Q. We recently learned in the Daf, that a Kushi or black cohen is considered a baal mum or blemished and can’t serve in the Temple, (or according to some as Shaliach Tzibur). Is that not clear racism?
A. Mishna (Bechoros 45b) teaches that the “cushi, the gichor and the lavkan” which are individuals with unusual skin pigmentation. If they are Cohanim they would be disqualified from serving the avodah in the Beis Hamikdosh. The Talmud further explains that cushi is a Cohen whose skin is very dark. The gichor is one who is very red and the lavkan is one who is very white. (following Art Scroll translation).
Being a Cushi is not a term that connotes being faulty and imperfect or implies discrimination and bigotry.
On the contrary, the pasuk (Amos 9: 7) reads: “Are you not like the children of the Cushites to Me, O children of Israel? says Hashem.
In Parshas Behaloscha (12: 1) we read that: “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.” Rashi, explains that the name Cushi connoted her beauty, acknowledged by everyone.
Talmud (Eiruvin 96a), teaches that Michal bas Kushi donned tefilin. Rashi explains she was the daughter of Shaul Hamelech. (Moed Katan 16b)
Horav Shlomo Miller’s opinion is that we are dealing here with a Cohen born white, that by disease or illness suffered skin discolorations to extremes of black, red or white. The Rov compared it to the related discolorations of the esrog, that has nothing to do with race or discrimination. See similar interpretation in Reishis Bikurim (Bechoros 40b), Mishnas Avrohom (p.194), and others. See also Shulchan Aruch (O.H. 225: 8).
An analogous explanation is also to be found in the verse (Shmuel 2: 6: 8): “And Dovid was angered because Hashem had made a breach upon Uzzah.” And the Talmud (Sotah 35a) explains; his face became blackened from pain.
Rabbi A. Bartfeld as revised by Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit’a