Saturday, November 05, 2005

Seth Chalmer's Blog: Chabad On Fundamentalism

Seth Chalmer's Blog: Chabad On Fundamentalism
Chabad's website has an article addressing the question: are there Jewish fundamentalists? Their excellent answer is that Judaism cannot tolerate fundamentalism.

Remember: Chabad-Lubavitch is a branch of Hasidic Judaism. Lubavitcher men all wear tzit-tzit (knotted garment fringes), head coverings and beards. They will not change a syllable of the traditional liturgy, nor (shamefully) will they allow women full rights of worship. They would be very sad that I blog on Shabbat, as I am now. They are unbending in believing the literal truth of Torah.

So how are they themselves not fundamentalists? I'll let the rabbi who wrote the article explain:

"I'm not sure what your definition of fundamentalist is, but here's mine: A fundamentalist is someone who believes that theirs is the only true path, and anyone who does not follow their ways is evil. The fundamentalist sees only two options for the rest of humanity - join us or suffer the consequences...

"...Quite simply, we don't believe that Judaism is for everyone. Jewish thought is comfortable with the belief that there are many paths to G-d; Judaism is the path for Jews, and non-Jews can find Him in different ways. They can live a moral and good life without keeping the laws or sharing the beliefs of Judaism. Anyone can join Judaism by converting, but this is not necessary - a non-Jew can be...close to G-d..."

May I stress that this group is not considered liberal within Judaism? (As I say, they're oppressive to women.) This group is not only Orthodox, but Hasidic. (A Hasid is often defined as "he who does more than the law requires."). But still, for all that, they don't think only Jews go to heaven.

So when people make generalized statements about how every religion has its fundamentalists, let's not lose sight of common sense. Some religions (mainstream Islam, mainstream Christianity) see only one path to God. Others (Sikhism, Hinduism, Judaism, certain minority brands of Islam and Christianity) honestly don't.

This isn't to say that all religions don't have bad things in their histories. Nobody's perfect. But we should be able to criticize specific religions for specific things without quickly adding that everybody has its Jerry Falwells. Some religions and sects have a lot more Jerry Falwells than others, who occupy differing places regarding fringe and mainstream.

1 comment:

Seth Chalmer said...

I am the author of this post from years ago. Will the person who runs this blog please contact me? I have taken down my old blog because my views have changed. I would no longer say that Chabad is "oppressive" to anyone. This post is now high on my Google rankings and that's unpleasant for me, because it no longer accurately reflects my thinking. Please contact me at I would appreciate it if you could remove this post. Thank you.