Rabbi Lau’s Religion Problem

Haim Watzman

When Rabbi Benny Lau began his Shabbat HaGadol talk at south Jerusalem’s Ramban synagogue last Saturday afternoon, he said his lesson originated in anger and frustration. The climax came when he said, “If I were a young person today, I would abandon religion.”

Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath that precedes Pesach, is traditionally a time for community rabbis to teach their congregations the fine points of the laws of Pesach and to offer some pointers for the coming Seder ceremony. Rabbi Lau barely spoke about Pesach; instead he offered—in traditional Jewish fashion, via a discussion of Talmudic passages—a call for greater openness and tolerance within the religious community. His particular target was the abrogation of personal responsibility religious Jews. Blind obedience to rabbinical authority used to be a defining trait of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, one of the things that divided it from the modern Orthodox community. But over the last couple decades more and more Jews brought up and educated in Zionist religious institutions have increasingly sought to avoid thinking for themselves, on halachic, political, and social matters. The result has been a desecration of God’s name, as rabbis claiming to speak for Israel’s religious Jews have revoked conversions, demanded the relocation of a hospital emergency room, and committed a series of other political and religious acts that are an embarrassment to their heritage and a real danger to Israeli society as a whole.

This sort of religious community can only repel thinking young people who are unwilling to abandon their freedom to think for themselves, he declared.

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Feiglin and Fascism

Gershom Gorenberg After the Likud primary, I wrote briefly here on the unprecedented power that Moshe Feiglin has gained in that party. My new piece in The American Prospect provides more information on Feiglin, his beliefs, and the danger he poses: Until recently, Feiglin hasn’t hidden his goals. On the Jewish Leadership website, a Hebrew … Read more Feiglin and Fascism

Nonsense Detector: Obama and Islam; Orthodoxy of the Apostate; Hagee and Riskin

Gershom Gorenberg


Last month, military historian Edward Luttwack used the pulpit of the New York Times op-ed page to offer a solution to the American right’s burning problem: How can Barack Obama be attacked as both a dangerous Muslim and as the follower of a dangerous black pastor? (As I wrote , this is difficult even for those used to believing six impossible things before breakfast.) Luttwack argued that Obama is really an apostate Muslim, subject to the death penalty in Islam.

The Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, has now reached the judgment that the article should never have appeared. Here’s his basic standard:

Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture.

Hoyt interviewed five scholars of Islam;

Read moreNonsense Detector: Obama and Islam; Orthodoxy of the Apostate; Hagee and Riskin

Divine Press Office: Defense Team Fired

"The Tzvi Yehudah tape" – that’s the name my son immediately gave the recording of John Hagee explaining the Holocaust as God’s way of forcing the Jews to return. He was referring to Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the spiritual father of the Gush Emunim movement.

Tzvi Yehudah Kook was the teacher of many of the rabbis who have continued to created the theology of the religious right in Israel – a theology in which all political developments point to approaching redemption and in which Jewish possession of the entire Land of Israel has been transformed into the supreme commandment. He is the central figure in propagating a radical, theologized nationalism as Judaism.

And my son is right: Tzvi Yehudah Kook gave practically the same theological explanation of the Holocaust as Hagee does:

Read moreDivine Press Office: Defense Team Fired

Swimsuit extras: Pipes Dreams

Reading your last post , Haim, I suspected that you’ve been hacking into my thoughts. Not about swimsuits per se , but about Daniel Pipes’s curious belief that swimming in mixed company is a democratic duty.

Strangely, I spent a day once with Pipes. A dovish friend of mine with an interest in the Middle East was then active in the Middle East Forum (MEF), Pipes’s organization. I’d recently published my book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount , and my friend arranged for me to give two talks for the MEF – a lunch in New York, a dinner in Philadelphia. We took the train together between the two cities. Pipes was polite, energetic, intense. His eyes moved quickly when he talked. Did I say he was intense? He reminded me, strangely, of Bassam Jirrar, a Hamas-linked sheikh whom I’d interviewed for the book, and who’d been amazingly hospitable while explaining numerological hints in the Quran that Israel will be destroyed in 2022.

Sometime during the day, as I remember, Pipes gave me an article of his to read,

Read moreSwimsuit extras: Pipes Dreams