Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Orthodoxy Does Not Mean Extremism

Rabbi Meir Kahane's grandson, Meir Ettinger
I have to take strong issue with Naomi Zeveloff.  Writing in the Forward she maintains that ‘Orthodoxy and Right-Wing Extremism Go Hand-in-Hand in Israel.’ She cites as proof a study done by Pew which points out the following: 
The most shocking acts of terrorist violence by Jews — like Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in the Cave of the Patriarchs or Yigal Amir’s 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — have been carried out by Orthodox extremists with exclusivist ideologies of the sort measured in the Pew polls. 
Also cited is the fact that most Orthodox Jews in Israel believe that Arabs should be expelled. And that Jews should receive preferential treatment.

The fact is that Orthodox Jews do not support right wing extremism. Certainly not as a theological idea. What may be true is that a certain element with Religious Zionists do. They are the messianist types who want to hasten the coming of Moshiach. They are the ones who believe that the Religious Zionist view that we are  in Aschalta D’Geulah -  the beginning of the redemption of the Jewish people means that we are required by Halacha to settle all of  the land of Israel, including places like Chevron.

It is this kid of thinking that created monsters like mass murderer, Baruch Goldstein and assassin Yigal Amir. Baruch Goldstein was an ardent follower of Rabbi Meir Kahane. The latest of this type of extremist is Rabbi Kahane’s grandson, Meir Ettinger. He and his followers have taken extremism to a new level. 

Major Jewish publications like the Jewish Press seem to support Ettinger. They definitley support settling places like Chevron. And many mainstream Religious Zionists - even though they do not do so themselves, are sympathetic to those that do. Both morally and financially.

This is not to say that all Religious Zionists are like that. But a significant number (perhaps even the majority) feel that way. After several Intifadas, the most recent of which was done on a ‘one incident at a time’ basis where an Arab would pop up out of the woodwork and stab an innocent Jew, one can easily see why they would express a view desiring to expel the Arabs from Israel. When there is so much violence by Arabs against Jews in Israel – it should not be surprising that so many Jews might agree with Rabbi Kahane: ‘You have to cut off the cancer!’ 

But not all Orthodox Jews in Israel think like that. The fastest growing segment of Orthodox Jews in Israel are the Charedim. I don’t know if they comprise the largest segment of Orthodox Jews. But they surely are a significant minority that at some point in time will surpass the numbers of other Orthodox Jews (if they haven’t yet). They do not support expulsion nor do they do anything to  advance that idea. That is not what their focus is on. 

They spend their time and energy trying to get better treatment for themselves as a group from the government. Their issues are mostly financial and about avoiding army service. What to do about the Arabs in Israel is a very low priority for them. They are far more inclined to be opposed to the tactics of extremist settlers. Surely those in outlying areas in the heart of Arab neighborhoods like Chevron or someplace deep in the West Bank.They are far more amenable to things like a 2 state solution. They tend to oppose anything that would incite indigenous Arabs.

Rav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach, ZTL
Rav Eliezer Menachem Mann Shach, who until his passing was considered the Gadol HaDor by the vast majority of the Charedi world famously said that ‘Land for Peace’ (at least in theory) was acceptable if it would indeed save Jewish lives. This does not sound like the kind of extremism Orthodox Jews are being accused of by Zeveloff.

The bottom line is that Orthodox Judaism and extremism against Arabs do not go hand in hand at all. Most Charedim are not extremists and many Religious Zionists are not. Those that are –are the ones that get the publicity. Obviously.

A word about the belief by many Orthodox Jews (and not a few non Orthodox Jews) that Jews should be given preferential treatment. It is true that many Orthodox Jews in a Jewish State might feel that way. It is based (as Zeveloff points out) on the concept that Jews are the chosen people of God.

But it is a mistake to say that being God’s Chosen people means not treating Arab citizens justly. The opposite in fact is the case. As God’s chosen people we have an obligation to teach the world what Jewish ethics and morality is. We have an obligation to behave in ways that will want the rest of the world to admire us and emulate our ways - the ways of God. It’s called making a Kiddush HaShem. What it does not mean is that we subjugate our non Jewish residents on any level. We instead treat them like people created in the image of God. Because that is exactly what they are.