“I hope god smites you for your blatant disrespect for rabbis in general who have light years of experience in life more than you..”
“You’re the dog that the satan has to send to bark against him to try and stop people from doing teshuva (repenting).”
“If you have an ounce of fear from God about the punishment you’re gonna get from trying to prevent teshuva, you delete this blog right now and cry until tomorrow for what you said…People that have no fear are the ones that die from their stupid and reckless actions.”
These are just a few of the lovely responses that I have received both publicly and privately from young adults and students over the last week after writing a blog post against a rabbi known for making radical, horrible statements in his public lectures.
I am writing this article to speak about the growing trend of radical and extremist rabbis and the danger that they present to Judaism. Before getting into the specifics, it is necessary to understand a bit of history.
As we sit here in California in the year 2015, we may not realize that great social change is taking a hold of the Jewish community. In the last 35-45 years, the concept of kiruv — bringing non-Orthodox Jews into the Orthodox fold — has become a larger and larger part of the Orthodox Jewish mentality. This is an attempt to reverse the trends of growing Jewish assimilation and lessening religious observance. Organizations such as Aish HaTorah (est. 1974) and Ohr Someach (est. 1970), along with many other institutions, have been established with the sole purpose of convincing Jews of all types to become Orthodox. These groups excel at presenting Judaism in a very black and white manner: they offer many “proofs” that the Torah is true, with the goal of convincing teenagers and young adults to make radical life changes based off of a few inspiring lectures. While most of these groups’ teachers are respectful, every once in a while a teacher will arise who is very dangerous to young and easily malleable minds.
Most people who are able to be convinced that Judaism is true based off of a couple of nonsensical “proofs” probably are not the most rational thinkers to begin with. While I do not mean to insult any group, it is necessary to fully explain this increasingly common danger to our Jewish communities. We are witnessing an increase in charismatic, extremist rabbis who may sound crazy to you and me but can be very convincing to a young and immature mind. These young minds can be convinced of horrible things such as cancer being caused by immodest dressing, natural disasters being caused by homosexuals, and disagreement with their views being deserving of harsh punishment.
John Horgan, a psychologist who specializes in religious terrorism, responded to the question of why young adults join Islamic State: “They want to find something meaningful for their life. Some are thrill-seeking, some are seeking redemption.”
Many with these extremist mentalities are not mentally ill or even the slightest bit crazy. Rather, they are people looking for friends or an ideology that makes them feel important or can give meaning to their life. If a rabbi tells them that by preaching his ideals, God will bring them reward, they will listen. It is so very dangerous because we are no longer dealing with rational thought, but rather we are dealing with the deep-rooted psychology of what people will do to feel important.
As we all care deeply about the future of our Jewish community, we must fully understand what we are up against: many of the followers of these radical movements are college students and young adults our age. In fact, some of the hate-filled messages I received were from people I have met before in Los Angeles. These damaging ideologies will not simply disappear from the Jewish conversation; rather, as a community we need to make sure that extremists are not allowed to speak in our school, synagogues, or anywhere else that they can potentially infect impressionable minds.