Extremist: a person who favours or resorts to immoderate, uncompromising, or fanatical methods or behaviour, especially in being politically radical
Fanatic: refers to persons showing more than ordinary support for, adherence to, or interest in a cause, point of view, or activity.
Zealot: stresses vigorous, aggressive support for or opposition to a plan or ideal and suggests a combative stance.
Taking stance that is “not the norm” can be viewed as extremist. In a community of meat-eaters, a vegetarian who is uncompromising may be seen as adhering to an extremist view. Once a community comprises more vegetarians, they cease to be called fanatics. Their behaviour becomes an acceptable norm, albeit of a minority view. In either case, some vegetarians are more vocal than others. We accept the views of someone who is passionate about their vegetarianism. We don’t have a problem with the existence of vegetarian-only restaurants. There are lines, though. Where does society draw those lines?
- It would be unacceptable to enter a vegetarian restaurant and demand to eat meat.
- It would be unacceptable to enter a meat restaurant and demand that they cease serving meat.
Why is it unacceptable? Simply because we recognise the right of free choice: an inalienable right; a God-given right. Free choice is the basis of our existence as humans and is the eco-system through which we are able to rise or fall.
Kosher-style restaurants or take-aways are not kosher. It is forbidden by Halacha to eat food prepared in such establishments. Yet, some people on the fringe, do so. You find yourself in an environment where Kosher-style is presented to you. The food is unacceptable and yet your host insists that you partake. They cannot understand what is wrong. There is no pork. It’s supposedly a kosher fish with side salad. What can be wrong with the dressing? You decline. Your host may well be upset, yet you may not be in a position to adequately explain why you cannot take part. Your host may not be in a position to understand or accept your stance. It would be wrong for your host to become angry. Equally, it would be wrong for you to show anger towards your host. There is a gap between your views and theirs. You may also both be somewhat fanatical in your views. You may not understand each other. You may both even be somewhat fanatical in not accepting or understanding the rationale; but there is still a line. This line is the glue which keeps society together. When that line is crossed, we are in danger of falling apart as a unit. The line is crossed when someone is a zealot. You become a zealot when you take an aggressive or combative stance.
Sometimes, in rare cases, a Jew is commanded to sacrifice their life and not compromise their ideals. This is קידוש ה, the sanctification of God’s name that is wrought through death. It is a form of passive aggression. We aspire, though, to live. In regards sanctifying God’s name through living our lives, the Talmud in Yoma quotes a verse and interprets it as follows:
ואהבת את ה’ אלוקיך you shall love Hashem, your God. [This means]
שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך that the name of Heaven [God] should become beloved through your hands [actions]
Ultimately, your actions need to be ones which cause the name of God to remain/become beloved through the mode of your adherence to Torah and Mitzvos. The Talmud then provides some examples:
- Your business dealings should be honest and upright
- You should adhere to righteous Jews and learn from their ways and their Torah
- You should speak with pleasantness
This list is not exhaustive. Clearly, there are many other things that have the potential to both sully or exalt respect for the practice of Judaism. The resultant potential love of Heaven is induced thereby.
The greater test is to stay an honourable, practicing and believing Jew during one’s life. As incredible as Isaac’s preparedness to allow himself to be sacrificed by his father, Abraham, the test for Abraham, who would have had to live with what he did for the rest of his life, was greater. The test to go on living is usually protracted and far more stressful. Similarly,causing God’s name and Judaism to be loved by one’s actions is greater and more challenging through the mode of one’s life and the way one lives.
I am convinced the events of the last few weeks involving a section of the ultra-orthodox, anti-Zionist, community in Israel have caused the name of God and the image of Judaism to be severely tarnished. Halachically,
- one does not spit at little girls (or anyone for that matter)
- one does not ask a woman to move to the back of the bus, whether she is dressed according to one’s own acceptable levels of modesty or not.
- one does not throw stones at people who are not keeping Shabbos
- one does not yell at people who don’t adhere to a certain standard of dress, even in one’s own backyard
- one does not compare Jews to Nazis—ever.
- one does not use the holocaust in an abhorrent pantomime to advance an agenda
To be sure, the anti-Zionist zealots, comprising so-called Sikrikim, Neturei Karta, Toldos Aaron and the others believe that they are “defending” God’s honour. They are, of course, wrong. Their behaviour is nothing short of odious and against Halacha. These zealots do not act alone. They receive the silent, or “behind closed doors” blessings of their Rabbinic leaders. They will not listen to anyone; we are all Treyf. In their mind, they have a complete mortgage on the truth.
What can we do?
- We must recognise that there is a sizeable number of “black hats” and “thick stocking” style people, who are also disgusted by this thuggish minority of misguided individuals.
- We must ask our own Rabbis, yes, each and every one of them, to explicitly make a statement in writing and in sermons to their congregations rejecting the ideology of the zealots as outside the pale of normative Judaism. Statements should be without prevarication. There is no need to speak about anything else. For example, the statement by the RCA is sensibly crafted, whereas the one from the Aguda is disingenuous.
- There is a group in our own community, constituting a section of Adass Israel Congregation, who fully agree with the philosophy of the zealots. A few days ago, I was accosted in the street, next door to my parents’ house, by a brain-washed boy , who yelled at the top of his lungs “Zionists are Pigs” (in Yiddish). Do not forget that this group of zealots are in our midst. Pockets exist in most Jewish communities around the world.
- When asking for a statement/response from your Rabbi, it is important to not only include members of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria or the Organisation of Rabbis of Australia. One should also approach the Rabbis of Adass, Beth HaTalmud and other non-affiliated congregations and ask specific questions with no wriggle room. In particular, ask if it is ever appropriate to demand that a woman “move to the back of the bus” even if she is on one of those bus lines where such an pseudo-mechitza is implemented.
- When a collector comes to your door, ask them the same question. If you don’t like their answers, give them less and someone else more.
- Avoid apologetics. There is absolutely no justification for this disgraceful anti-halachic behaviour.
Let me end with a story about a true sage, R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל. In his neighbourhood of Sha’arei Chesed a lady persisted in driving through the otherwise empty streets on Shabbos. Surrounded by the “holy” ones, he was asked, “Surely you have a Torah obligation to protest against this desecration of Shabbos?”. R’ Shlomo Zalman responded that indeed he did have a responsibility to express his dislike for what was occurring. He advised them, however, that throwing stones, or surrounding/blocking the car and/or yelling “Shabbos” achieved nothing. It only served to further aggravate the situation. “So in what way are you protesting?” they asked. R” Shlomo Zalman was quiet. Over the next few weeks, rather than accosting the women who drove through the neighbourhood, they observed R’ Shlomo Zalman as he walked in the street after Shule and came face to face with the car. A look of genuine pain was seen on his face. The lady noticed this look from R’ Shlomo Zalman’s face over the next few weeks, and apparently decided that she didn’t want to cause any angst to this old and pious man. If you are respectful to people, they will also respect you. Don’t cross lines.
We Jews who also try to keep Halacha to the best of our ability must vehemently reject and ostracise this group of unsound zealots and let them know that we are not with them in any shape or form, and that their corrupt version of Judaism is simply an invalid aberration.
Enough is Enough.