Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Teves 5762 - December 19, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Religious Fundamentalism is Not All the Same

For over 30 years, Anthony Lewis was a columnist for the New York Times. A consistent advocate of liberal positions, he always defended the leftist views.

In summing up the last three decades, he repeatedly referred to a challenge to reason that modern society faces. "No one can miss the reality of that challenge after Sept. 11," he writes. "Islamic fundamentalism, rejecting the rational processes of modernity, menaces the peace and security of many societies."

Extremist Islam represented by Osama bin Laden but also embracing his extreme Shiite Wahabe supporters such as the Taliban and millions more in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are convinced that they already know all they need to know in order to go out and murder as many Westerners as they possibly can. Palestinian terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad think that they know what their purpose is in life: to destroy as many Jews as possible.

These are all people who truly are against reason, as much as against certain people. They are ready to go out to kill and maim, and are not interested or willing to debate the alternatives. All they want to hear about is when they are to go on their murderous missions and what are the arrangements.

There are people who truly and thoroughly reject reason. They are not interested in negotiations and certainly not in any compromise that is the expected goal of any serious attempt to bring together two warring sides. These extremists are truly "impervious to reason."

Mr. Lewis thinks that there are more who challenge these basic principles of the West. "But the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism is not to be found in Islam alone." Among others, he cites "fundamentalist Judaism" as being part of the same problem.

This is a common oversimplification that is often repeated by those who know very little about fundamentalist Judaism such as we represent. The ignorant range from Reform leader Uri Regev who tried to raise money in Cleveland to fight religious Judaism using the trauma Americans experienced on September 11, to Israeli author Mati Golan who recently wrote a virulently anti-religious play based on the ridiculous premise that what Jewish fundamentalists "really" want is to bring on a big war.

Chareidi Judaism has the highest respect for human reason and a deep commitment to civilized discourse. It is common knowledge that we prefer to spend our time studying Torah, but it does not seem to be appreciated that this study consists of absorbing, understanding and learning to emulate the reasoning of the Talmud. Our study is not some mind- numbing exercise like memorizing verses, but rather a continuing and intensive effort at mind-building.

We do have deeply-held principles but they apply to our personal lives. They do not even bid us to spread our beliefs (beyond the rational imperative to share goodness and knowledge that all men of good will share), and certainly not by coercion or chas vesholom by physical power.

Broadly, our goal is to serve Hashem by studying and perfecting ourselves morally and by supporting our families and raising our children to do the same. Our belief in Hashem as the creator of the world and the conductor of history is the source of our confidence in reason and discourse as the basis for social harmony.

Although we are convinced that people like Anthony Lewis are ignorant of some very important parts of reality, we have no doubt that even they would be very happy with a society set up according to the Divine insights of the Torah.

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