Torah For Today! This week: Justin Trudeau and the blackface scandal

Torah For Today! This week: Justin Trudeau and the blackface scandal

Rabbi Zvi Solomons takes a look at a topical issue and offers a biblical response

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau

 Photographs emerged of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – a champion of diversity and equality – dressing up in blackface. So, what does the Torah say about this?

One question to ask is can a leopard change its spots or the Ethiopian his skin? The Tanach is by and large neutral about race. A person cannot be better or worse than any other by dint of their immediate ancestors, as they were born as they are – and we are all ultimately descended from the same stock, from Adam and Eve.

Yet as time goes on, we see hints of prejudice entering our hearts. The story of Noah getting drunk, used as justification by Southern slave states for their iniquitous practices, fathers the slavery of black people on Canaan, cursed to be a slave of slaves. How could that condemn all black people in perpetuity?

Similarly there is the passage in Song of Songs, which talks about being “black, but beautiful” in the (non-Jewish) King James translation. This is not how we see it, but rather dark and beautiful. The Queen of Sheba is black, reported with considerable approval in the Book of Kings.

Similarly, Miriam is punished for lashon hara (slander) on the matter of Tzipporah, who was Moses’ black wife.

When today we see the “woke” prime minister of Canada using blackface, we remember it was not so long ago there was a mainstream television feature – The Black and White Minstrel Show – that has now been confined to the dustbin of historical embarrassment.

Our rabbis tell us not to embarrass people. Perhaps that should extend to embarrassing ourselves by using race inappropriately.

Blackface is rightly unacceptable, in the same way that we object to people using Jewish heritage as “Jewface” cover for unacceptable political beliefs.

  •  Rabbi Zvi Solomons of the Jewish Community of Berkshire ( will speak about race at Limmud Festival


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