Center Field: ReligioGoons – the Jewish Taliban – threaten Judaism and Zionism

Israeli ReligioGoons mock Judaism’s ethical traditions. Their verbal violence often encourages physical violence. Their fanaticism demeans Judaism and Zionism.

April 12, 2016 21:13
Bezalel Smotrich.

Bezalel Smotrich.. (photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)


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Pop quiz:
1. Is the Knesset member who endorsed segregated hospital rooms religious or not?
2. Is the Knesset member who rejects shared entrance to our holy Western Wall, so all Jews (and non-Jews) can enter with dignity, religious or not?
3. Are the kippa-wearing Jewish hooligans who attack IDF soldiers and Arabs religious or not?
4. Were the killers of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2014, those sadists who burned an innocent teenager to death, religious or not?

If you answered “yes, religious” to all four questions – you are half right. The fanatics called themselves “religious.” However, when your behavior so violates core Jewish values, you forfeit the right to call yourself “religious,” no matter how many prayers you utter, no matter how many rituals you follow scrupulously, no matter how long your beard is.

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While we differentiate between murderers, rioters and mere demagogues, there’s a disturbing phenomenon afoot. Israeli ReligioGoons mock Judaism’s ethical traditions. Their verbal violence often encourages physical violence. Their fanaticism demeans Judaism and Zionism.

These Jewish Taliban embarrass me as a proud Jew and Zionist. We need more shomer Shabbat, God-fearing Jews and Zionists to defend our tradition by shunning these people. Yet the cowardly silence of too many rabbis is particularly appalling. Do they fear their own flock? Have they forgotten their role as moral leaders of their own community, the Jewish people and the world? Or, do too many approve – and encourage – this abomination?

The natural mix between Arabs and Jews in Israeli hospitals is one of the country’s marvels, which I have enjoyed personally. Yet leave it to Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich to tarnish that everyday miracle with ugly bigotry trying to separate Arab and Jewish mothers in maternity wards. Did he forget that all humans are born in God’s image? Didn’t he learn that we were once strangers in Egypt and the Torah commands us to treat strangers generously at least 36 times? Jewish solidarity is one secret to our long survival.

Yet leave it to United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni to demand a segregated entrance to the Western Wall.

I confess, when I first read that he wanted ghettoized entrances, I assumed this was the usual haredi sexism trying to separate men from women. But, no, now Gafni and his people won’t share an entrance with Reform Jews, saying “The world could turn upside down, but we will not enter together.”


Didn’t Gafni ever learn ‘Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh’ from the Talmud (Shevuot 39a) – all of Israel is responsible for one another? And doesn’t he remember that we all entered the same gates of Auschwitz, because our enemies clump all us Jews together? As for the violent ones, Jews who beat our soldiers (meaning our kids) or who harass or kill Israeli Arab youth (who also are our kids), the Jewish community should excommunicate them, even as the Israeli system prosecutes their crimes aggressively. Such savagery violates Jewish law, not just Israeli law.

What is happening? When did the religious educational system start producing thugs? When did rabbis start worshiping human monsters? I write as someone who sends his kids to the religious school system and loves the wonderful values taught in some institutions – from the far left to the far right of the religious spectrum. But there’s an ugly tribalism, a bestial self-righteousness fomenting, that every religious Jew of conscience must denounce – and help exorcise. We must echo our greatest rabbis in saying that those who break the many Jewish laws mandating decent behavior should not bother fulfilling other mitzvot, because they have already proven themselves to be sinners and heretics.

As a Zionist, I cannot accept the tremendous power that anti-Zionists like Gafni and his haredi blackmailers enjoy in what claims to be a nationalist government.

What kind of pride can we have in a country held hostage to politicians who take no pride in our country? A truly Zionist government would repudiate Jewish anti-Zionism as well as Arab anti-Zionism.

And, as a Zionist, I mourn what religious Zionism has become – and wrought. Again, not all of it – the disproportionate number of religious Israelis in combat units and command positions, in education and charity work, make me beam. But this new and growing, shrill, mean-spirited, small-minded, soul-crushing army of Religio-goons makes me gag.

Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, (1880-1953), Israel’s first Sephardi chief rabbi, taught that Jewish “nationalism is not about a common race, it is not homeland or government or monarchy and it’s not about leaders or shared obligations or literature or a common culture.”

To him, “Israel’s righteous nationalism... actually means that the noble idea of tikkun olam, redeeming the world through the kingdom of God, takes precedence over nationhood and statehood. In so doing, it orients and shapes Jewish politics.”

Rabbi Uziel’s Jewish nationalism was a means to a higher goal, not the goal itself. Similarly, HaRav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), in his classic 1956 sermon “Kol Dodi Dofek” (My Beloved Knocks), challenges us to move from our covenant of Egypt, our shared fate, to the covenant forged at Sinai, becoming a “holy nation” with a mission to ennoble humanity by living lives filled with ethical and religious values.

As we enter the Passover preparation season, I challenge all of us, but especially the religious Zionist community, to make this holiday a true celebration of freedom, liberating us from our defensiveness, our closed mindedness and our belligerence. Let’s resurrect our best selves and stop becoming ugly imitations of our worst nightmares, mimicking the behavior of goons and hooligans who harassed us when we were powerless.

Let us learn from Rabbis Uziel and Soloveitchik, remembering our mission to ennoble not demean, elevate not debase, inspire not bully.

Gil Troy is the author of ‘The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s’, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s ‘The Zionist Idea.’ He is professor of history at McGill University.

Follow on Twitter @GilTroy

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