Tuesday, June 3, 2008

All in the Name of Halacha

For as long as there has been “organized religion” there have been their critics. Those who opposed “organized religion” offered cogent arguments ranging from the banal to the sublime. Critics have argued that it is the "organized religions” that are responsible for so much bloodshed and war over the course of human history. It was “organized religion” that was responsible for the dehumanization of cultures foreign to their faith system; development of concepts and principles such as manifest destiny; collusion with colonialism with the intent of dominating other cultures; as well as the wholesale murder of those who didn’t share in Christian values and faith. Others pointed out the moral and spiritual bankruptcy exhibited by organized religions.

I have always been sympathetic to these arguments, but somehow keeping Judaism out of the equation for two reasons: Judaism isn’t a religion but a remarkably profound cultural statement encompassing, but not limited to or by religious values. Judaism has always appeared to be the victim rather than the perpetrator.

These two points of reference eliminating Judaism from the equation is no longer relevant nor has it been relevant for many years. What has changed the equation is the State of Israel. As a student, I as well as many others prided ourselves that as a people we didn’t populate the prisons of America. Jews for the most part weren’t alcoholics, drug users or dealers, pimps, thieves or murderers. Enter Israel, and the Zionist quest for normalizing the Jewish people and the equation has profoundly changed. The Jewish people have become like every other people. Israeli prisons are loaded with every conceivable kind of convict from the highly respected white collar criminals to the lowest of the low-pedophiles.

In a perverse sort of way all of this is not only understandable but forgivable. After all, it is living proof that the Zionist luminaries and ideologues like A.D. Gordon, Max Nordau, Leo Pinsker, Berl Katznelson and others were vindicated. The normalization of the Jews has been accomplished. Perhaps it was unavoidable, because in a democratic state these anomalies exist. Important to note however is that these marginal anomalies are exceptions rather than the rule; furthermore these behaviors aren’t institutionalized, but the acts of individuals, unlike in other cultures where anti-social behaviors were institutionalized i.e. anti-semitism.

“Organized religion”, however, has proven these Zionist thinkers right. They are no different than any other “organized religion”. What has saved Judaism from the fate of “organized religion” hitherto has been the fact that while it may have been organized it wasn’t institutionalized and secondly, it was virtually powerless without a state. (In the first and second commonwealths we saw the corruption of the priests as well as the barbarous behavior at times of our ancestors. Our prophets were witness to and wrote about it repeatedly). Israel having institutionalized “organized religion” has given them the power by which they can abuse not only the system who by virtue they exist but also individuals.

The details of the conversion issue important as it is and affecting so many in Israelis isn’t the point of this essay. These issues were addressed previously in mumerous essays where I maintained then as I do today that there is no halachic basis whatsoever for rescinding a conversion. What does concern me is the victimization of innocent Jewish converts and their families by a group of ruthless thugs intent on having their way, no matter the cost to others, hiding behind the sanctimonious and corrupted veil of halacha buttressed by their aggregation of power ceded to them by the state.

In retrospect it would appear that the religious component of Judaism is no different than any other “organized religion”. While other “organized religions” exploited, killed and tortured (mentally and physically) all in the name of Christ, our rabbis would probably have been guilty of their share of exploitation and corruption (had they the power and opportunity) as they are today, all in the name of halacha.