Rabbi Michael Graetz
Photo courtesy of the Masorti Movement

Call to arms (pun intended)

Jewish world must recognize, counter religious fundamentalism in its midst

The story of Noa being attacked by a haredi man because she had marks of tefillin straps on her arm is symptomatic of a deep and dangerous fanatic religious phenomenon in Israeli society. In a perhaps prescient moment the cover picture of the Masorti Movement’s Rosh Hashana magazine was the famous WWII poster of Rosie the Riveter, arm outstretched, but with tefillin on her arm. The iconic image perfectly conveyed the character of egalitarianism in religion which is so central to Masorti and most other streams of Judaism in our times.


So, a call to arms might be read as a call for all arms, men and women, to strap on tefillin as part of weekday morning prayers. But, the particular call needs to be placed in its larger context. Indeed, I believe that all the time we must continue to teach and refer to the larger context. That context is this: the dividing line in the Jewish world today is extreme fundamentalism (I will refer to it as EF). Now, this is true for the whole world, Christian and Islam as well. What many Jews do not know or refuse to know is that the same line divides the Jewish world. Too many Jews are simply ignorant or willfully ignorant of the existence and power of EF Jewish groups.


As we approach the period of the ninth of Av, we are constantly reminded that our traditional texts, those texts hallowed in Jewish civilization such as the Talmud and Midrashim, are chock full of cautionary tales warning us to beware of EF. Can one imagine that such a text would warn us that Jerusalem was destroyed because of over zealous keeping of the Torah? And yet that is exactly what we read in BM 30b.


There are so many of these tales, the most famous and widely taught being the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which ends with a statement to the effect that the extreme adherence to halacha and the fear of what EF rabbis will say about us caused Jerusalem to be destroyed, and perpetuated unfounded hatred within the Jewish people.


Still, we pretend to not understand the simple and clear message of the sages who edited and fixed the Talmud for all future generations. The message is for all Jews, including those who hold EF positions. How can you not question your own assumptions even a little when you read these cautionary tales?


Threat to civil society

Still, as long as significant sections of the Jewish people hold EF positions, those who are on the other side of the line, from some Haredim, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and so-called “secular” Israelis need to understand that the fundamental mindset that is common to all of us must be the point of reference today and must provide an impetus for us to work together to educate, change and bring about at the very least a truce with the EF groups.


If not, we will be torn apart as was our society at the end of the second Temple times. But, if we do heed the tales of the Talmud and find ways to work together, we may become a true example of what we hope for in the Christian and Muslim worlds, namely that the moderates who believe in pluralism will become the main speakers for their religions and not the EF adherents.


In modern Western terms it is the difference between those who are pluralist and those who are totalitarian. In Jewish Talmudic terms there are many words in place of these. For example, elu ve-elu vs. yikov ha-din et hahar. The first phrase recognizes that different views and different practices are legitimate and must be respected and preserved by all. The second phrase orders that all must accept only one way no matter what.


In the present social clash over the absolute rights of Sephardim and Ashkenazim to boycott the culture of the other, it is clear that this approach is absolutely detrimental to Jewish society. It perpetuates disputes from the year 1000, disputes that even if they had some sense then, have no sense whatsoever today in a sovereign Jewish society. To perpetuate these disputes in any form other than academic study and museum preservation is an absolute threat to civil society in an independent state.


It is not in any way shape or form mandated by Jewish law or by any appeal to divine scripture. It is purely arbitrary and totally unaware of reality. With all the good will in the world to acknowledge the rights of parents to educate children, one does not want to approve of such education, and do everything in the world possible to prevent the state from financing it or recognizing it in any other official way. This must be the position of all those mentioned above.


פרסום ראשון: 07.05.10, 01:08
 new comment
This will delete your current comment