The Chametz of Extremism
Less than a few weeks since the start of this new atrocious war in the Ukraine and already the Kiruv YouTube extremists are calling it “Gog and Magog” and stirring the same nonsensical Messianic rhetoric that gains clicks and promotes the literal interpretation of Midrash and Kabbalah.
There remains of course the obvious issue that previously the virus was the tell-tale sign of the “end-times” – this was the case, I am certain with the 2nd world war, the Spanish flu and several other major geopolitical events in history, that people’s fears became manifest and expressed within their religious longing for salvation/
These popular teachers excel at the ability to tap into the fears of their students and followers in order to monetize these issues and use human tragedy and suffering as soapbox for their own egotistical rollercoaster, drawing quotes from the most eclectic of sources to show their “profound understanding” into modern world events –
The problem is that this is all nonsense – our people, it turns out, have a very short term memory when it comes to this subject.
The videos filled with screaming, ranting and raving about the virus were immensely popular and almost immediately went viral worldwide but were ultimately entirely incorrect.
Why such teachers are still held in high regard after their “prophesies” and predictions concerning so many issues have simply been shown to be lacking in intelligence, incorrect on a factual basis and more than often based on sources that were never literal to begin with, is due to our decision to ignore the obvious – aside from viruses, wars and social issues, these charlatans teach on aliens, the ever present threat of a Gehinnom (seemingly more based on Dante’s Inferno than traditional sources), wasting seed and take a specific attitude towards modernity, women and multiculturalism that whilst perhaps sounding “Charedi” and authentic is actually a poor representation of the various and different Hashgophic approaches to life – these are often the same individuals set on slandering major Jewish educators and promoting a unique kind of digital religious extremism.
This style of Rabbinical rhetoric is deeply unfortunate; the mechanism inspiring so many to connect to our peoples deeper wisdom, religious teachings and community is more often built on egotism and extreme statements that are more often than not are proved to be totally inaccurate – should any chosen element (be it the virus, the war or other trends) turn out to actually be a passing experience and not the harbinger of doom or salvation the immediate application of “we were not worthy”, “our prayers saved mankind” and other common excuses are implemented to avoid the truth: that no one currently alive has any idea what will be and prophesy as a mechanism is no longer found since the fall of the temple in Jerusalem:
Within the Guide for the Perplexed, Rambam discusses the physical, emotional, and intellectual prerequisites to prophecy. At the conclusion of the chapter, he explains that loss of the prerequisite required conditions caused the loss of prophecy, and also points to Scriptural allusions:
“The same circumstance, prevalence of sadness and dullness, was undoubtedly the direct cause of the interruption of prophecy during the exile: for can there be any greater misfortune for man than this: to be a slave bought for money in the service of ignorant and voluptuous masters, and powerless against them as they unite in themselves the absence of true knowledge and the force of all animal desires? Such an evil state has been prophesied to us in the words, “They shall run here and there to seek the word of God, but shall not find it”; “Her king and her princes are among the nations, the law is no more, her prophets also find no vision from Hashem”. This is a real fact, and the cause is evident; the pre-requisites [of prophecy] have been lost. In the Messianic period–may it soon commence–prophecy will therefore again be in our midst, as has been promised by Hashem.”
What is perhaps more apparent to those who have some exposure to mystical teachings of Judaism is that these teachers seems to lack any Mesorah for their approach, the idea that one can apply such teachings beyond their unique subject matter as a metaphysical science to stories in the newspapers is perhaps tabloid worthy but it is not within the context of the study whatsoever.
It draws forth times when other world calamities have occurred and popular speakers have attempted to blame modesty, talking in synagogues and impure thoughts for volcanos, hurricanes, sicknesses and other human tragedies – we live in a time when we can no longer accept this as true, the vast majority of us have seen enough to understand that the world and its more climatic events are not determined by our own actions (or lack thereof) – we are actually only in charge of our own small circle of influence and this is already enough responsibility for us to squander or celebrate. More often in generations past this style of finding blame within the community for these often terrible events was geared towards betterment; learn more Torah, give more charity, be kinder and more understanding to each other as a mechanism for dealing with that beyond our control. Today the focus has shifted and tends to be most unjustly focused on the blame of Jewish women – Tzniut (modesty) in particular, we cannot pretend to be a advanced thinking culture if we desire to blame hurricanes on the colour of stockings or global pandemics on the length of skirts, adding insult to intellectual injury is the very obvious fact that in different communities different standards and patterns of dress have evolved and this mechanism tends to focus solely on one style of religious dress that is almost certainly borrowed from Christian Europe.
I would argue that the entire mindset we are facing and forced to deal with is a direct result of the influence of Christian Europe; during the Black Death and other plagues that swept through medieval Europe it was the Jews who inevitably were blamed for “poisoning the wells” as well various libels levelled at the community, the most famous being the terrible blood libels in Europe focused on our observance of Passover – have we too developed a blame ourselves mindset? Without European Christians to blame us for natural disasters, wars and human suffering we have turned upon ourselves – the ultimate expression of victimization.
Passover is a time that we celebrate questions and ask our next generation to partake in our cultural narrative and enjoy the rich traditions of the seder but it must also remain a time that we explore our Judaism and its relevance and purpose to the modern paradigm we live in, many of our current practices and collected worldview are actually reflections from a fairly recent chapter of Medieval Jewish history, far from being authentic to ancient Israelite practice or even reflections of the Sages of our Talmud – more often they reflect superstition, near starvation conditions and an environment of darkness against our people: from this place we developed stringencies and coping mechanisms to deal with the situation but many of these customs and certainly this attitude are no longer appropriate or helpful to our communities in 2022.
Beyond the largely fruitless discussions of the stringencies undertaken during Passover by certain communities, we must return the focus on the larger cultural issues within the Jewish people; we have created a entire Kollel generation that lacks financial stability and education relevant to the modern workplace, a toxic worldview that removes the faces of our holiest women from magazines & adverts and restricts their voices within our communities as educators and leaders of our people, we are allowing the most extreme and least scholarly an open platform to influence our youth with their toxic extremism and be the spokespersons of our most sacred teachings, we have allowed the process of divorce to become weaponized as a tool of emotional and financial control, we are allowing groups that are openly messianic to run the majority of our Kashrut, Safrut and Rabbinical community positions worldwide.
Where is our blame and self-loathing now when we actually require it?
Are we truly more focused maintaining the illusion of the status quo rather than open our eyes to the reality before us?
How is it that the Torah leadership is able to be silent on these and many other issues?
Whatever the reason for their silence it is time for us as a people collectively to bring the voice of much needed change, more than anything Passover is about freedom and the end of exile – these mindsets and non-Halachic practices belonging to the darkness of exile are chains holding us back from our destiny.
May it be Hashem’s will that we find within ourselves strength to move forwards towards the coming redemption, to remove the Chametz from our homes and the honesty and openness to face the issues within our communities, to draw from our rich tradition and from our unique position in this technological modernity that forces us to question our culture and mythology – may we have faith in ourselves and our people and ultimately in humanities divine mission in this world to make Eden from chaos, to build a moral caring society for ourselves and our children – a world without the evils of extremism.
Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2022 ©
 See my other article: https://rabbigoldschmidt.com/the-idol-of-literalism/
 Mindset or worldview
 Guide for the perplexed: 2:36
 Amos: 8:12
 Lamentations: 2:9