Monday, October 4, 2010

Anti-Black Racism & the Curse of Canaan by Noah

The Biblical story of Noah’s curse of his grandson Canaan to be a slave after Noah’s drunken disgrace (Gensis 9:25) “has been the single greatest justification for Black slavery for more than a thousand years….as one pro-slavery author wrote in 1838 “the blacks were originally designed to vassalage by the patriarch Noah” writes Goldenberg (2003)[1] who wrote a book on the topic.

Four key points, two for each side of the argument;
1. The Torah text does not say anything about Canaan being black. “He said cursed is Canaan, a slave of slaves he will be to his brothers- ויאמר ארור כנען עבר עברים יהי לאחיו.
2. The Talmud somewhat cryptically mentions that Ham was afflicted in his skin (for a separate offence)[2], which is interpreted as relating to “that Kush came from him (Rashi)”, or “this is the Kushiim as kush was the oldest of his sons” (Maharsha). In modern Hebrew Kushi refers to some with black skin, Rashi also connected Kushi with Black[3].
3. The curse is said by Noah, not God so this could be seen as one mans angry curse rather than God’s command to mankind (Yuter)[4]. Judaism sees Noah as a righteous man but his curse does not amount to license (in contrast to Islam that sees Noah/Nookh as a prophet).
4. The curse is seen as being legitimate in the argument of Gviha Ben Pesusa against the Canaanites about the ownership of the land of Israel “it states in the Torah, and he said cursed be Canaan, a slave of slaves he will be to his brothers (and) A slave who acquires property, the slave belongs to who?, the property to who? (the Master of course).[5]

This goes on with arguments and counter arguments,
Canaan, one of Ham 4 sons, is cursed not Ham!
But, there is a source that states “how do we know that all the families of Ham are called slaves? As it says “from the land of Egypt, the house of slaves (Exodus 2:2)[6]

In my view this important discussion is academic. The Torah declares “Justice, Justice you shall pursue!”, the Torah and the prophets thunder against the exploitation of the weak by the strong and so much of racism is exactly that. “You know the soul of the stranger[7], surely the Jew dare not conceive of justice that does not include blacks, especially considering that those who hate one usually hate the other as expressed in the 1930’s American graffiti that “A nigger is a Jew turned inside out” as Voltaire put it succinctly: “One regards the Jews the same way as one regards
the Negroes, as a species of inferior humanity[8]  Yet, there is a lot more here in Parshat Noach, worth investigating. Let us continue.

[1] Goldenberg D,M, (2003), The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Princeton University Press.
[2] Sanhedrin (108b)
[3] Rashi on Exodus 12:1, The Kushite Woman, “this teaches us that all admit to her beauty, just all would agree about the blackness of the Kushi.
[5] Megilat Taanis chapter 3, brought in Kasher M (1992), Torat Shelaima, Noach 9, #146, page 489.
[6] Peikta Rabati Chapter 21, Torat Shelaima ibid page 490.
[7] See interpretation of Ibn Ezra on this verse.
[8] Goldenberg DM (1997)

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