Bible Commentator

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Rabbi Moshe Reiss

The Hilltop Youth:


The Hilltop youth who acted violently in Kfar Darom and in settlements in West Bank of Sa Nor and Homesh look like devout Jews as the media insists on calling them. They do not talk or act as devout Jews and in fact they are not; they are fundamentalist ideologues. Orthodox and traditional religion (whether Judaism, Christianity or Islam) accept certain rules and rituals as God given. Ideologues create their own rules; they may use Holy Books to justify their action, but they are simply rationalizing for their own idiosyncratic behavior. 
They use using ideology to transgress the normal laws of any society, religious or otherwise to act violently. Fundamentalist ideology sees the world in terms of black and white. Even this does not require them to act violently. Those of us who have read of the Jews in the Dead Sea Scrolls can read of their fundamentalist ideology; however they were never actd violently. The same is not true of the zealots whom the prophet Jeremiah criticized, or the messianics who fought the Romans against the advice of leading Talmudic school known as Beit Hillel or the messianics who fought with Bar Kokhba War-Roman against the advice of the Rabbis (aside from Rabbi Akiva, Jerusalem Talmud Taanit 68). The Rabbis did not expect the Messiah to come in the immediate future.
Fundamentalism is not the problem; zealotry and violence is.
Violent Fundamentalists whether youngsters or adults no longer accept religious and civilized limits on behavior and engage in a state of collective ecstasy, during which they act in extreme ways.
According to Dr. Miriam Billig, a sociologist at the Academic College of Judea and Samaria, notes while these fundamentalists may be passionate they are in fact less emotionally attached than the settlers in Gaza who suffered through the evacuation of their own homes. (Haaretz, Aug. 22). According to a poll 59% of the settlers are having emotional problems (not surprisingly) as a result of being evacuated from Gaza (Jerusalem Post Aug. 22). It is doubtful that the lunatic fringe are having any emotional problems as they would define them. That any mental health professional would recognize their emotional problems is clear.
While their Rabbis including former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu did not advocating violence they called on soldiers to refuse to carry out their orders to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip. Shapira stated Woe be unto a soldier or policeman and woe be unto his soul if they take part in this atrocity. To the settlers they said they must do everything in their power to prevent soldiers or policemen from destroying or removing their property from their homes, and warned that whoever hands over lands to non-Jews will not have clean hands not in this world and not in the next." Another Rabbi (Yisrael Rosen of Alon Shvut) stated it this way:  "We are currently at the height of a `civil war' - not between policemen and soldiers and the evacuees, but the height of a bitter and difficult national culture war over the face of the nation, a war between faith-based nationalism and the religion of liberal democracy, a war between eternal values and ... short-term coalitions."


These Rabbis positions on the issue of relinquishing territory represents an unbending choice of the Land of Israel over the Jewish state, and their demand that soldiers who would be their followers refuse their commanders' orders presents the Orthodox Jewish soldiers with an untenable dilemma. The soldiers with very few exceptions did not follow these Rabbis; other Rabbis rejected the idea of refusal as ordained by Jewish law or theology. In fact we must recognize that the majority of Rabbis opposed the extremists’ but not all. Rabbi Shalom Wolpe said after the disengagement "There are families which have truly gone through a holocaust, and - heaven forbid - another Holocaust may now befall the people of Israel." A Holocaust – how many Jews died in the Gaza disengagement? What did the extremist Rabbis expect to be the reaction of the Hilltop Youth known to be unstable?
The fundamentalists thinking has been called a ‘cosmic war’ disease; these believers are fighting a Holy War.  One of its premises is apocalyptic thinking, a very ancient disease. Among its symptom are panic, terrifying nightmares and dreamlike magical thinking. God will miraculously save us. (This kind of thinking is of course against Jewish theology.)These diseased persons believe they are the Holy Elected Ones and will survive. But who chooses the Holy Elected ones? Are they not remarkably narcissistic? Can Holy Elected ones be false prophets? Were Dr. Goldstein who murdered 29 Arabs, Yigal Amir who murdered Yitzhak Rabin, Eden Natan Zada and Asher Weissgan who each murdered four Arabs all wearing Kippot (skullcaps) - devout Jews chosen to be Holy Elected One? As Moshe Feiglin one of the leaders of this movement stated while not advocating violence ‘To die or to conquer the hill’.

One of the root causes of fundamentalist behavior is feelings of humiliation. How can those blessed by God as His holy remnants not be understood by all the world? What they cannot understand is that Gods logic has no relation to human logic. Why did God let his favorite person in the world Job suffer and his ten children die? Why did God let Rabbi Akiva, one of his favorite Sages, be horribly tortured and martyred? We cannot know, but that is not acceptable to these fundamentalists; they insist on not only understanding Gods logic but that His be theirs.
Fundamentalists from all religions exhibit a similar mutant strand of a religious disease, a virus which sometimes seems like a pandemic. In Christianity this virus became anti-Semitism; in Islam they became suicide bombers. The reason different strains of fundamentalism seem so alike is to paraphrase Louis Claude de Saint- Martin they speak the same language because they come from the same country.