referring to Abraham, becomes, at the Seder table, a story of how an Aramean, now identified with Lavan, wanted to destroy our father – now identified as Jacob.


Laban painted as a cheat, money grabber.

Bogey man.

For what exactly – sins that are not explicit on the face of the text, certainly failures that could be read the other way round. Neutral, in charge of the house.

Takes, gladly, the opportunity for his sister to marry into a clearly well-to-do family, but hardly unusual.



Abraham negotiating a purchase of a burial plot.

Formal procedure – as anyone whose bought property knows – takes time, technical, often intemperance creeps in.

But, again, painted as greedy

Proverbs 28:22 – he that has an evil eye runs after riches.

Another Midrash suggests that the occasion on which his name is written without the vav, a bit like spelling Annabelle without the normal double ‘l’ ‘e’, it’s a sign of his avarice.

Again, on the face no need.


What’s going on?

These commentaries date from a time of Jewish exile.

Kicked out from being able to work the land, only hope of survival was to trade, to work with money.

One of the great antisemitic caricatures – the money grabbing Jew.

So we respond by turning those blank canvases into the very thing we are continually being accused of.

Analysts call it projection.

Needs to be teased out into the open.

Dangerous to others, dangerous to allow ourselves to fall into patterns that are offensive, racist even.


Pondering this in the light of stories being told about Roma,

Long time victims of a racist slur – the gypsies are coming to steal your children.

Roma – seizure of the blonde girl in Dublin, only for DNA test to reveal that she is, indeed, the daughter of her parents.

Similar story – still somewhat unclear, in Greece with a blond girl whose taken from Roma parents who are not her birth parents, only to now appear that the child was handed over in a story that seems to have more to do with poverty than child-kidnapping.


The point is we don’t like outsiders.

The point is that certain kinds of outsiders rile us, bring us out in a kind of aggression where our worst fears get lumped onto them.


Revolting the way this racist slur was allowed to bubble up.

And especially horrendous because we – as Jews – have so often been at the receiving end of this kind of cheap, abusive, racist slurs.


For millennia the great libel against Jews was that we would murder Christian babies and let their blood to make Matzah.

Just to be entirely clear, Judaism forbids kidnapping kids or mixing blood with Matzah.


It also forbids us from wanton defamation, it obliges us to see the good in all human beings.

It compels us not to rush to judgement, especially if those we are rushing to judge are part of an underclass, less educated, less wealthy, less obviously part of mainstream society.


Have to train ourselves in these tough obligations.

And in the obligation not to stand by when evil is being done to others.


The antisemtic slurs haven’t entirely gone away – certainly in some of the countries where libelling gypsies is still normative, but here in England, for me, to be a Jew means to stand up against this kind of cheap slurring.

We need to work to throw off the desire that allows us to project our fears onto others who have committed no crime.

We need to do it, not only because where the libel of the gypsies goes first, the libel of the Jews surely follows,

But also because we are called to a standard higher than mere self-presevation.

We are called to a standard of recognising and justifying the creation of every human being in the image of the Divine,


Shabbat shalom



No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...