A rabbi was once asked to debate a scientist about tensions between Judaism and science. The scientist began his presentation by admitting that he knew little about Judaism, but from what he understood it could be basically summed up in the rule, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" (which is the Christian reformulation of Hillel's dictum, "That which is hateful to you do not do to others.") The rabbi, a witty fellow, responded, "I don't know much about science, but I understand it can be pretty much summed up by the verse, "Twinkle, twinkle little star . . . "
Though perhaps apocryphal, the story makes an important point: Even the smartest people can say very stupid things when addressing subjects about which they know little. For further confirmation of the point one need look no further than Barbara Kay's "The Fanatics within Judaism" (The National Post, July 28).
Ms. Kay begins her assault on haredi Jews (literally, those who tremble before God) in Israel by citing a work of fiction – Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union – and nothing she writes suggests she knows haredim other from the pages of fiction. (She twice refers to Chabon's work, as if his fantasies constitute proof of hers.)
Mrs. Kay provides neither a theological definition nor sociological markers of haredi Jews, but informs National Post readers that there are approximately 1.3 million of them in Israel. That estimate is roughly twice the most frequently cited number of between 700,000-800,000 haredim.
The gravamen of Ms. Kay/Chabon's charge against the haredim is that "the most eschatologically ambitious among them harbour lunatic urges to 'force history,' to hasten the arrival of a dilatory Messiah." She does not inform her readers of the source of this nugget, quotes not a single haredi Jew, and adduces no evidence.
Ms. Kay is badly confused. Except for Chabad, a sui generis movement, which arouses fierce opposition in the haredi world itself, the idea of bringing the Messiah, much less "forcing" his arrival is anathema in haredi thought. (And within Chabad, the only means for "bringing" the Messiah are good deeds -- nothing remotely related to Ms. Kay's fantasy of Jewish fanatics bombing the Al Aksa mosque.) The almost universally accepted haredi view is that the Third Temple will not come about through human agency, but will only be rebuilt through direct Divine intervention.
On the basis of bitter historical precedent, haredi Jews are extremely wary of all messianic speculation and calculations concerning his arrival. Unlike Orthodox Jews associated with the national religious movement in Israel, who refer to the creation of the State as "the beginning of the flowering of the Redemption," haredim are reluctant to engage in such theological periodization, and particularly so with respect to the modern state of Israel.
Passivism, not lunatic messianism, more accurately characterizes the haredim. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, leader of "separationist," or austritt, stream of 19th century German Orthodoxy captured this strain of haredi thought in his commentary of the Av HaRachamim (Father of Compassion) prayer, in which Jews call upon God to take vengeance for the blood of His servants spilled in His service.
Rabbi Hirsch writes that believing Jews have at once been the most persecuted of people and the least vengeful: "[O]ur people have entrusted to God and God alone the task of avenging the blood of their murdered fathers and mothers, wives and children. This promise sustained them and kept them free of bitter and burning lust for vengeance against their oppressors and murderers."
In at least one respect, Ms. Kay apes Hamas propaganda. Hamas recently incited Arab rioting, when the ancient Churva Synagogue, destroyed by Jordanian Legionnaires in 1948, reopened. According to Hamas propaganda, the rebuilding of a synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, over a quarter mile from the Temple Mount, heralded a Jewish plot to rebuild the Temple. In a similar vein, Ms. Kay finds in the efforts of a "corps of Haredim in Jerusalem [to construct] an intricate scale model of Solomon's Temple" evidence of a similar plot.
Well, yes, there a number of such models in Israel, and there have been for many years. Ms. Kay may recall that descriptions of the Tabernacle (itself the model for Solomon's Temple), its vessels, and the priestly vestments fill approximately a third of the Biblical book of Exodus, and descriptions of the Temple rites most of Leviticus. So it is hardly surprising that believing Jews should study these matters and recreate models, though, curiously for Ms. Kay's thesis, almost all the models of the Temple and its vessels has been built by scholars associated with the national religious stream of Orthodoxy, not by haredim.
At a time when Palestinian leaders continue to deny the existence of the first and second temples and any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, and when, according to a new report of Israel's State Comptroller, Palestinian construction work on the Temple Mount is rapidly destroying all evidence of the temples that once stood there, all Jews in Israel need to know of the historical reality of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
Models of two temples are vital teaching tools in instilling that historical consciousness. Only in the "wildly inventive plot in the Chabon novel," do they constitute something more sinister.