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Is Black a Curse or Beautiful?

David Dirlam

Beth Shalom Learning Reflections—6/8/2020

Is Black a Curse or Beautiful?

A recurring theme in our studies is how Bible passages often reflect rivalries with neighboring groups. Following the George Floyd protests, Rabbi Edery’s readings addressed the Bible’s treatment of racial rivalries with several surprising insights.

We started with Genesis 9, the story of Noah’s disgrace from getting so drunk that he collapsed naked in his tent. Kham was the second of Noah’s three sons and the father of Canaan and Cush, the latter who fathered Ethiopia, still a black nation. Kham found Noah naked and told his brothers, who honorably backed into the tent with a blanket to cover him. When Noah awoke, he condemned Kham’s son to be the lowest of slaves to his brothers. This horrible curse attests to something missing in the story, which the Talmud speculates to be castration or sexual abuse. 

Powerful people used Noah’s curse to justify the ancient world’s conquest of Canaan and the new world’s enslavement of blacks. Today, even Israel ‘s Chief Rabbis give less honor to black Jewish immigrants than whites.

Other Bible passages show the deceptive evil of such justifications. Moses’s sister Miriam tried to denigrate him because of his Cushite wife. In response, God turned her into a leper, as white as snow, for which she was confined outside the camp for seven days. David and Solomon had black wives. Song of Songs proclaims, “I am black, and I am beautiful.” 

The lesson is to eschew false rivalries and affirm the honor and protection that the ancients gave our black sisters and brothers.

Thu, October 22 2020 4 Cheshvan 5781