By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
When I first encountered Zionism as a child in post-war Poland, I heard much about the dream for Jews to become like all other peoples. After all that we had been through we now wanted to be like everybody else.
Living in Israel today, not only when I’m in Tel Aviv, I see the fulfillment of that dream. In addition to being a Jewish state, in many ways this is also a country like all other countries. It’s the triumph of Jewish secularism.
Unfortunately, there’s also an ostensibly religious –“Orthodox” – version of that ambition, and it’s very ugly. Sexual abuse isn’t just confined to practitioners of other religions. Seemingly pious Jews in Israel and abroad have joined their ranks, recently a celebrated mystic in Safed who was apprehended when he tried to flee the country.
And then there’s violence in the name of God, just as in ISIS and its offshoots. In the last 24 hours alone there were two events that shocked Israel.
During the Pride Parade in Jerusalem a “pious” man stabbed half-a-dozen participants; one of them, a 15-year old girl, is now fighting for her life. The seemingly Orthodox perpetrator had just come out of prison after serving a ten-year sentence for a similar offence. People are asking how he was able to get into the parade and repeat his terrible crime.
In a totally unrelated incident, last night two houses in a Palestinian village were set on fire. One was empty, in the other a one-year old child has died and another is fighting for his life. Pious settlers are said to be the perpetrators.
A third event of that ilk should also be mentioned: a day-or-so ago three men were indicted for having set the church in the Galilee on fire a few weeks ago. They left behind graffiti that reflected their fervor for the God of Israel.
In the same way as we’re being reminded that terrorists who say that they act on behalf of Allah don’t reflect authentic Islam, we know that those who want to kill gays, and burn down Palestinian houses and Christian churches don’t represent Judaism, even though they present themselves as God-fearing Jews.
Responsible public figures, including politicians across the ideological divide, have condemned these acts. But more has to be done. It behooves us to look at the kind of society that makes it possible for Jewish terrorists to imitate their non-Jewish counterparts. We’re good at protecting ourselves against onslaughts from without but seem less capable of removing the rot within.
Perhaps there’s something in the unholy alliance between religion and nationalism that breeds this kind of behaviour and which, in its avowed endeavour to preserve Judaism and its values, ironically does the very opposite. Perhaps the secular society striving to be like all other nations has turned a blind eye to the extremists who destroy Jewish values while claiming to defend them. Perhaps political expediency that needs the votes of the Orthodox has made those in power indifferent to the abuse of Judaism that’s taking place in the guise of piety.
Religion can bring out the best and the worst in people. At the moment, much of the latter is in evidence in Israel. Is it too much to hope that the many religious forces for good in the country will find ways of working together to save us from self-destruction?