A time ago, I had a great debate/discussion with Dr. Michael Schulman from AskNoah Intl. It was great because it was one of those occasions where we were on opposite sides of a point, but we walked away still respecting each other. He still had the friendly policy of answering my questions when he had the time and I still offered whatever help I could give to furthering the cause of the Seven Laws.
Don’t get me wrong. We disagree. If we didn’t disagree, there’d be no debate. But, like some others I interact with, we can disagree without demonizing one another.
Anyway, in this debate, I originally held the position that you can only be proud of something that you’ve done or achieved; to just be something simply by accident of birth is nothing to be proud of. When Dr. Schulman chimed in, he gave some points that sufficiently showed that I was wrong in my position. I also looked at the definitions of “pride.” After reading and considering, I willingly conceded the point.
Now the definitions of pride include the following:
1. A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.
2. Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association: parental pride.
3. Arrogant or disdainful conduct or treatment; haughtiness.
a. A cause or source of pleasure or satisfaction; the best of a group or class: These soldiers were their country’s pride.
b. The most successful or thriving condition; prime: the pride of youth.
5. An excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit.
Knowledge of the different meanings of pride really educated me on how to view the English word. And it helps with the direction of this post.
One point that Dr. Schulman brought up was the idea of Jewish pride. This is pride taken in being Jewish. For many native Jews, this is a pride about something that is an “accident” of birth, without choice or action, a responsibility, a role and a heritage, a wealth of opportunity just because one was born Jewish. With that accident of birth comes the guardianship of the Torah and the obligation to learn keep the individual Jew’s portion of the 613 commandments.
Now if I set aside the negative definitions of “pride,” we have the definition, “a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.” This is not arrogance or an excessively high opinion of oneself. It’s the proper value of one’s own dignity. Dr Schulman used words like “self-worth” and “self-identity” to bring home the point. And if there is one thing I know (as an outsider), it’s that there is great dignity and self-worth in being a Jew, especially if that Jew strives to live within that God-given role.
He kicked the point firmly in my mind when he asked me to think about the concept of “proud to be human.” Now what is the “proper dignity” in being human? Well, humans are made in God’s image, endowed with intellect and speech. Humans are given divine attention. God actually cares about what we do. We are his beloved creatures. And all humans are given directions, commandments from God for our good. And these are all “accidents” of birth.
So yes, pride can be taken in just being a human being. There is worth and value in that.
Ok, you can probably guess what my final step is. What about pride in being a Gentile, a non-Jew, a goy, a descendant of Noah?
Now this role is almost synonymous in terms of blessings with being a human. But when I say I’m a Gentile (non-Jew), I am saying I’m not a Jew. When I say I’m a “goy,” in terms of its neutral meaning, I’m saying I’m from a nation that is outside of Israel. When I say I’m a descendant of Noah, nowadays that’s mean, in terms of obligation, I have Noahic responsibilities, not the responsibilities of an Israelite or Jew. In fact, biblically, I would be the nochri of Deuteronomy/Devarim 14 (see Onkelos or Targum Jonathan, “bar ammin” “son of a gentile”), the ben nekhar of Leviticus/Vayiqra 22:25 (see Rashi), which actually means a total foreigner, as opposed to being any form of resident of Israel, native born or otherwise.
Now could I have any pride in being a Gentile? Do I have “proper worth” remaining not only a non-Jew, but an outsider to Israel?
I smile to myself with this one. Why? Because I’ve heard people in effect say “no” to this, or “hardly,” “scarcely.” Some people say that there is something toxic about being part of the nations rather than part of Israel. Some do their best to escape from being “a plain non-Jew” to get a status that gives them some attachment to Israel. Some say the ideal for any human is to become a Jew, scoffing the idea of staying a non-Jew only being commanded seven beggarly laws. I grew up almost idolising Jews even though I hardly had any contact, physical or personal, with them, maybe none at all. And reading the Jewish Bible, which spends most of its time talking about not only the lows of the Jews, but also the fantastic heights of being a Jew, even part of me wonders how one could be proud to be a Gentile.
But then I have to stop thinking with emotion and start thinking with reasoning and memory.
Think about it! Hmmm … OK, David, say that to yourself! If any reader agrees, they can do it for themselves.
But yeah, think about it! Reflect on what I’ve just said. Where does a Jew get his pride from? From God! Where does human pride come from? From God! So where do you think a Gentile can get his pride from, his valuation and self-estimation/self-esteem? From the very same place: from God.
Every human and human group has a God-given role and purpose, a place in this great orchestra of life. A good number of rabbis have given their view on the role of the Gentile. The one I’ve seen taught in a variety of ways is to “settle the world,” meaning to maintain and uphold “civilisation,” in the proper sense of the world.
This doesn’t just talk about technology and politics, but also morality and wisdom. In fact, if science, human production and productivity and politics are given too much priority, and morality and wisdom are pushed down the list of priorities – pretty much how western culture seems to be today – then there will be a lot more evil and foolishness in the world. And civilisation will be in ruins.
That’s what happens when we Gentiles fail in our role. So it is just as vital for a Gentile to lay hold onto his commandments, the further morality they teach, and onto the principles of reflecting the image of God each one of us has which encourages “imitateo Dei,” imitating God.
And you know what? This is done as a Gentile, a “nochri” or “goy.” This is done not by someone attempting to become a part of Israel in one form or another. It’s done by someone living smack-dab in the middle of the nations as one from the nations and embracing his God-given role. He uses those gifts, talents and opportunities granted to his own people group and then doesn’t try to dissociate, cut himself off, forsake his tribe to become a “stranger” in the tribe of Israel. He may know some of the Jewish teachings, may even know a rabbi, a Jew, or two. Or maybe he doesn’t know one at all. But he takes his seven and lives by them even when his own people group and their political leaders have, for all intents and purposes, has thrown them off, as most countries, if not all, have done, including the modern state of Israel.
This individual doesn’t need to adopt Jewish practices to feel fulfilled. To him, the shabbat is a holy day given to the people God sanctified. He has his own job to get done and his saturdays are free for him to do that. He understands that accepting God and praising Him is not a Jewish practice but is a natural response, but he also recognises that his own commandments do not condemn someone who doesn’t acknowledge God or any other so-called deity (although rationally and with regards to truth, that position is a foolish one). Every righteous act can lead a person closer to truth and makes a positive difference in the world so he encourages fairness and justice and tries to help in the building of the foundations and bedrock of the morality and wisdom the ways he can without seeking to attach to his Jewish brothers, or to import their rituals, “to take on commandments,” or worrying about where his charity will go to if he chooses to give it to a Jewish cause.
That individual can be proud to be a Gentile, just as a Jew can be proud to be a Jew.