I am only asking this question to educate myself, not because I am anti-semitic or for any other hidden agenda. I do not want to turn this forum into an ugly place. I realize this question is controversial, I will not be angry if it is closed by moderators. It would seem to me that this is a forum for believers which I am not and so my question is perhaps out of place. However any comments would be helpful including references to other material.

Further the term 'racist' has an emotionally negative connotation. I am not trying to cast judgment. I am trying to better understand Judaism. For the sake of this question I 'racism' should not be considered a dirty concept.

It has always seemed to me that the fundamental tenets of the Jewish religion and of the state of Israel shared much with other doctrines of racial preference.

There would seem to be within Judaism a belief that Jews should help out other Jews with a heightened sense of urgency (vis a vis a non-Jew). Because Jews consider being Jewish is considered to be an ethnic identity this would imply that a good Jew is a 'racist' Jew. (Again I do not cast judgment, I only seek understanding).

--begin edit--

(One of the moderators asked that I expand upon the above section.)

It is hard for me to denote a specific example without it being an event from my own life, which is of course not a large enough sample set and so I feel is not a fair representation. You could say the above is a sense I get from working with, living amongst and speaking with persons who are 'actively Jewish.' Amongst those I know who are not 'actively Jewish' there is much less attention paid to the identity of others and and commentary or benefit associated with that identity.

I will provide a specific example reluctantly as I feel it casts judgment. I have had two bosses who identified as Jews, one actively Jewish (attended synagogue and gave to AIPAC substantially) and another not actively Jewish (non-kosher, did not celebrate holidays, but identified as being a 'Jew'). The actively Jewish boss had mostly Jews in positions of power in the firm (myself excepted although I am often mistaken for being Jewish and may have been so at the time of hire). The other boss had a mix of people, and in fact I believe none were Jewish except for himself. The actively Jewish person viewed interactions with others as being very colored by his own Jewish identity or the Jewish or non-Jewish identity of the other party. The inactively Jewish person did not.

I hope this is helpful. I very much appreciate your taking my question seriously. It is a very sincere question and I very much desire to gain wisdom.

--end edit--

This is my guess:

One central tenet of Judaism is that of Jewish identity. To protect this concept of Jewish identity certain racist practices and rules have evolved over the years to maintain and protect the religion from the diluting powers of assimilation and intermarriage. In addition, because of the collapse of the temple Jews were spread out around the world and therefore were often strangers in other countries. Like any group in such a situation there was a need to 'stick together' as members of the 'native' communities were often hostile.

I thank you in advance for helping me to better understand Jews and Judaism so that I can better appreciate one of the worlds oldest and richest cultures.

  • 2
    If you are using the term 'racism' without negative connotation, why are you trying to find a reason why it is not racism. Would it be better to ask "Is Judaism/Zionism racism?"
    – jake
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:14
  • 4
    Also, because it is hard to divorce "racism" from its negative connotation, I believe a different term should be used. Perhaps ethnocentrism, or even supremacism, which are more neutral? Do those fit with what you are trying to ask?
    – jake
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:16
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    @Seeker, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for posing your controversial question in such a respectful manner. It seems to me that the meat of your question is about Judaism, per se, rather than about Zionism. Could you please edit the title and body to refer just to Judaism? I feel that justifying Zionism as such is probably off-topic. Also, it would make your question more valuable if you could add some more detail, examples, and/or evidence to the paragraph beginning "There wouls seem to be ..."
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:17
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    Possible duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1295/jews-vs-non-jew
    – jake
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:28
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    @Seeker Thanks very much again for the care with which you're investing this question. It seems to me that your question is really along the lines of "Why does it seem that Jews love other Jews more than they do gentiles? If this is so, is it acceptable, and why?" Bringing in the word "racism" makes the question almost too easy to answer, as you can see from the first two answers you got. Your real question is an important one, so I'd love to see it brought out a bit more and with more answers to its real point.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 2:38

7 Answers 7


There are a lot of good answers here - I especially like @YDK's point about "taking a bullet" for someone really close to you, and not just anybody. I want to expand on this, because I feel this will cut to the heart of what @Seeker is asking.

I think behind the questions of racism/nepotism/ethnocentrism, @Seeker has noticed a particular thing about Jews that I don't believe exists among other nations or religions. An American multinational employer will typically not feel any inclination to give a job to a fellow American over a Briton, just because they share nationality. On a religious level, from what I've heard, a Baptist will typically not think to discharge his obligation to pray by going to a nearby Anglican church. Muslim current affairs is all about (often bloody) power struggles between Shiites, Sunnis, Wahhabis etc.

But with Jews it is different. For all our tendency to bicker and fight among ourselves, we nonetheless have an overarching philosophy such that if any ten Jews get together on a street corner, whether Hungarian chassidim, Yemenites, Lithuanian charedim, Moroccans, Persians, Religious Zionists or converts from Sweden, they together will form a minyan (prayer quorum) and pray to the One G-d together; there is an automatic kinship such that one Jew will instinctively and viscerally feel a responsibility for his fellow Jew, even if they have never met before, and come from totally different cultural backgrounds. It's not just a prescribed, intellectualized duty that we're "supposed" to look out for each other - this Jewish kinship simply is, in a very real, tangible and observable way. Hence the question, which I agree cannot be applied to other religions or nationalities, because the phenomenon does not exist anywhere else to nearly the same degree as it does with Jews.

As to why this kinship exists to such a palpable degree, beyond that which could have been expected simply from having the legislation of how to deal with your fellow Jews, my speculation is as follows:

Case 1: Two strangers get on an airplane and sit next to each other. They exchange niceties, maybe some idle chit-chat during the flight, then get off at the destination and say goodbye.

Case 2: Two strangers get on an airplane and sit next to each other. Just after they take off, the flight is hijacked, and a hostage crisis ensues. Hollywood-style plot of negotiations, gunfights, dramatic rescues. Stranger 1 rescues stranger 2 from certain death. Stranger 2 tackles the main hijacker and saves the day. Days later glory turns to shock and disbelief as the hijackers sue the victims for assault and millions of dollars of damages caused. The mass media takes the side of the hijackers - as do many of the other passengers (Stockholm Syndrome). Only the two strangers are there to stick up for each other. Eventually they are exonerated and vindicated.

Now which pair of strangers is going to feel a closer bond to each other, for the rest of their lives? If the one subsequently goes broke, will the other not do everything in his power to help him find a job and get back on his feet? Will they not automatically invite each other to their respective children's weddings? Should they need anyone to tell them that "it's the right thing to do", to come and comfort him in the house of mourning?

So it is with the Jewish people: we have an enormously long shared history as a nation. From the Egyptian exile, through the First Commonwealth, through the Babylonian exile, through the Second Commonwealth, through to our current days, we have been through all the ups and downs together. It's not just about here and now. A "here-and-now" Jew, who regards his history as a matter of mere intellectual interest (or less), will not feel this connection to his fellow Jews any more than one American would feel towards another American. But any Jew who has a sense of national history and purpose, without even thinking about it understands that his fellow Jews have been through that history with him, and automatically feels a closeness that cannot and need not be legislated or otherwise imposed. Even a convert, whose genetic ancestors were not part of our history, by his very act of attaching himself to the Jewish people, earns a share in our history and is as much part of the "family" as a Jew of unbroken matrilineal descent.

So yes, we do have laws in the Torah instructing us to deal more favorably with our fellow Jews than we do with "outsiders". We need them in the same way as we have laws not to steal, murder or commit adultery; sometimes what should be a natural moral instinct malfunctions in the face of temptation, anger or distress, and you need to have a code of cold, objective law to keep you on the straight and narrow. But for the most part, looking out for each other is just a natural response to the Jewish awareness that we have been through a lot together, and we have a common purpose in this world.

  • +1 nice analogy! I would also add that the reason we deal more favorably with another jew is because he also is obligated to deal more favorably with me, while the outsider is not
    – Avraham
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 15:32
  • Yeah, nice analogy, so was it Islam or the Catholic Church that hijacked monotheism, and which one rescued Judaism from the other?
    – Sam
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 2:41
  • That's a pretty weird comment, @Sam. You'll have to justify several sweeping statements in there if you want a serious response.
    – Shaul Behr
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 12:05
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    @Maxood what does your comment have to do with the subject?
    – yoel
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 23:55
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    That’s a damn good answer 👆
    – Jmill388
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 7:32

Judaism isn't a "race," and its tenets aren't racist, for one simple reason: we accept (genuinely motivated) converts of any race or ethnic background, and for nearly all purposes of Jewish law they are fully the equivalent of born Jews.

  • 1
    I accept what you say is true and I thank you for your reply. My question however is not so much do Jews except others who were not of Jewish heritage (although I think that is part of the issue) but rather the relationship of Jews to non-Jews. Once accepted into the faith is part of that faith to favor other members of that faith? Certainly this would not be the only group which practices such a preference. It is the combination with the ethnic identity (the Jewish people) that makes me wonder what the relationship is between Judaism and racism. Hindus perhaps might have a similar attitude.
    – Seeker
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 23:30
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    Judaism views all Jews as being part of the same "family." Therefore, there is an attitude (and some halachos - Jewish laws) of giving extra consideration to one's fellow Jew. Family first. This does NOT mean that non-Jews may be harmed, wronged, or taken advantage of in any way. Rebbetzin HaQoton Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 7:38

Seeker, there may be two separate answers to your question depending on the case.

  1. More than a religion, the bible refers to the Jewish people as a single unit. Just as when two people make a commitment through marriage, they are promising to take care of each other at a level that is higher than that toward others. That doesn't mean I'm not nice to others, but I wouldn't take a proverbial, or literal, bullet for them. There are laws in that seem to favor Jews over gentiles, but far from being unfair, they are simply higher comitments toward our larger family unit. For example, I may not loan money to a fellow Jew with interest, but I can to a gentile. Loaning money with interest is not unethical. Just like I can rent a vacant apartment which you need, I can rent my discretionary money that you need. But if your own brother came to you in need of cash, would you charge him?

  2. Concerning the practice of hiring only Jews, there could be an element of the above in supporting one's family first, but I suspect that, as an affiliated Jew, the boss is more comfortable around his ilk. This is not a religious practice and you will find this practice prevalent among many minority groups. (Perhaps someone with a psychology background out there has a name for it.


Might it also be possible that those being promoted are friendly with the boss or move in the same social circles? If I'm not mistaken, this also happens at non-Jewish companies. I'm always curious why people assume that behaviors demonstrated by Jews are automatically due to their Jewishness rather than to their humanness.


Not all Jews share the same race because we accept converts (as Alex points out), and not all Zionists are actually Jews (if you accept that "zionist" can apply to soemone who strongly supports Jews being in Eretz Yisrael, as some Christian sects do).

Further, given the existence of inter-marriage, you can easily have people who are the same "race" (whatever you mean by that) but one is Jewish and one is not.

So no, there's no equivalency, only some correlation.


according to the Torah, the Jewish people were elevated by God at Sinai and appointed as His treasured people. So if you accept that as true, then Jews have a special status.

This doesn't mean they are better than others, just that they have a high level job vis-a-vis humanity. This is a responsibility which can come with a heavy price tag.


It depends if you see Judaism as a natural or unnatural state.

It is not racism to be an Australian Aboriginal, even though I have little chance of being inducted in an Aboriginal coming of age rite.

It is racist to practice white supremacism, and exclude Jews and Blacks from entering restaraunts.

Being an Aboriginal Australian is a natural order. I cannot attend their rites as practitioner because I am not aboriginal.

Being superioristically white is not a natural order, it is an artificial artifice manipulation of society.

If your Judaism is natural, you are part of the world. If your Judaism is conceited, you have a question.

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