Photo: Index Open
Battle for Jewish vision
Photo: Index Open

The threat of fundamentalism

Op-ed: Extreme fundamentalism threatens traditional Jewish, Zionist vision

A short while ago Daniel Gordis wrote: “At long last, even if years too late, Israelis woke up this week to the realization that we face yet another existential threat. … As dangerous as are the de-legitimization of Israel and the specter of a nuclear Iran, Israel is no less threatened by a growing population of religious fundamentalists who insist on the right to racial discrimination in their schools and who utterly reject the legitimacy and authority of the Supreme Court. They reject, in other words, the idea of a “Jewish and democratic” state.”


I would like to be more specific. The haredi enterprise is not the source of the existential threat, although it is its embodiment, but because it is the embodiment does not mean we should focus our attack on IT in a spiteful or even hateful way. The source is extreme fundamentalism (EF) in religious thought and practice.


In my last column I wrote “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."


But, wait a moment, we read about the widening gap between young Jews, especially in North America, and Israel. The question of whether Israel represents “the Jewish people” is no longer a theoretical one, but it is an existential question. Israel’s governments by its actions, including bestowing State sanctioned legitimacy on only one of the many ways of Judaism in our world, have called this notion into question.


Today even the average Israeli also is not too sure what that idea means. In short, who really wants Israel to reflect the Jewish people as a whole, that is reflect positively and with equal rights all the streams and shades of Jewish life around the world? I think that at no other time in history has it been so important to discuss this question seriously.


Losing our meaningfulness 

To me it is clear that without such a concept at the center of the consciousness of the citizens of Israel and the government of Israel, that the state will crumble and become at best a fairly decent place to live. But, it will have lost its meaningfulness.


The vision of centuries of Jewish history was to have an independent political entity that would reflect the whole spectrum of Jewish belief, practice and culture. That was the original vision of Zionism, and perhaps was the vision that impelled so many Jews to sign on to its mission. But, we are in danger of losing that vision.


When the EF groups took over Jewish decision-making in Israel during Roman times, how did the Jews in the Diaspora react? We know that there was silence, a reticence to become intimately involved in “internal politics of Eretz Yisrael Jews.”


It seems clear to me that the abdication of responsibility to ensure that the Israeli state represents all Jewish approaches, that would mean limiting or curtailing the overall influence of EF groups, by those Jews outside of the land was an important contributing factor to the destruction of the Temple and Jewish self rule in those days. It also seems to me that this same process might be developing in our time.


It is clear that certain sectors of the Israeli Jewish population also do not want the vision of Israel representing all Jewish approaches. The actions of the Israeli rabbinate and the haredi rabbinical leadership are clear. They want a state that reflects only their brand of Judaism, and everything else, including, by the way, modern Orthodoxy, has immense obstacles placed before it.


But, they are not alone in their refusal to accept the notion of the State of Israel as representing all Jews and all Judaism. There is almost no organized effort in any educational or social forum in Israel to get to know and engage in dialogue with Jews around the world, let alone work to have them engaged in the actual political life of the state. The time to remedy this has arrived, and our very existence as a Jewish state depends on it.



פרסום ראשון: 07.18.10, 11:04
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