As a follow-up to an earlier post, I have a new column in Moment magazine on the Chabad rabbi who recently wrote that “The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way… Kill men, women and children (and cattle).” Manis Friedman, unfortunately, isn’t alone in our world in claiming divine sanction as he presents evil as morality. There’s a pattern that ties him to other people, in Judaism and in other faiths, who do the same:
Friedman may think he’s presenting old-time Judaism. In fact, his words are an example of the thoroughly modern phenomenon known as fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are frightened by the openness of the modern world, by the autonomy of the individual, by modern insistence on reaching truth through reasoned debate. They want to feel certain that they are following an unambiguous religious authority.
That desire makes humanistic religious ethics appear suspect in their eyes. After all, the Western philosophic tradition, from the Greeks to Kant, can also produce ethics that stress the value of every human being. If one follows such ethics, the fundamentalist worries, how can one be sure one is doing God’s will? Perhaps one has been misled by a morality “of human invention,” to quote Friedman.
The fundamentalist solution has several elements. First, insist on heteronomy, on an authority outside oneself. Second, assign that role to a person or a book that speaks for God. Third, assert that the sacred text has an obvious “literal” meaning. And fourth, proudly derive from that text the willingness to believe and to do things that are scandalous in ethical terms—indeed, that defy your own basic moral instincts. That way, you can be sure you are following the outside authority. Declare, for instance, that “the Jewish way” requires killing “men, women and children (and cattle)” in times of war.
Read the full article here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.