In December, 1999, Jorn Barger included quotations from the book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel by Israel Shahak and Milton Mezvisnky in his Robot wisdom WebLog. Ami Isseroff, editor of Mideast Web, responded to the material quoted with the following letter to Barger. I include this material with Mr. Isseroff's permission.

Leonard Grossman

Dear Jorn Barger,

I refer to your remarks about Jewish fundamentalism.

There is certainly a large right wing movement in Israel, and some of these people are religious, but most of what you have quoted does not stand the light of objective analysis.

The notion of "Jewish Fundamentalism" was invented as a propaganda ploy to counter fears of Moslem Fundamentalism, though there are certainly real enough problems with regard to religious fanaticism in Israel. There are backward elements in Jewish life and in Israel - there are rabid religious people and also rabid nationalists. The two categories do not wholly intersect.

Rabbi Yosef is cited by Shahak as a rabid nationalist. [To the contrary, as] you can see in any Israeli newspaper, Ovadia Yossef is at the center of those seeking compromise with the Palestinians and Syrians - though not everyone in his political party agrees. He believes in returning territory to make peace.

Rabbi Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party (and actual leader in many ways) is certainly a medieval religious fanatic and has some very odd notions that he makes known from time to time (is urine kosher ? is one of the questions he answers in his halachic rulings!). But Ovadia Yossef has been identified with the cause of peace for many years. So part of what Shahak has written looks like ordinary ignorance to people who have kept up with developments in Israel.

The following is certainly a great distortion:

"It is insufficient, if not folly, to advocate Palestinian rights without understanding and referring to the principal cause of the denial of those rights: Jewish fundamentalism in general and the messianic variety in particular.

As noted, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, bona fide fundamentalist, is in favor of territorial compromise with the Palestinians. There are lots of different interpretations of the halacha The most fanatic Messianists are the Neturei Karta sect and the Satmar Hassidim, all of whom are anti-Zionist and claim that only the Messiah can restore the Jewish nation to our homeland and that the state is therefore an act against God. They want to give all of Israel back to the Palestinian Arabs.

As for the rest, it is certainly true that the halacha is a reactionary body of law - anti-women etc. However, for the most part fundamentalist Halachic Jewry has been opposed to Zionism. In fact, in the sense that fundamentalism is the conversion of religion into a modern ideology, it was opposition to Zionism that occassioned the birth of "Jewish fundamentalism," in the Agudath Yisrael movement.

The Moslem law regarding women is much worse than Jewish law, and the Quran has many openly antisemitic remarks - some of which are used in sermons to this day. There are not a few outmoded and shameful things in Christian theology as well - but nobody drags them up unless they are looking for trouble, or unless they are someone like Rev. Falwell. So what is the point of quoting these one-sided and distorted laws? They certainly have nothing to do with Palestinian Arab rights. The Halacha is based on several books, including (mostly) the Shulhan Aruch and the Talmud. These books reflect the mores of many centuries and opinions of many people. There is nothing in any of those books that precludes rights for the Palestinians, or peace, and there is not a single word in anything that you have quoted that proves that there is such a thing anywhere. All you have quoted is an assertion that it is so, plus the tomfoolery of idiots like Peretz about why bus accidents occur. What does that have to do with Palestinian rights? There is not one line concerning prohibition of return of land or any other issue in the negotiations.

On the contrary, the Shulhan Aruh and the Talmud, like the Quran and the Old and New Testaments, are filled with injunctions to "Love Peace and Pursue Peace," treat the stranger kindly, love thy neighbor as thyself etc.

The principle upon which Ovadia Yosef bases his support for return of territories is "Pikuach Nefesh" - saving endangered lives - which is above all other commandments according to most interpretations of the Halacha.


Ami Isseroff

Note: For a different and more expansive view of Talmud and Halacha see materials collected at The Talmud Resources page.

Return to Trust or Consequences The January, 2000, issue of Reflections of a Modemjunkie.

This page hosted and prepared by Leonard Grossman 01/10/2000 5:02:42 PM