At every opportunity -- including some that they make
themselves -- our opponents criticize us by lumping us
together with other religious fundamentalists.
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, in a fundraising speech in Cleveland
less than a month after the Islamic destruction of the World
Trade Center, clearly implied that we were a similar threat
that could be countered by giving money to him and his
organization. (The need to counter the chareidim has long
been the most effective argument for both Conservative and
Reform fundraisers.) New York Times columnists Thomas
Friedman and Anthony Lewis both identified fundamentalist
ideas as the greatest challenge to modern life, specifically
mentioning Christians, Moslems and Jews.
Lewis, for example, wrote: "the phenomenon of religious
fundamentalism is not to be found in Islam alone.
Fundamentalist Christians in America, . . . question . . .
the scientific method that has made contemporary civilization
"Religion and extreme nationalism have formed deadly
combinations in these decades, impervious to reason," and
this includes "fundamentalist Judaism and extreme Israeli
We are not ashamed of our beliefs and we do not feel any need
to apologize for them. But is it correct to lump us with
fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Moslems just
because we believe in the truth of a text?
Though we firmly believe that the Tanach is absolute,
eternal and unchanging truth, we believe that to understand
it properly requires proper rabbonim to interpret it. Chazal
have told us that many times the truth that Hashem is
teaching us is far from what the words appear to say to an
uneducated reader. The Oral Torah that is transmitted by
people is a vital part of our tradition.
This guarantees that the crucial directions are given by
mature, responsible individuals, the experts -- after long
years of study -- in the Oral Torah. There is no possibility
of someone like Osama Bin Laden deciding that he knows what
the holy book "really" says and then launching a worldwide
Moreover, there are many instances of fine fundamentalist
Jews in good standing who are also prominent in academia and
the professions. This shows that on a practical level, there
is nothing in our brand of Judaism that need be incompatible
with contributing to modern life. Many observers say that the
real cause of Islamic terror is the fact that modern Islamic
states have been so unsucessful in becoming full-fledged
parts of modern society. Their inablity to overcome their
status as outsiders led to frustration that found its outlet
in terror. Fundamentalist Jews (and Christians) suffer from
no such frustration.
However, Judaism is unique in its structure. Alone among all
the major religions, it does not claim universality for
It is well-known that Judaism does not evangelize or actively
seek converts. However it is not so well-understood that this
is the result of a unique vision. On the one hand, Judaism
fully tolerates a wide range of beliefs among those who are
not Jewish (as long as the beliefs do not violate basic
principles known as the Noachide Laws), while on the other
hand it allows access to full membership in Judaism to anyone
who sincerely accepts its particular truths. This structure
means that our reluctance to spread our religion is not a
matter of lack of opportunity, but rather a consequence of
its basic principles.
Externally then, Judaism is really pluralistic in an
important way that is unparalleled in other religions.
Internally as well there is much room for variation: the
lifestyles of many Chassidim, Litvish kollel students
and working baalabatim, are substantially different
but they are all united by their acceptance of Torah. The one
thing we do not accept is the legitimacy of any group that
purports to be Judaism while denying Torah.
Our tolerance and fundamentally pluralistic approach allow us
to live in respectful harmony with different beliefs and