Its been a bad year for the Jews -- in my view, particularly the Orthodox -- Rubashkin, continued evidence of sexual abuse (without recourse, by the way), riots in Jerusalem including the burning of a welfare office to defend a woman accused of attempted murder of her child, "Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria" -- i.e. settlers riding on horseback to burn Palestinian olive tree groves -- and now these guys. Add this to Madoff, and its been a pretty rotten year. With just about 7 weeks before the introspective period of the high holidays, a few thoughts. And a rant.
What galls me about this is, for one, the basic inhumanity of all of these people. Come on, organ trafficking at a huge profit? Extortion? Terrorizing farmers? Give me a break.
However, I think there is a deeper, more disturbing observation here. It has to do with religion and religious fundamentalism.
There used to be a tendency to look at religious fanatics and write them off as "crazy or bad apples." Now, it is fashionable to look at people -- Muslims in particular -- and say -- "Well so much for the religion of peace. Look what the Koran says about such and such... the religion is at fault and anyone who is a religious Muslim must be a fanatic and that the only good Muslims are secular or those who outwardly reject parts of their traditions (the Hadith, etc.)"
We don't say the same thing about Christian fundamentalists -- the Kansas people who protest at soliders' funerals or kill doctors who perform women's health services. We look at them as outlyers -- but I think that somewhere we also look at their theology as being corrupt or at least suspect.
So, what about the Jews? I am tired of people circling the wagons on this issue. I expressed my concern to a couple of prominent rabbis in my community -- people that I respect. One, who shall remain nameless because of my real respect for his scholarship and community involvement said (and I paraphrase): "I hope that people don't use this as a partisan issue in the community" -- in other words, don't blame the Orthodox for the sins of these people.
Another community leader said something similar when I wrote about this on Facebook. She attributed this chillul Hashem - desecration of God's name -- to free will. This implies that is has nothing to do with our teachings and our tradition.
I would propose that our tradition and the way that it is taught -- particularly among those who consider themselves to be the most learned and pious -- is at the core of this problem. Rather that this being deviant behavior, it is the logical conclusion of those who read the texts and surround themselves with those who agree with them.
If you look at our tradition, there is a very disturbing theme that runs throughout the Torah and the Talmud -- exclusivism. It is at the core of being the "chosen people". That in and of itself is not a bad thing. For a people to have a certain "self esteem" is not unusual. And, it's healthy. How else does one perpetuate a way of life in a competitive environment.
However, at the root of our tradition is also a strain that says that other people -- whether its non-Jews (referred to in religious literature as "ACUM" -- the worshippers of stars and constellations -- or Jews who do not observe the stricture of Jewish law (more on that later) are not "friends" and in some cases not considered human beings. This extends in some small measure to women -- who are excluded from rituals and delegated to a second class status for reasons that are explained away.
How is this expressed?
"And you shall love your neighbor as yourself". The Talmud says that this is one of the centerpieces of the tradition -- the proverbial golden rule. However, the accepted interpretation of this verse (quoted by Rashi) is that your neighbor is only one who observes the Jewish commandments.
This has profound implications for Jewish law.
I will provide a few concrete examples:
There are many activities considered to be work that are forbidden on the Sabbath. One of the discussions that arose in Talmudic literature involves doctors saving lives and people going into burning burnings etc. The rabbinic ruling is that one is permitted to enter a burning building or to provide life saving treatment to Jews only. But not to non-Jews. In a later period, it was determined that "in order to keep the peace" (in other words to avoid persecution at the hands of the non-Jewish majority) one can (if they have to) provide medical treatment or rescue non-Jews.
In addition, a Kohen (one of the priestly caste -- children of Aaron) who serve in the Temple and are to remain religiously pure can not attend funerals with the exception of their closest relatives. (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Spouse, Son or Daugther)... no grandparents, step-childen, friends etc. However, they are permitted to attend the funeral of non-Jews. Since non-Jews are apparently not people.
I could go on and on. I won't even begin to discuss the second class status of women who are grouped with children, the mentally handicapped and the slave as ineligible to provide testimony at trial, lead religious rituals and the like.
And don't get me started about homosexuals.
So, the deciet and and lawlessness observed in the fundamentalist communities is perfectly explainable. If you treat others with disrespect and disdain why should you worry about child labor in Iowa, burning welfare offices in Jerusalem, physically attacking women in Beit Shemesh, extorting and laundering money in New Jersey and selling kidneys all over the world?
After all, as long as you eat glatt kosher, wear a big yarlmuke and use some of that filthy money to support religious instituions that promote your values, you are a good Jew.
As we approach Tisha B'av, where we traditionally think of the destroyed Temple from two thousand years ago and some pray for the restoration of a messianic religious theocracy in the Holy Land, let's consider the filth in our own midst and the ugly parts of our tradition that must be rejected and expunged. Otherwise, the exile will go on and on. If not in our bodies, then in our spiritual fabric.