We, as committed Jewish people who like to think of ourselves as modern and open-minded, often repeat the idea that Judaism doesn’t have fundamentalism. Most of us say it with relief in our voice– looking at the Christian Evangelical right in America or the fundamentalist Islam of Salafi terrorists in the Middle East. We paint an Abrahamic family portrait in which we are the well-behaved older sibling, avoid the excesses of our two wild younger siblings.
However, that isn’t quite true. We do have fundamentalism, extremism, violence, and abuse in our midst. Like most things we call ‘fundamentalism,’ Jewish fundamentalism has nothing to do with the fundamentals of Judaism. It is an unequivocally modern movement. Not all Charedim are fundamentalist in this way– but most fundamentalists are Charedim– and the results, are bad.
We are guilty of romanticising Charedi life as some lovely-if-quaint relic of the past. It is not. It is a modern invention of a false past, built from nostalgia for something which never existed– and it kills. It hurts communities, hurts Judaism, and hurts people. We should have no qualms about stating clearly and unequivocally that we are opposed to fundamentalism and extremism in the Jewish community.
This past week, two young women, 19 and 24, died by suicide in Israel. Their decision was made for them by a life of sexual abuse, communal isolation, and religious fanaticism. We cannot tolerate this as a valid expression of Judaism– not when it does such damage to our people.
Extremism in our community may seem innocuous because there are not (yet) Charedi militias– but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t kill people. In the memory of those two girls – Hani Solish and Sarah Klapman (may their memories be a blessing) – let us commit to drawing a clear and unquestionable line against fundamentalism in our community.
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