Extremist Judaism – One of the Biggest Threats to Israel
In the late nineteenth century, as a nascent movement to create a Jewish state in the ancient homeland of Israel was being whispered about throughout European Jewish communities, Orthodox rabbis were the first to condemn the heretical movement.
As Zionism gained steam, the opposition to Zionism from the Orthodox world only grew. As late as the 1930’s even as anti-semitism was proliferating throughout Europe, many Orthodox leaders forbade their followers from escaping to Palestine until it was already too late. (To learn more about the secular origins of modern Zionism see here).
But there was one eccentric Orthodox rabbi who didn’t fit neatly into any boxes. A talmudic savant educated in the Harvard of European yeshivot, Abraham Isaac Kook was unafraid to challenge the status quo. An ethical vegetarian (a rarity in the Orthodox world), Kook moved to Jaffa in 1904 and took up a post as the Chief Rabbi in a city where most Jews cared little to nothing about religious Judaism. For a man who could have been the greatest rabbi in any of the leading prestigious European yeshivot, moving to Palestine in 1904 was akin to a Nobel Prize laureate leaving his professorship and going to lecture in a community college.
But Kook knew what he was doing and within a couple of years he had successfully established a completely new and unique form of Judaism synthesizing both the Zionist and the Orthodox worldview.
It wasn’t easy and there were many challenges both internal and external to this monumental project. Most fundamentally: How do you explain all of the biblical prophecies and rabbinic statements tying the return to Israel to the coming of the Messiah, when the former had just occurred without the latter? For it was this very point that convinced the Orthodox masses that Zionism was treif.
Kook’s answer was both empowering and terrifying all at once.
Redemption, he argued, was a slow evolutionary process. The early Zionist movement was the initial spark of redemption that, once set into motion, would continue until the full arrival of the Messiah. Our job as humans is then to act as divine agents speeding up the ongoing redemption.
It’s easy to see why this worldview is captivating and empowering. Instead of endlessly waiting for the Messiah, the religious Zionist worldview is that we must go out and bring him ourselves. Given that Zionism is, at a fundamental level, a movement of Jewish empowerment, Kook’s view of Judaism coalesced perfectly with the movement for the Jewish state.
However, it is also easy to see how this worldview could immediately spiral off into something that is deeply troubling and dangerous.
Any time you have a group of people who think that they are fulfilling God’s literal command, you have a potential recipe for disaster. Add that to one of the longest ongoing geo-political conflicts in the world and disaster is nearly inevitable. This is, after all, one of the reasons why many Arabs around the world have such a strong and fundamental hatred of Israel - the bulk of the reason for the conflict itself.
But so too, in the worldview of many religious Zionists, they view themselves as God’s agents and the harbingers of ancient prophecies come to life. With a worldview like that, the ends can frighteningly justify horrid means.
This past October we witnessed a scary case of this phenomenon in action. A group of West-Bank based, teenage yeshiva students stoned and subsequently killed a Palestinian woman driving in the West Bank. Now to be fair this act was unequally condemned by the majority of the religious Zionist community, but there was a terrifying caveat.
As sundown on Friday was rapidly approaching, marking the start of Shabbat, word got to the yeshiva that the Shin Bet would be arriving to interrogate the terror suspects. That’s when two leading rabbis in the settlement movement made a halachic decision to allow the desecration of Shabbat in order to prepare these suspects for the encounter. In their mind, the acts and subsequent protection of these Jewish terrorists was not only reasonable, but it was actually a mitzvah that was more important than Shabbat.
Acts like this demand a serious discussion about the future of the Religious Zionist community, in light of the values that Israel was founded on along with the massive PR battle that constantly envelops Israel. The world is all too eager to portray Israel as radical settler religious fanatics, and these acts only add fodder to the growing flame. Let’s not prove them right.
Israel has elections coming up soon and according to recent reports, Bibi Netanyahu is considering partnering up with the far-right extremist group Otzma Yehudit. This Kahanist group, including people who held parties after Baruch Goldstein’s terrorist attack in Hebron and publicly threatened Rabin months before his assassination, embodies the worst that religious Zionism has conjured up.
This extreme end of religious Zionism is a cancer within Israeli society. They are more dangerous to the future of Israel than thousands of rockets from Gaza or stone throwers and suicide belts from the West Bank. And anyone who cares about the future of Israel will do anything they can to speak up against them.
Moshe Daniel Levine is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online.
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Do you think it’s important to give the Haredi fanatics a different name and not call them “Haredim” or “ultra-Orthodox?” Those names imply they are extra observant and pious, which clearly they are not. Wouldn’t this also help differentiate between the fanatics and more moderate Haredim?
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