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Jewish Fundamentalism?

Jewish Fundamentalism?



I was wondering if there is such a person as a Jewish fundamentalist, the way that there are those folks in Christianity and Islam? If so, what percent of Jews would or could be classified as Fundamentalist? And, what would their core beliefs be?


I'm not sure what your definition of fundamentalism is. I've heard a number of definitions of the term, and my feeling is that it means different things to different people. So instead of getting into an academic discussion about literalism versus figuratism, let's talk about what bothers most people about the term, and see if Judaism has anything that fits the mold.

Personally, when I hear the term "fundamentalist" used pejoratively, the picture that comes to mind is a group of people who believe that theirs is the only true path, and that anyone who does not follow their way is evil. A group which sees only two options for the rest of humanity - join us or suffer the consequences.

This is not the same as being an "extremist." There are those who are passionate or even extreme about their own beliefs, whether a born-again Christian, devout Muslim, radical liberal or die-hard atheist. We can debate the pros and cons of each of these belief systems, but a strong conviction alone doesn't necessarily make you intolerant of others. It is when you cannot accept that there may be another road to truth, that not everyone has to become exactly like you in order to be a good person - that is when you start to pose a danger to the planet.

So is Judaism "fundamentalist" in this sense? Quite simply, we don't believe that Judaism is for everyone. Jewish thought is comfortable with the belief that there are many paths to G‑d. Our Torah outlines the 613 precepts that define the path for Jews, and non-Jews can find Him in different ways. They can live a moral and good life without keeping the laws which our religion prescribes for the Jew. Anyone can join Judaism by converting, but this is not necessary - a non-Jew can be fulfilled, close to G‑d, and earn a place in heaven without becoming Jewish. I think it is this universalistic approach that has saved Judaism from the plague of intolerance.

Don't get me wrong - there are certainly Jewish extremists, troublemakers and whackos. But I don't know of any significant group of Jews who are out to convert the entire world to Judaism or to stamp all out non-Jewish religions. Judaism poses a challenge to the such a person: If you really love G‑d so much, shouldn't you also love all His children, who are created in His image?

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
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Discussion (46)
January 27, 2012
In the early part of the 20th century,
The term "Fundamentalist" was coined to describe a Christian type of religious sect. However, the term itself means belief in the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, and strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles. In this way, Orthodoxy or Chassidic Jews are fundamentalists. Whether or not it is used in a pejorative sense has no relation to asking if Jews are or are not fundamentalists. You can use any word at all in a pejorative sense. When someone says it to you that way, it doesn't make it right or wrong. Just rude.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
December 20, 2010
So, fundamentalism means belief in the core basics. In this case, the Torah. Fundamentalist Jews are also called by some "Orthodox" or "Chassid" because they follow the dictates of the Torah LITERALLY. What can't be explained literally, they go to books such as the Tanya and other books written by Hebrew scholars who have spent hours philosophizing on the meaning of the literal words so that they can be applied to other situations. Reform Jews and other branches are not fundamentalists. I don't see how anyone can argue otherwise and be taken seriously. The word itself has NO connotations other than what people give it, erroneously. They are beliefs, that's all. Not terrorists or fanatics. Just people who take the BASIC tenets of their religion LITERALLY across board. To say that we follow the 613 laws is a misnomer anyway, because the Temple is destroyed. We no longer do animal sacrifices. (In my mind, which is animal cruelty no matter how you cut it~ no pun intended).
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
June 18, 2009
Fundamentalism or Fanatacism
It seems your definition of a "fundamentalist" is my definition of a "fanatic", that is someone who thinks he is right and everyone else is wrong and should be destroyed, or at least converted to his religion. Is there a difference between a fundamentalist and a fanatic?

I agree that you don't have to be Jewish to be close to G-d or to have a fulfilling life. On the other hand, when I consider the fact that there are many contradictory belief systems in the world, I ask how can all of these paths be valid? Either G-d exists, or he doesn't. Either there is 1 G-d, or there are many gods. How can we accept the idea that there are other legitimate belief systems without weakening our own faith?

Although I think fanaticism (or fundamentalism as you call it) is dangerous because it often leads to violence, I can see why it appeals to so many people of different faiths. It provides simple answers to complex questions, and it validates the believer with the assurance that he is right.
Chicago, Illinois
June 4, 2009
yes and no
The points you make, Rabbi, in your article warm the heart and fill the psyche. This is because all the comments are drawn from the well of unadulterated truth, which is valid for all of humanity. Your answers unite us all into a fulfilling oneness.
It hurt me to read the comment by Rivka, because there is inaccuracy which breeds hatred. 1. There are many, many "Orthodox" Jews both in organizations and as individuals who reach out to all their brethren to help their material needs and to OFFER - not coerce - assistance for spiritual needs. Stone throwing is unfortunate, but is almost unheard of. Appears when people drive in an observant neighborhood on Shabbat, endangering and offending local residents. May G-d bless you, Rivka, that you see the good in Life - there's a whole lot of it, and the more you see, the happier you'll be.
Rabbi, thank you again for presenting the truth - you defined your terms - perhaps it would help your readers to do so also.
j''lem, israel
June 4, 2009
Fundamentalism in Judaism
I would respectfully disagree with the rabbi here. We have our own fundamentalist in Judaism. They're the ones who insist that only their understanding of Torah and Talmud is correct, that those who don't follow their chumras and customs are heretics or apikorsim, and that any understanding of Judaism which varies from their own isn't really Judaism. Although they only apply it to their fellow Jews, it's really not very different in character from the Christian fundamentalism which proclaims that "only we have the truth, and the rest of you are going to hell."
June 4, 2009
I think I would switch the extremist to me is a fundamentalist who violently disagrees that there are other paths to G-d or Hashem., or is out to convert or destroy a different belief system. I know fundamentalist Christians who think that Jews and non-Christians will not be "saved"because they fail to accept Jesus as their "savior"...they often seek to convert but are not violent, hence by my definition are not extremist (or violent) When one hears convert or die, to me that is extremism...a mental illness.
Cobleskill, United States
June 4, 2009
I was born Jewish and raised conservative. When I am asked here in the south "what I am", I answer, "Old Testament Fundamentalist"
It appears that no one here connects it to being a Jew. They are all at ease with my answer. I use this answer because it directs a person's mind to understand that I live by the old law comfortably. I am invited to attend Sunday services by my neighbors in all forms of churches. Because I live by the laws of the time of Moses, I am received well.
It is unfortunate that I cannot receive the same treatment when I say I am a Jew.
The limited intellect of this area is frightening on a good day. I will remain an Old Testament Fundamentalist because I study Torah. I doesn't get more fundamental than that.
June 4, 2009
Jewish Fundamentalism?
<A fundamentalist is someone who believes that theirs is the only true path>

With all due respect, I disagree with that statemen. I think a fundamentalistt is one who feels they have a direct connection to G-d, greater that the normal co-religionist. The spark within the fundamentalist is bright and strong as he goes through life as if in a personal mission from Hashem. The power this spark exerts on his surroundings is clearly visible to most and unexplainable to others. The Shechinah shines in his eyes and it permeates into every aspect of this man's life.
Austin, TX
June 4, 2009
Great question
The answer was a typical Jewish answer. Repeat the question
Outline your answer with all objectives
End with humor. Reminded of the old days from Hebrew School
June 4, 2009
you are right on brother loved your anwer
O.B., Fl.