Opinion: A fanaticism that can only lead to peril


Is it just me or is there indeed more discord within the Jewish community now than in the past? We proclaim with fervor “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh,” that every Jewish soul is responsible for every other. Yet it seems as if we are facing more internal challenges than ever before; bitter rivalries that could make instances of persecution by gentiles seem as mere playground brawls. It is hard to imagine that anyone really expects peace and harmony for Israel and Jews worldwide if they dislike one another more than anyone else could possibly take issue with them.

To begin with, one needs only to look at the huge waste of money and opportunity on the Internet ban effort that cost more than $2 million. It brought ultra orthodox Jewish men together, mostly by coercion, to hear unscripted and uncoordinated messages about why the Internet was evil. Rather than demand that people take personal responsibility for one’s actions, the weak leadership would just turn off progress and the future to preserve their failed policies of poor education, abject naivety and searing control that dictates marital prospects, communal acceptance and even much needed financial support.

I had a client recently, who was from the ultra orthodox community who pointed out that I was raised in a small yeshiva environment and now work in a very secular word, and “you did what I could not do--you got out.” Even though our communities, families and circumstances were very different, the point made was loud. Some know it is oppressive, but lack the initiative to find their own way out of that environment.

There are the numerous accounts that have been exposed recently of child abuse, sexual deviancy and domestic abuse not only occurring, but being covered up by religious leadership. In Brooklyn, the five term District Attorney, Charles Hynes, is now marred with scandal for helping to conceal orthodox suspects and underreporting the crimes. Had it not been for the Internet, the parents, children and women would not have found their voices and the beginnings of justice for them and those still unknown. The attempted ban and this are not so unrelated.

We learned earlier this year of the disappointing actions of certain Israeli communities in Bet Shemesh and Me’ah Shearim toward fellow Jews who are not quite as zealous as those who live within them. They spit on women, stone young women walking to school and even push occupied baby carriages in front of moving busses to prevent coed riding. The lives of helpless children are used as weapons in the fight to mandate fanaticism within Judaism. What makes that so different from strapping a bomb onto a young child and making him walk into a busy mall to kill in the name of one’s narrow interpretation of God’s will?

Conventional wisdom would dictate that in times of trouble, communities come together for strength. That is too much to ask for here. There are movements within European countries to ban ritual slaughter, calling it inhumane. That comes in a similar time frame with cities such as San Francisco seeking to legislate the illegality of ritual circumcision. So, while the chief rabbi of Amsterdam, who also happens to run a major kashrut agency, is fighting a serious challenge to making kosher meat in the Netherlands, some Jewish anonymous attackers openly challenge that rabbi’s major American provider of kosher meat in a class action suit that contains few facts, and seemingly readily defensible arguments. That issue will play out in court, and the challenges will be weighed and decided, but the timing of this suit, when harmony is the better route for the preservation of worldwide Judaism, seems just par for the course being plotted these days.

The UJA Federation released a study showing that Judaism is polarizing, with the religious and traditionalists growing and those who practice or believe somewhat less are all but disappearing. Yet, with that news, the organization is still largely run by the ones who are disappearing - according to their own study – but it makes decisions for the community as a whole; hence, the reason the Celebrate Israel Parade was forced to allow “boycott-Israel” groups to march.

And now that the Moslem Brotherhood just won the elections in Egypt, Israel is facing what it feared all along, a democratically elected radicalized government opposed to Israel’s existence. How can Israel hope to achieve a peace, claiming that Israel is a unified Jewish state, when it is indeed as divided as the rest of the Jewish world? Divided so much that the largest annual American event for Israel now promotes the protestors as much as the supporters?

There is hope, however. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the members of Knesset in Israel last month formed a huge unity government to ward off new elections when the coalition with the charedi parties failed. As those communities took more and more from the state and gave less and less back, the ability to keep Netanyahu in power and the rest of the illegitimate financial arrangement going collapsed. It took the breakdown for the new, more eclectic government to be formed, yet most saw the writing on the wall a long time prior. The price exacted from the ultra religious communities was, as it seems to be all over, too high to manage. Whether it is divine providence, or just good common sense, the Israelis seemed to finally say enough, and declared it time to really come together for a common good.

We can hope it succeeds, and we hope the lessons learned can be learned by Jewish communities worldwide. The fanatics among us divide, while all others should find the common bonds that demonstrate the essence of Judaism.

Juda Engelmayer is a senior vice president of the New York public relations agency, 5WPR.