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Jewish Fundamentalism?

Jewish Fundamentalism?

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Question:

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?

Answer:

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 Chabad.org.
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Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA 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. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA December 20, 2010

FUNDAMENTAL means BASIC. 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). Reply

Susan Chicago, Illinois 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. Reply

nava j''lem, israel 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. Reply

Eliyahu 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." Reply

Eli Cobleskill, United States June 4, 2009

Fundamentalist I think I would switch the words...an 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. Reply

Anonymous June 4, 2009

Fundamentalists 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. Reply

JayMar Austin, TX 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. Reply

Anonymous 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 Reply

Leah O.B., Fl. June 4, 2009

fundamentalism you are right on brother loved your anwer Reply

Anonymous London, UK February 16, 2009

fundamentalism Surely the only fundamentalists are the believers in the "orthodox" views of any religion. The non-fundamentalists are those from "reform" groups based on the original beliefs tempered with 21st century knowledge and the scientific method.
N.B. the terms orthodox and reform are not used here in any specific relationship to judaism. Reply

matt canberra, Australia March 27, 2007

jewsh fundementalists dude what is so wrong there are jewish fundamentalists fundamentalism is when someone believse only in that religion and believes completely for exammple a fundamentalist christian would be some one who believs that YES god did build the world in seven days and Noah did build an arc with evey animal. so fundamentalists dont beleive all others are evil and are going to suffer they just believe completely and utterely in every aspect of the religion and wont listen to scientific reason get ur facts sraight mate peace out see ya later Reply

Rivka December 14, 2006

Jewish fundamentalists There are indeed Jewish fundamentalists. For example, there are Jew who believe that the entire Arab community must be exterminated; they support this view with the scene where Moshe kills the Egyptian in Tanach. Baruch Goldstein is a good example of a Jewish fundamentalist, as well. There are some Ultra Orthodox Jews who throw stones at the cars of non-observant Jews. They're fundamentalists, too. Reply

Alex Stern Brooklyn, NY February 7, 2006

No Jewish Fundamentalist Groups?! You say that there are no Jewish fundamentalist groups? How about jewish sttlers in Gaza that had to be removed by force? There is no biblical significance to Gaza strip. Their only misguided reason for being there was to take back 'jewish' land given to jews by God? Give me a break! Their presence there caused nothing but increased violence directed at thyem and poor jewish boys for Israel proper who were billed with their protection. Were these people not extremist? Were their numerous supporters, who were risking jewish lives by resisting not extremists? How about the fact that they were mostley religious and were under the impression that it was God's will to do what they did? Reply

Rob Willis Pittsburgh, PA November 10, 2005

Fundamentalism Wow! First of all, I want to thank Rabbi Ysroel Altein of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA for recommending this fascinating, dynamic website. I want to thank Rabbi Moss for his article, and I want to thank all of you who posted such interesting comments.
Elsewhere on this website I posted a comment saying that I am neither a fundamentalist nor an atheist; I'm an awfully secularized Jew, sinner, and amateur philosopher who struggles daily to reconcile what he loves about religion with what he hates about it.
I thought Fundamentalism was taking holy books always literally. I tell people that doing that can actually cause one to miss profound lessons of the text(s). A pagan Greek author called Aesop wrote fables still enjoyed today. To take them literally (do various species of animals actually speak Greek to eachother?!) would be to miss their points entirely.
Thank God that my religious neighbors put chesed (kindness) before severity, unlike those thugs who threw rocks & garbage. Reply

Moshe New Paltz, NY November 7, 2005

To Emmanuel, This “one of the main roads of Mea Shearim (not a little inside street)” that you describe is the heart of their community. The community in which their (all of our) ancestors have lived for thousands of years. They did not go to your mother’s neighborhood to protest her way of life. They tried and will continue to try to protect their neighborhood from influences that are destructive to their way of life (which happens to be holy).
I have gone through many stages in my life. Not all of them even “respectuous of religious people”. Some of those years where spent in Jerusalem where contrary to public belief, as long as I kept my views and my body to my self these (yes) Chasidim welcomed me into their homes with open arms!
If I paraded around your daughter’s school defying your arbitrary definition of nudity you would have a cow. Why aren’t these people afforded the same rights?!?
P.S. Shiksa is not “filthy non-jew” it is “female non-jew” used often to refer to gorgeous blond Aryans Reply

Moshe New PAltz, NY November 7, 2005

A PC article that seems to lack a firm foundation To Rabbi Moss,
Don’t fundamentalist Jews believe that all humans must be monotheistic? You further state that “there are many paths to G-D”. Does that remove Judaism from the group of those who “cannot accept that there may be another road to truth”? What about atheism? Doesn’t that put Judaism squarely in the camp that states “anyone who does not follow their ways” of monotheism “is evil”? And all the atheists and paganists have two options “join us or suffer the consequences”? aren’t Jews commanded to be a light unto the nations and preach their view of monotheism?

P.S. I think you have the definitions of fundamentalist and extremist mixed up. And Jews are and should be both to an extent.
To editor: you don’t need to post this comment in its entirety but please don’t let such articles slip onto your front page again. Thank you. Reply

Patrick Taylor Idaho Falls, Idaho/USA November 4, 2005

Fundies Rabbi Moss, you have your head in a strange place. WOW!!! Fundamentalists are simply those who believe that the founding documents and adherense to the principles of those documents are sufficient to the purity of a belief system. You might say they are a kind of people who might say Torah is enough. They will propose, that while there are many ways, their's, the Torah way, is the best.

The fundamentalist, what I would call an observant Jew, is the core of what is Jewish. His first concern is not what world thinks, but what Torah says.
Reply

Thomas Karp November 4, 2005

To far rockaway again You shouldn't be surprised at my response: This thread is really about defining terms: Fundamentalism, extremism, and in the case of Mr. Cusack's question, what a ger tzedek is in regards to Chabad Lubavitch. Since my mother is not Jewish, I would have to become a ger tzedek to belong to Bnai Israel. I'm in this position because I'm the son of 'reform' Jews (on my father's side, of course). That's another term that needs to be defined-'reform'-because 'reform' has become a left wing extremist movement in Judaism. These people tend to marry out of the faith in droves. Many them have totally trashed their relationship with G-d and Torah for left wing politics and Freudian theory, leaving nothing amongst themselves to the future and security of Israel. They've become like a 'trojan horse' within Israel. When it comes to conversion, what is more important; making Xtianists into noahides, or 'reform' Jews into fundamentalists? Standing on one leg I ask are acts of chesed enough? Reply

Anonymous Far Rockaway, NY November 3, 2005

response to Thomas Karp To Thomas Karp: I was surprised to see your response to my comment. I only wanted to answer James Cusack's question about acceptance of non-Jewish converts by Chabad-Lubavitch. If you go to the Chabad.org home page and click on the "Hurricane Wilma" icon, you'll find out what Judaism really is: 20,000 free kosher meals donated to Florida seniors stranded on upper floors; Lubavitch volunteers climbing up flights of stairs to knock on doors and give out food and water to the elderly; helping Jews and non-Jews alike. There is a famous Chasidic tale of a rabbi whose son was a prodigy. Guests who came to their home were told the wonder-boy had prepared for them a novel interpretation of the laws of hospitality. They expected to hear a learned Talmudic discourse. Instead the wise boy showed the guests what he had painstakingly prepared: for each of them a warm soft bed with a pillow and blanket. This year, Chabad has given all of us lessons on how to really serve G-d. Reply