Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Abolitionism and eugenics in R. Elia Benamozegh's exposition of Gen. 9:25

Here is a very interesting comment, to say the least, in the commentary Em Lemasores of R. Elia Benamozegh (1822-1900). He says, commenting on Gen.9:25 ("Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.") that the Anti-abolitionists of England (he calls them אוהבי השעבוד Non abolizionisti באנגלאטירא, so he renders it as "lovers of slavery" in Hebrew) contend that black slaves aren't entirely human, but are partially descended from apes, specifically orangutans. The proof they bring is the size of their skull, which they say is smaller than all other men, and consequently their brain is smaller and similar to an ape's. But one should see the scholar Tiedmann who wrote a special book refuting this.

Now, I have to say that I doubt that he meant England, which already abolished slavery long before. As I noted here well into the 19th century some European Jews didn't seem to fully grasp, or care, that the United States wasn't English. I know that he says Angleterre, but it really only makes sense if he means the United States of America. If so, here would be another example of an inability to distinguish between the mother and the child, fully 85 years after the Declaration of Independence.


  1. Interesting as always, Fred. Reminds me a little of R' Shlomo Schueck.

  2. Hi, I have a question: Has Rav Elyashiv been informed yet of his daughter’s petirah? Thanks.

  3. Tiedmann's book was part of the eugenics debate.

    He also didn't talk about abolitionists. I titled it in a way that I thought would attract attention of people interested in these things, and I didn't (and don't) think it departs too far from accuracy.

    Question, why are you asking this - here, of all places?

  4. Point well taken re Tiedmann. Re abolitionists, it looked like he sort of mentioned them by saying in Italian that lovers of slavery weren't them.

  5. S., do you have a recommendation of a better place I should ask it? You and the commenters here tend to have lots of really random Jewish knowledge, so why not this?

  6. Lav davka "Angleterre" -- as an Italian, R. Benamozegh would have said "Inglaterra." I am gratified to know that he took such an enlightened position with respect to race; at about the same time, R. Morris Raphall was maintaining that slavery in the American South, though in need of reform, was justified because of the racial inferiority of blacks, which he traced to the "curse of Ham." In a rejoinder, the abolitionist Reform rabbi David Einhorn tore this point apart and called it Purim Torah.

  7. "Inghilterra", surely -- no?

    As I remember quite well from Un ballo in maschera (Giuseppe Verdi, 1859):

    O figlio d'Inghilterra,
    Amor di questa terra:
    Reggi felice, arridano
    Gloria e salute a te.

  8. I woke up this morning thinking "Oh heck, Inghilterra," but you beat me to it. I got confused with the Spanish. Gloria e salute a te, Mar Gabriele.

  9. "Lav davka "Angleterre" -- as an Italian, R. Benamozegh would have said "Inglaterra." "

    He also wrote a lot in French. Look at the title page!

  10. See also Tiferet Israel note 38 on Sanhedrin 4.5.

  11. Yes, but look at his "la'az" words: most of them seem to be Italian. E.g. "Giapetici" (in roman type) and "orangutano" (in Hebrew type). Then again, his spelling of the word for "England" does not in fact conform exactly to "Inghilterra," but could be read "Inglaterra" (as I had thought) or even, with some imagination, "Angleterre." Whatever.

  12. I concede. LOL

    Anyway, does anyone agree that he may mean the US, as I suggested?

  13. Says Dan Klein, "Whatever." Truer words were never spoken.

  14. Mike: Thanks, I think. :-)

    S.: I guess it's possible that R. Benamozegh meant the U.S., but I found a reference that says Tiedemann published his work in English (Royal Society of London) in 1836 in order to praise the British government for having abolished slavery in 1833. So Tiedemann's attention, at least, might have been focused on what anti-abolitionist (pseudo)scientists had been saying in England.

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