Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Jewish Bin Ladens

Ultra-Orthodox Jews and the State of Israel

What Shall I Do With This People? Jews and the Fractious Politics of Judaism
By Milton Viorst

“After 2,000 years of strenuous survival in exile, it would be a grim irony if homecoming is remembered by history not as the seed of the Jews’ redemption but of their self-destruction.”

These final words in Milton Viorst’s latest book, What Shall I Do With This People? sums up his exhaustive study of Judaism and the conflicting ideologies within this faith that could lead to civil war or worse in Israel.

Viorst selected the title from Exodus 17:4 in which an exasperated Moses, trying to lead Jews out of Sinai, cried out to the Lord; what shall I do with this people? Before long they will stone me.

At that early time, God called the Jews a stiff-necked people, and the author contends it is this attitude of the ultra-Orthodox that could bring about disaster in Israel.

In his earlier works, Viorst has explored Arab states and argues that religious fundamentalism holds them back from developing viable democracies and high tech economies.

In this book, he demonstrates that Ultra-Orthodox Jews share negative traits of so-called fundamentalist Muslims. Both divide society according to faith; reject temptations of modernity; exalt ancient texts and glorify the distant past. Both are politically authoritarian, male-dominated, impose restrictive dress codes and enforce strong sexual taboos.

The lay reader will learn more than he ever hoped to about Jewish history, but through this approach, Viorst documents earlier catastrophes brought about by the Zealots and other Jews with tunnel-vision nationalistic ambitions. They seem to have been reincarnated in the right-wing religious militants seeking political and societal control of Israel today.

Viorst cites the late Israeli historian Yehoshafat Harkabi, a retired general, who theorized that the Jews from King David to Simon Bar-Kokhba (who precipitated the Roman destruction of Judea) were blinded by nationalism that cost them their survival.

The early Maccabean victory over the Romans led to a pride that fell when they were defeated in two subsequent wars with Rome. This feeling of omnipotence after the victory of the 1967 Six-Day War may be a repetition of history, Harkabi warned.

The rift between Sephardi and Ashkenazi cultures was hardly noticed at its outset, Viorst contends. Rabbinic Judaism (Othodox) which began with the ancient sage Hillel ended in the yeshivot of eastern Europe. Rabbinic Judaism, Viorst writes, maintained the Jewish identity separate from the temptations of the Gentile world. But the arrival of the Enlightenment at the close of the 18th century tantalized European Jews and brought about Conservative and Reform movements.

In the U.S., Conservative and Reform Jews arrived in the early 19th century and prospered. Eastern European Orthodox Jews arrived at the turn of the century and were not welcomed into the temples of their co-religionists. But, the author stresses, Jews knew that in the U.S., their sectarian battles between Orthodox and Conservative and Reform would be unacceptable. It was only when Israel was founded that they had a terrain on which to resume their struggle.

“Sovereignty, moreover, brought a rise in the stakes,” Viorst writes. “Without Gentiles to overrule them, Jews went at the conflict more bitterly. What Orthodox Judaism saw in sovereignty was an opportunity to make up the losses of the centuries since the Enlightenment. What Reform and Conservative Judaism saw was a chance to have their legitimacy formally acknowledged. All three sought to enlist the secular state on its side, as tolerance among them seemed to grow increasingly distant.”

Even though the Zionist movement was founded by Theodor Herzl, a secular Jew, Rabbi Issac Reines, who founded the Mizrachi movement in Russia in 1902, insisted on a place for religious Jews in the Zionist cause. This opened the door for the Orthodox to be a legitimate faction within the Zionist movement.

After World War I, the Mizrachi World Organization moved to Palestine where it represented Orthodox interests and eventually became the National Religious Party. Nonetheless, Haredim badgered Mizrachi for failing to lead Zionism back to the faith.

Religious Zionists always accepted the legitimacy of Israel as a state, Viiorst points out, while the Ultra-Orthodoxy insist that only the Messiah can legitimize the state – hence they are still living in exile.

Whereas Western democracies separate church and state, Israel has followed the opposite path and accepts Orthodox Judaism at the nation’s one official faith. Israel has two chief rabbis (one Ashkenazi, the other Sephardi, both Orthodox).

Viorst states: “(Israel) maintains at public expense all Orthodox rabbis and their synagogues. It finances religious education at every level, run by Orthodox administrators. It empowers a system of Orthodox courts to preside over the enforcement of Halachic law in personal matters. It also sets enforcement of Halachic law in personal matters. It also sets Orthodox standards for naturalization and waives military service for students at Orthodox yeshivot.”

Over the centuries, Jews had observed the Three Oaths, Viorst informs the reader. These were (1) not to return en masse to the Holy Land, (2) not rebel against the host nation they lived in, and (3) in return for their quietude, the host nation would not unduly oppress them.

Because they observed the rule not to return to the Holy Land, the Hasidim called Zionism a sin. Some Hasidic rabbis went so far, Viorst notes, as to claim the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves for failing to uphold the Three Oaths.

However, in 1948, when Israel offered a refuge to the Haredim, they took a more pragmatic point of view. Nonetheless, Ben Gurion refused to promise them a “state according to Torah.” They retaliated by threatening to go to the United Nations and testify against the establishment of Israel. Even though he denounced this as extortion, Ben Gurion compromised with the “status quo agreement.” In return for political – but not religious – recognition of the state, the Orthodox received special privileges: an official Sabbath, rabbinic jurisdiction over marriage and divorce, rabbinic administration and public financing of religious schools, application of kosher dietary laws in state institutions and exemption of yeshiva students and Haredi women from military service.

This, Viorst emphasizes, has produced a parasitic class of cloistered Haredi men who do not work and live off government subsidies. Haredim vote in blocks which perpetuates a system that drains the economy.

Religious Zionism has its roots in the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Issac Kook, who, Viorst says, put the Messiah back in Zionism. “By settling the land, Jews hasten the return of the Messiah,” Rabbi Kook prophesied. He emigrated from Latvia in 1904 and became the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi after World War I.

It was Rabbi Kook’s son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, who shifted the religious focus from the Torah to territory. Following the 1967 War, he demanded that the government erase forever the demarcation line of 1948 separating Israel from “Judea and Samaria.” Out of this extremism emerged Rabbi Kook’s disciple, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who holed up in the Hebron Park Hotel and launched the settler movement in 1968 with the militant settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Viorst traces the development of the hardline extremists. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful) spouted its call for a Maccabean theocracy. These are the bearded men we see in photos wearing jeans, the knitted kippot and shouldering machine guns. In the 1980s, their Jewish Underground terrorized Palestinians, booby-trapped the cars of three West Bank mayors, maiming two of them. They killed three students and wounded 30 more at Hebron’s Islamic college. Rabbi Kook’s followers publicly applauded this while Labor and Likud did nothing.

On May 14, 1948, the day of its establishment, Israel was to have a signed and sealed Constitution within five months.

“If a country is to survive,” Viorst states, “it must hammer out a foundation of common values, which all of its citizens, or nearly all, willingly accept. That has not happened to this new nation of Jews, at least not yet.”

Just as the founding fathers of the U.S. avoided a decision on slavery, the rift between religious and secular communities was too wide to hammer out a compromise – let alone even consider the needs of Arab citizens.

The founding fathers of the U.S skirted the unpleasant controversy around slavery and decades later, the nation was divided by a crushing civil war. Has Israel fallen into the same trap?

Viorst starts this important work and ends it with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a militant yehsiva student, Yigal Amir.

“Amir was a zealot who wouldn’t have acted without the backing of the rabbis,” Viorst told me at a book signing. “Rabin, the only prime minister who tried to stop the settlements, paid for this decision with his life.”

This is a very thought-provoking book whose depressing prophesy that the militant Ultra-Orthdox element is on the ascendancy may, unfortunately, prove true. If so, will secular Jews remain in a state hog tied by the authoritarian strictures of religious fundamentalism?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 8:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can anyone who claims to know what the're talking about,mention in the same breath settlers and ultra-orthodox jews?He needs to mislead the reader to the FALSE conclusion that the hareidi jew will take to arms to defend the status quo so he brings proof from amir!As if he was a black hatted meah shearim jew who followed the teachings of the satmar rav!And shame on UOJ for his title.As an american alone I detest your lumping a mass murderer together with some of the nicest people in the world.JERUSALEM J

Thursday, October 06, 2005 9:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonameamongus said...

Mr. Viorst's conclusion of an army of Amir's would ring true if it was actually Amir that killed Rabin. It was in fact the very Zionist themselves that Viorst is hailing which false flagged the assasination thus rendering Viorst's prophecy and the last 60 years of sources leading up to this event.... Meaningless.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 10:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the nicest people in the world?

get real.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger David Kelsey said...

It is important to distinguish between activist and quiescent fundamentalists. The B'nai Torah are the most famous "quiescent" Jewish fundamentalists, preferring a protected spiritual and physical enclave to control of the state outside of their immediate interests, though that may be changing a bit.

The more radical settlers are the most obviously activist, as they see the state as a vehicle for expansion of their Messianic dreams.

Lubavitch has attributes of both quiescent and activist fundamentalist strains. They engage in Kiruv, but at the end of the day, return to their enclave.

But none of the Jewish activists seek control ouside of the boundaries of biblical Israel, though as we see with the uproar over Gaza, those boundaries are not limited to what many of us perceive them to be (full disclosure: I respectfully disagreed with UOJ on the disengagement from Gaza).

I think it is important for Jews to understand these two very different strains of fundamentalism, which manifest themselves in all the three major religions and in Hindusim as well and beyond, if we are then to understand the mixing and crossover of the two.

I am not comparing or equating the religions, I am comparing a sociological phenomenon.

Friday, October 07, 2005 12:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Friday, October 07, 2005 12:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. Nicest people in the world. You say get real as only a person who has never lived here can. The unmatched amount of chessed can't be described. Can you get off your racist horse for a second and open your eyes? You will see a world that some people try to make us think doesn't exist. JERUSALEM JEW

Friday, October 07, 2005 4:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


if the chessed can't be described, that's truly a higher madrega than anyone can imagine. unbelievable!

The Jewish nation excels in compassion, no hiddush there. Is it a conspiracy, jj? What's the inside scoop? Tell the world why Satmar has a sterling reputation.

Blanket statements about any groups are unfair. There will always be individual and group exceptions, but the behavior of the Satmar tribe been both intriguing and consistent for generations. Reb Yoilish, the Satmar Ruv, was an exceptional genius. Why, outside of the core group, is Satmar best known for greed,selfishness and extremism rather than spiritual values?


Friday, October 07, 2005 9:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NRP folks are not Charedim.

Friday, October 07, 2005 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they are quiescent activists.

Friday, October 07, 2005 1:42:00 PM  
Blogger kjef1 said...

I feel the article is total garbage.Its very spectacular, this is what sells. Firstly, to compare
the charedim to bin laden is total
falsehood, "ben kodesh lochol, ben orh lachosech. The charedim have never and will never produce suicide bombers. The charedim are activists ,but in regard to shabbos and grave desercration. Which should outrage all orthodox jews, modern or charedi. Also, the charedim are keeping the Israeli economy going. The charedim are
consumers for shabbos and yom tov.
They buy, buy and buy some more.
They have also built beautiful
communities in Israel. I also hate to break it to people the yeshiva and kollel people are the ones making aliyah for religious reasons. The chesed organizations of the chareidim are compatible to
no one, from orphanges to soup kitchens. The muslim can not and will never compare to chareidi chesed. They train orphans to be suicide bombers.They are murderers.
The amir case is an aberation.
Yet the muslims assisnate each other on a daily basis. Jwes are allowed to be fervent about their religion.We do not need Mr viorst approval. What scares him is that religion does exist, and yes people believe in G-d. This is foreign to secularists.Yes women dress modestly, and men study Torah.Its freightening to secularists.The chareidim are taking over, the charedim are taking over.....lets run to the bomb shelters.Yes, their are problems in the charedi community.
If there were not any problems it would worry me. We are human. But to compare the chareidim to bin laden is dung.

Friday, October 07, 2005 2:47:00 PM  
Blogger kjef1 said...

You have to also understand something about Reb Yeilish, zl.
He was very sheltered from various going ons in his community. However, i know for a fact that when he became aware of something wrong he was very strong with the mussar, and changes came about fast.He lived a sheltered life like many rebbes do. His gabbayim had alot of control over what he was aware of.He did not mince words of mussar when he was aware of any wrong doing. This i can tell you as fact.

Friday, October 07, 2005 2:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and unlike some others, he was a big talmid chacham as well.

which bin laden is not.

Friday, October 07, 2005 4:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bin laden didn't have an old fashioned semicha with honors. He couldn't give a shabbos shuva derasha.

Friday, October 07, 2005 4:34:00 PM  
Blogger David Kelsey said...


You said,

"Also, the charedim are keeping the Israeli economy going. The charedim are consumers for shabbos and yom tov."

I think this is grossly overstating the case, at least for the many in Kollel until they are forty. Using government funds to buy personal affects is different than production. That would be the same case one would make for welfare mothers, quite frankly.

Friday, October 07, 2005 4:50:00 PM  
Blogger kjef1 said...

Your assuming that everyone in kollel is poor. This not always the case. Many kollel people are supported by their family. Also the govt cut their support substancially. Also, even if the govt is supporting them the grocery man, fruit man, butcher, pharmacy, clothing man makes a living and pays taxes. If you improvish the storekeeper people, your destroying the economy. Ever been in meah sharim on friday its a mad house of commerce. The charaidim are big consumers, btaz (the chareidi hasgacha) is being innodated by food manufactures for their hasgacha.The food manuf. want and need the business. Charaidim are big consumers , this is fact.How they get the cash is irrelevant.They have and are supporting the construction bussiness in Israel. The charaidim build neigborhoods, the secular jews are not at the same rate. I have a cousin thats a "Kablan" builder in israel, he has told me numerous times that if not for the charaidim he and other multi million dollar construction companies would be bankrupted. There is always construction being done by the charaidi community. Also, alot of the fianacing comes from
rich chardim from the usa. Its all trickle down economics.

Friday, October 07, 2005 5:07:00 PM  
Blogger kjef1 said...

Also, alot of support comes america. Yeshivas and kollel families get money from the usa.
This money being spent by the charaidim supports the country financially. Their is a bias against rabbis and the chareidim.
All that is wrong with the world can be traced to the religious. This is the argument of the secular.This is not new. Its propaganda against innocent people.
There are problems within all communities, but the demise of civilization is not due to the charaidim. This is mr viorst agenda.
Its a lie. The seculars should take and long look at themselves with their zero rate of birth.They should lokk at the promiscuous behavior of their children.And many secular jews leave israel for a better lifestyle else where. This mr viorst does not write. Its the anti charaidi bias and prejudice. They hate religion.They are self hating. THey cringe at the sight of a frum jew.

Friday, October 07, 2005 5:20:00 PM  
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Saturday, October 08, 2005 2:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As was pointed out on this blog before, there is a difference between tolerance and compassion. (in the name of a r''y) Tolerance is not a jewish trait. Satmar excells in compassionate deeds, but they don't tolerate disgrace of god's name. JERUSALEM JEW.

Saturday, October 08, 2005 5:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the economist above doesn't understand the value in our tradition of making learning keva and melacha arai?

If the Ribbono shel Olam wants them to be rich, the Rebbe can bless their line - for a fee.

"they don't tolerate," jj. This is true.

Saturday, October 08, 2005 9:06:00 PM  
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