Monday, February 18, 2008

Religion and extremism

A recent pronouncement by leading rabbis from the national religious movement calls for exempting religious soldiers in the IDF from participating in army training classes being taught by female soldiers. A careful reading of their p'sak halacha reveals the intellectual dishonesty and the unfortunate trend of Heredization in the national religious movement.

The founding fathers of the national religious would have never dreamt of making such a pronouncement. This movement was dedicated to integrating halacha and the state, and to encouraging religious people to participate in broader national life. In the past 15 years, we have seen a gradual but consistent slide to stricter halachic rulings in various areas, such as kashrut, mixed youth groups and army practices. It is as if they have to prove to the cheredim that they are just as "kosher", but in doing so, they are leading their public into increasing isolation from Israeli society. It also causes "moderates" in the camp to ignore the rabbis altogether (like me).

An analysis of the rabbi's call reveals their halachic thinking. You begin with a point of view, based on your world view, ethics or politics. The position may or may not have merit. (My opinion is that there is logic in their concerns regarding ethical norms in the army). Then you begin to quote biblical verses, taken totally out of context, to support the view and give it halachic validity. This is very similar to how many rulings are derived in the talmud. Note that the rabbis do not quote any classic halachic sources that address the issue, either because there aren't any, or worse, they are not applicable. I wouldn't have a problem with this except for one glaring inconsistency : It is used in one direction only-- in the direction of strictness. If the rabbis truly had the courage to take Jewish law into their own hands, they would use their authority to eliminate all kinds of laws that aren't relevant in our day and relieve significant hardship (extra days of niddah, shimita, and aguna for example). Instead, they simultaneuously adhere to the talmudic rulings (as though they are immutable), while piling on strict rulings based on their own logic and world view and give it the authority of the Torah.

The rabbis think that they are being far-sighted but in fact the opposite is true-- they are further alienating Judaism and religion from the general population and bring disgrace to the national religious movement.

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