Canaan, son of Ham was cursed by Noah to be "a servant of servants"

I encountered a Jew who believed that this curse (and not poverty, racism, or anything else) is the cause of Africans' lowliness. I happen to believe, based on prior evidence, that this person is a simpleton, but I would have expected more from his wife.

I told him that that this theory is not a Jewish concept, but he showed me that it is in one of those Permission to ___ books.

I am skeptical as Africans only became (for lack of a better word)"subject people" after 1492 (I am aware of the Arabian Slave Trade), thousands of years after the curse was allegedly pronounced, while Jews were subject people for most of the history before the 21st century.

How much of the Curse of Ham = Blacks Inherently Cursed position is actually a "kosher" belief? i.e. what exactly is the curse and who does it affect and has it been fulfilled?

  • @ezra see judaism.stackexchange.com/a/2288/732 Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 17:21
  • See haoros.com/download.asp?kovetzID=1047&ext=doc page 104 Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 17:24
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    Great question. I've always understood that the modern day "Curse of Ham" has primarily been a Christian justification for exploitation of black people, but I admit that I don't know much about its origins. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:56
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    According to this Wiki page-en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery, slavery has been around since the beginnings of civilization - anyone, anywhere who was able to win a war against another people made them slaves if they wanted too...Good thing the OP mentioned the Arab slave trade - the Ottoman Empire didn't make Caucasian non-Muslim slavery illegal until the early 1800's. Why did the Africans end up the majority of slaves in relatively recent times? Probably didn't have much to do with "the curse"--the stronger tribes and kingdoms there made themselves rich with the slave trade.
    – Gary
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 0:29
  • What are 'Permission to ___ books'? Who wrote them? Who published them? Are they online?
    – user19234
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 19:33

6 Answers 6


The actual curse was placed on Canaan (Cham's fourth son). Thus the curse of Ham really not found in the Torah. Indeed, Cham's sons were Cush, Mitzrayim (who was the progenitor of the greatest Empire in the world in its time), Put, and Canaan (whom the curse affected). Cush begat Nimrod who was the first emperor before the tower of Babel.

Canaan actually lived in the Middle East and conquered Eretz Yisrael in the time of Avraham Lech Lecha 12:6

The curse is not upon a specific group of people, but upon those who improperly allow their passions to rule them.

Noach 9:25

And he said, "Cursed be Canaan; he shall be a slave among slaves to his brethren."


Cursed be Canaan: You have caused me to be incapable of begetting another fourth son (Gen. Rabbah , manuscripts, and early editions read: a fourth son) to serve me. Cursed be your fourth son, that he should minister to the children of these older ones [Shem and Japhet], upon whom the burden of serving me has been placed from now on (Gen. Rabbah 36:7). Now what did Ham see (what reason did he have) that he castrated him? He said to his brothers,“The first man [Adam] had two sons, and one killed the other so as to inherit the world, and our father has three sons, and he still desires a fourth son!” - [from Gen. Rabbah ibid. 5, 22:7]

Rav Hirsch points out that this is a reflection on those who allow their sensuality to control them. Rav Hirsch points out

When Noach woke up and got to know of Cham's behavior, his first thought was: --- the principle that showed itself here in Cham can, and may, and will -- (for it is no means necessary that ארור always expresses a wish in the ordinary sense of curse, but rather and especially here a declaration) -- never be the ruling one. Raw hot sensuality, which has no control over itself, which has lost all reserve and respect for anything spiritually high is unfit for ruling, yea, for freedom, it in itself is unfruitful, is ארור without progress or blessing, it bears its ruin in itself. ---


freedom is only achieved sand retained by those who can master and control themselves.

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    I think this is a bit of a cop out: avoiding controversy by retreating from the plain meaning that an actual person is cursed to some extent and relegating the story to only the level of moral allegory. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 17:52
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    That is what Rav Hirsch said about the meaning of the term arur in this respect. Note that it applies to Canaan while Cham was the one who did the action. In any case Canaan is the one who was "cursed" and not his father Cham. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:07

All of the above answers ignore a significant view of the Rishonim here, namely, that the view that "עבד עבדים יהיה לאחיו" means that Kenaan will be servants to the entire family of Cham, who will be servants to the other brothers.

Here are some sources:

Bechor Shor - עבד עבדים יהיה – לכולם. מתוך קללתו של כנען שגילהו, קילל כל בני חם על שראהו ולא כסהו. דהכי משמע: עבד עבדים – שיהיו אחיו עבדים, והוא עבד ל[ה]ם, ויהיה הוא עבד עבדים. וכן מצינו במצרים, שהוא מאחיו, ונקראו עבדים, כמו שכתוב: {העליתי אתכם ממצרים} ואוציא אתכםא מבית עבדים (שופטים ו׳:ח׳).

Radak - עבד עבדים – כי גם אחיו יהיו עבדים והוא יהיה עבד להם כל שכן לבני שם ויפת.

Ibn Ezra in the name of Rasag - וטעם עבד עבדים – הפוך אדני האדונים (דברים י׳:י״ז), זאת דעת הגאון.

Also, within this discussion it is worth noting checking out the Netziv, which can be accessed at the above link (the Rishonim and Acharonim are all listed together on mg.alhatorah.org). I am not copying or explaining his words here, as he implies certain things that some people may consider sensitive, but he does raise some excellent points that are relevant to this discussion.

See further my discussion of this very topic at another stackexchange site: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/29080/did-noahs-curse-on-canaan-affect-the-other-children-of-ham-by-implication/31197#31197


The short answer to this is: No, this is not a Jewish concept. As sabbalhillel already pointed out, there was no curse on Ham, but on a very specific nation called Canaan. But i disagree with his statement that the curse was not upon a specific nation; indeed there was a curse upon the Canaanites, but on the Canaanites only (that lived in the middle east)!

The Ramban (Breishis 10:26) explains that the Torah here is justifying the mitzvah of conquering Israel. The moral of the story is that since Canaan messed up (7 nations: Canaan) his children became our slaves and subordinate to us (semites), thus we by divine rule must rule over them. The Torah is surely not saying anything about the entire black race (This is my take, not the Ramban's). The Torah never endorses this view, and never implies that the Egyptians or other African nations are cursed, or that their enslavement should be propogated; this idea/concept was invented much later, and has no biblical or Jewish basis. (but of course those who believe in the enslavement of the blacks will always use the Torah as evidence to support their claims).

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    Is there any evidence that the Canaanites were black as such is understood today? The image of Ham as this black guy walking off the Ark with his two non-black brothers seems a gross simplification of complex ethnic and genetic changes that almost certainly do not neatly map up to today's racial concepts. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 19:00
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    @robert that's not any worse than any of the other issues with the flood and the redistribution of many phenotypes around the world. Like which of noachs kids was blond? What were their blood types?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 19:36
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    Where is the Gemara of Geviah ben Pesisah who debates the African descendants of Canaan? They had demanded, based on the various Pesukim which call Eretz Yisrael "Eretz Canaan," that we give it back, and Geviah said that, as Canaan is a slave to Shem, A) all that a slave acquires goes to his master, and B) they hadn't been working for us, so we should hold on to it as a substitute. Unable to come up with a response during the three days that followed, they fled, leaving their fields for the Jews observing Shemitah that year. I think it's in Chelek, just can't remember the daf.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 4:39
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    @RobertColumbia I believe the Midrash states that Cham was actually born white.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 4:40
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    @TurkHill I don't know about good or bad, but your answer/comment is certainly false.
    – Bach
    Commented Dec 5, 2019 at 15:47

According to Wikipedia, this is the view of the Abarbanel ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Abarbanel)

Ironically, according to historian David Brion Davis, Abarbanel played a pivotal role in providing the conceptual basis for black slavery: "[...] the great Jewish philosopher and statesman Isaac ben Abrabanel, having seen many black slaves both in his native Portugal and in Spain, merged Aristotle's theory of natural slaves with the belief that the biblical Noah had cursed and condemned to slavery both his son Ham and his young grandson Canaan. Abravenel concluded that the servitude of animalistic black Africans should be perpetual."

Their source:

Davis, David Brion. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) p. 55. Cf. Schorsch, Jews and Blacks, pp. 17-22;27;36-49.

I don't know where the Abarbanel expresses this view, but you see it's not a modern concept.

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    If Wikipedia cannot provide a source, I would not trust it to accurately portray the views of the Abarbanel. -1
    – ezra
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 20:01
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    It did provide a source, and I quoted it. I'm sure the book they source quotes the abarbanel, but i don't have access to it.
    – robev
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 20:04
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    However, based on the way many nonJewish historeans deal with Jews, I would need to see the source of what the Abarbanel actually says and what it means. The quote from the history book may not be correct. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 20:09
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    In case some troublemakers wander in, I would just like to put this quote from the same article: A Karite, Yefet b. Ali, had interpreted a biblical verse (Amos 9:7) to refer to Black women as being 'promiscuous and therefore no one knows who his father is.' Abrabanel: 'I don’t know who told Yefet this practice of promiscuity among Black women, which he mentions. But in the country of my birth I have seen many of these people and their women are loyal to their husbands unless they are prisoners and captive to their enemies. They are just like any other people.'" Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 20:19
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    @ezra it is ridiculous to down vote a sourced answer just because you don't know the source's sources.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 20:04

There are numerous sources that Cham was an evil person.

  1. Medrash Rabba Bamidbar 20:2 cham looked at the nakedness of his father and is called a wicked person (Rasha)

  2. Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 108 Cham disobeyed God and had relations in the ark and was afflicted in his skin. Midrash Bereishis Rabba 37,6 says he was blackened like coal. Rashi understands that his affliction was that he begot cush. so according to Rashi, it wasn't just Kanaan who was cursed.

  3. Pri tzadik (shabbos hagadol os aleph) who explains that kush was spiritually damaged

  4. Rabeinu bachya Bamidbar 21,24 who brings a Medrash that chams wife was with another man before the Mabul, and to cover her tracks, cham lived with her in the ark.

  5. Talmud bavli Pesachim 113b that cnaan commanded his children, to love to steal, love to be immoral, and not to tell the truth. See Ben Yehoyada there that all 5 commands were all to promote zima.

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    Your first point in the medrash doesn't answer the question. Likewise, 4 & 5 don't have anything to do with the OP.
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 21:23
  • I'm the original poster and I say that the entire answer is valuable to me. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 22:51
  • How much of the Curse of Ham = Blacks Inherently Cursed position is actually a "kosher" belief? i.e. what exactly is the curse and who does it affect and has it been fulfilled? was the question I was trying to address. Dov,points 4 and 5 demonstrate that immorality was ingrained from both parents, and continued as a modus operandi
    – user31723
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 0:28

The curse of Ham

Judaism has always advocated equality as all people were created in "the image of G-d."

In Genesis 9:20-27, we are told that Noah plants a vineyard and became drunk. After some certain events unfold, Noah cursed his grandson Canaan. But Canaan wasn't alive during the flood.

Noah curses his grandson Canaan to be a slave. This is the lowest level. Why does Noah make this curse? In any event, the tale seems to justify the conquest of Canaan. Slaves own nothing. So, the Israelites could take what they please and do with them as they want.1 Thus, the servility of the curse that Noah pronounces to Ham (through Canaan) is that all of his descendants will become slaves. But aren’t curses merely words? Do curses work? Words do not have mystical powers. Nevertheless, racists have used Genesis 9:25–26 to support their claim to white supremacy. Tradition says that Cush, the son of Ham (Genesis 10:6), is the father of the African race. They use this as proof to sanctify the institution of slavery.

Actually, the curse of Ham does not and cannot refer to the Africans nor the Canaanites as can be seen in this answer. It is a later Christian invention to justify the institution of the slave trade. Abarbanel merely followed that wrong teaching, being a product of his time. Additionally, many rabbis took part in the black civil rights movement. And when Rabbi Nathan Drazin was told to abandon his synagogue congregation of 5,000 people in Baltimore, Maryland due to black migration, he chose to stay and teach a small black community the love of Torah. As with the slave trade, it was also a Christian, William Wilberforce, who brought about the abolition of the slave trade in a debate in parliament in London, 1833.[2]

1 This is the idea from great biblical scholar and rabbi, Arnold Ehrlich

[2] Although Wilberforce tried to convert as many Jews as he could to Christianity

  • A lot of this answer is irrelevant trivia. A more concise answer might prove more valuable, although even so I don't think it's very helpful.
    – robev
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 1:20
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    Thank you for the advice. I will try to concise it as best I can trm before Shabbat. Happy Shabbat : )
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 1:32
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    I edited the question down.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 2:59

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