Judaism Unbound Episode 162: 100% Black, 100% Jewish - MaNishtana


MaNishtana joins Lex Rofeberg and Dan Libenson for a conversation about race and intersectionality in contemporary Jewish life. They discuss these issues through the lens of the protagonist in MaNishtana’s book, Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi, a Black Orthodox rabbi.

Image Credit: Manishtana

Image Credit: Manishtana

00:01 - 15:18: MaNishtana begins by describing his nom-de-plume. A riff on the 4 questions at Passover, instead of asking “Why is this night different from all other nights,” he asks “Why is this Jew different from all other Jews?” From there, the episode dives into MaNishtana’s book, Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi, [1] which he describes as a social textbook; a not-autobiography about a Black, Jewish rabbi, which is not a Black book or a Jewish book, but chock full of both. MaNishtana discusses how Black and Jewish identity intersect, giving a unique perspective into the feeling of being an outsider looking in, with respect to the Jewish world.

15:19 - 27:59: MaNishtana briefly talks about his social media presence, with the tagline “100% Black and 100% Jewish, 0% Safe.” [2] The conversation turns to questions of how Jewish identity coexists with other identities, especially in a contemporary world in which many marginalized identities often cohabit within the same person. How should Jews approach their own intersectionality? MaNishtana recounts the ways in which Jewish textual tradition already discusses multiplicity of racial identity, naming the book of Esther, the Exodus narrative, and more. [3] He argues that Jewish tradition has always explicitly described that they Jews are from many regions, of many colors — but that these sections are glossed over and unstudied. MaNishtana discusses racism in the Jewish community, including an instance where Yehudah Webster was accosted by a group of white Jews while taking a Torah Scroll to his car. They did not believe he was actually Jewish on account of his blackness. [4] MaNishtana explains the importance of white Jews acknowledging their whiteness. He describes how Jews can both implicitly support tenets of white supremacy while also being victims of it, and that acknowledging whiteness is integral to dismantling white supremacy in Jewish communities.

28:00-42:50: Lex reads the first page of MaNishtana’s book, a dedication page which takes care to address those who have ever felt out of place within Jewish communities. MaNishtana talks about his own experiences of Blackness within Orthodox versus non-Orthodox communities, expressing that even in spaces that might identify as more socially progressive, racism continues to be a problem. The discussion then orients towards questions of walking the walk regarding inclusivity at synagogues. MaNishtana recommends that synagogue leadership reach out to younger generations, catering to those who will inherit the synagogue rather than trying to maintain a non-satisfactory status quo. The episode closes with a call to read the book, [5] a vehicle for opening dialogue around experiences of race and otherness in Jewish communities.

[1] Check out MaNishtana’s new book, Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi on Amazon.

[2] Take a look at MaNishtana’s website, Facebook page, and his Twitter profile.

[3] MaNishtana references the mixed multitudes of Exodus (12:38), Jews from India to Ethiopia in the Book of Esther (8:9), and Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer describing Shem’s blessing of “dark and comely sons”.

[4] Read this article about Yehudah Webster’s experience with racism in the Jewish community, taking a Torah scroll to his car. You can read more about community organizer and activist Yehudah Webster here.

[5] To purchase any of MaNishtana’s other books, click here!

Check out MaNishtana’s ELI Talk, entitled “What Makes This Jew Different from All Other Jews? Race, Difference, and Safety in Jewish Spaces,” by pressing the play-button below!