Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Mai 2006

2.2. Models of Victimization in Contemporary Cultures
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Fatima Festic (Los Angeles) 

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Cultural-Religious Sources of Messianic Extremism and its Evolution in Post-Colonial Times

Israel Idalovichi (Achva College of Education, Israel & Bolzano-Bozen Free University, Italy)



This research examines the gap between religious messianic extremists who seek to impose a radical fundamentalist order, and the forces of pragmatism that strive for society’s progress and well-being by employing rational, utilitarian considerations. In Israel, the national orthodox fundamentalist adherents wield great power and energies in the battle over the Land of Israel, especially in Post-Colonial times. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to provide an overview and analysis of those young people who incorporate the beliefs of the most extreme national Orthodox settlers and to suggest possible solutions of their integration into the mainstream of the cultural-religious structure of Israeli society. Applying a pragmatic philosophy as a common base, mediating between orthodox religious, messianic national religious, liberal and secular worldviews of members of Israeli society should be a better starting point for a fruitful dialogue between the different groups. Prophetic pragmatism is a positive enlightening tool to overcome the contradictions between religion and democratic principles so that religious leaders and educators will have no difficulty in adjusting to the realities of democratic life in a post-colonial society.


Cultural-Religious Sources of Messianic Extremism and its Evolvement in Post-Colonial Times

In recent years, in direct contrast to the proclaimed privatization of religion in Western societies, religious extremism has become more pronounced throughout the public domain all over the world. Many observers have been attempting to identify this trend and, more often than not, ridicule it as either a transitory fashion of the New Age, or an "end of millennium" syndrome, or even as a phenomenon that belongs to another planet, i.e. the Islamic milieu. Many other intellectuals, publicists and researchers with a higher awareness and knowledge of history, culture and religion, identify modern religious extremism and radical fundamentalism as a phenomenon that has caused a metamorphosis of the entire vision, perspective and actions of religious faith in the last decades.

At the present time, there is sufficient proof that the deepest gap splitting many countries and societies in the world is that between religious extremism which seeks to impose a radical fundamentalist order and the forces of pragmatism which strive for society’s progress and well-being by employing rational, utilitarian considerations. Religious radicalism is different from any other political or social movement, for it is based on a belief in absolute divine precepts that are not negotiable, and no price is too high for their fulfilment. To such an extent, that religious radicalism inspires zealots to use violence against those who do not comply with their religious edicts, so that the seeds of radical fundamentalism could be planted all over the entire world.

The call for salvation and the assurance of messianic hopes and beliefs by different religions and religious streams are very old, as are the sources of fundamentalism. Modern religious fundamentalism rests on two foundations: a demand to live according to the extreme interpretations of the holy writings, and the contention that anyone not living in this manner will be condemned to hell or torment from an assured apocalyptic punishment. The fundamentalist ideological outlook adopts a radical viewpoint that negates any other form of life, worldview or form of faith that is not identical with its own. What is more, radical fundamentalists oppose the existence of the nation state, of civic law, of secular modern life, of personal freedom and most of the values of the Western world, which, in the eyes of the fundamentalist beholders is in a state of social-ethical, economic, political and cultural degeneration. The Western world hegemonic rule ought to be undermined by a religious fundamentalist rule that should govern the whole of human reality, although it is a part of post-colonial social-political streams. There is no justification for any other way of life or a multi-cultural or multi-religious society. Under the current conditions, such an extreme religious fundamentalism can achieve its goals only by force.

A notably open appearance of such a radical fundamentalist phenomenon came into being in Judaism and has become a powerful movement and pressure group in Israel during the last three decades. The emergence of this fundamentalist trend has been interpreted as a response to a crisis of the values and identity in Israeli society, and as an extreme expression of wider changes in Zionism and the national culture in Israel. In spite of this, radical fundamentalists maintain that the religious core of their movement does not manifest itself in any crisis of values or in the rejection of previously held values, but in a search for a new system of meaning. Just the opposite holds true: all paradoxes can be interpreted according to fundamentalist rules and beliefs, and should be regarded as endeavours, obstacles and a Divine trial of faith, in order to overcome them. This cultural-religious milieu caused the naissance of the major radical religious fundamentalist movement in Israel in 1974, Gush Emunim (Block of The Faithful). Gush Emunim signifies a turning point in the whole of Israeli reality and endorses a direct and indirect attempt to replace the State and its legitimate authorities as the holders of a monopoly on setting the agenda of the nation. In order to understand the great impact of religious extremism in Israel, it is necessary to reveal the origin of this phenomenon. The starting point for such an analysis should focus on the development of the ultranationalist religious group, namely Gush Emunim. The emergence of this group three decades ago can be interpreted as the development of a new attitude to Israeli reality. In spite of the fact, that Gush Emunim’s radical fundamentalist ideology is a new phenomenon in the long history of Judaism, the roots of this ideology are deeply anchored in Jewish tradition and religion.

Jewish Orthodoxy, for instance, maintains that it alone knows God’s intentions and that there is no other valid interpretation of Judaism or any legitimate religious stream as such. This uncompromising approach leads towards regarding as the ultimate truth the location of the Word of God in the Land of Israel, namely "For the Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem," so that it is interpreted not solely as a prophetic vision but as the foundations of a future Jewish fundamentalism. In spite of everything, the highest authority Jewish Orthodoxy alludes to, is the threat that those who do not adopt the ways of the Torah and the strict Jewish Halacha (the entire body of Jewish law and tradition) will meet a bitter, unpleasant end.

An additional prayer that has religious as well as practical activist implementations is the invocation of the desire to "Renew our days as of yore", but what does this mean? Is it that God through his Messiah will reinstate the Third Temple and gather all People of Israel in the Land of Israel, an apocalyptic vision that will realize itself in the present reality? Is it that by the return of Israel to Jewish sovereignty? Does it mean the resuscitation of the First Temple period or the Second Temple period? Is the Zionist’s revival of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel a realization of this vision or should the People of Israel fight endless wars until the "true" revitalization of the old-new Messianic vision becomes a reality? There are no clear answers and so, more often than not, various figments of the imagination celebrate their triumph over actuality. The old-new Messianic vision finds its common denominator in the idea that Israel’s hope will discover its fulfilment in the restoration of divine sovereignty over all of creation. Messianic hopes are directed toward a king of the end time who will lead the people of God, now suffering and oppressed, into a better historical future. In political and moral messianism, visions of vengeance and of equalizing justice from the side of the oppressed are aimed at political and religious leaders.

It is quite evident that the Bible served as a source of literary and spiritual inspiration for the leaders of the Zionist revolution. The vision and intent of many of the founding fathers of Israel were modelled on the Second Temple, not the First. What is more, the primary strategy of Israel’s Fathers of the nation was one major civil religion in the new Israeli State, so that modern Israel, as a successor to the Jewish independent state in the ancient times, should denigrate that part of traditional culture that originated in the Diaspora. Thus in Israel, as in other non-totalitarian states, private religious, cultural and economic institutions operate in a distinctly autonomous manner although they remain subject to the general laws of the State, including laws governing the management of such institutions.

The secular-socialist worldview of the Fathers of the nation became the official policy of the State. From that very beginning, the founders ignored the fact that the concepts and the ideas of Torah are very powerful and have a high moral impact on the entire Jewish population, as well as very powerful, authoritative and determined rabbinical judgment. The adoption of democracy marked a break from the Halahic orthodox conception of Jewish polity and sovereignty. The rule of rabbis and scholars of rabbinic law gave way to the rule of the entire citizenry. Consequently, the secular-socialist Zionist revolution, practically and theoretically as well, remains through its authority incomplete, and this left the country in a state of great confusion.

The State’s law and authority ought to replace the concepts of authority and autonomy of Jewish tradition, which over the ages has referred to the rabbinical fundamental controversy, which is not just an historical matter. Engaging in debate about the autonomy of religion and its authority over the entire private and public life is a desirable part of religious life, not merely a social imperative. This power and authority derives primarily from the traditional texts, although the meaning and significance of these concepts have changed almost beyond recognition over the centuries. The expectations of the Fathers of the nation believed that public spheres, which are "neutral" from the standpoint of Jewish religious law, and rabbinical decisions, must follow the internal democratic rules of the game. In addition, it was expected that the majority of the Jews would familiarize themselves or conform to the liberal democratic political game so that the impact of the rabbinic authority would be minimized to the private domain.

Yet in spite of this, this dominant idea of the Fathers of the Israeli nation proved itself wrong in the past, because the development of changes from different perspectives, mainly as a result of internal considerations, rather than external forces, such as socialist-secular Zionism. This approach of legal civil authorities upsets the delicate balance between institutional authority, laws and texts, which make up this legal system. A rabbinic scholar must use his discretion when determining whether the general law fits the individual case. This is not just a formal, logical conclusion, but takes into account a whole range of Halachic considerations. Those who choose such formalism today do so because the religious worldview has failed to cope with the outside world. The end product is a loss of moral values and a disregard for the extra-Halacha value system which serves as the cultural infrastructure for the religious person as a human being. Consequently, a religious person cannot ignore the fact that the concepts of da’at Torah (Torah view) and emunathachamim (rabbinical decisions) are powerful and authoritative. This power and authority derives primarily from the traditional texts from which they come, although the meaning and the significance of these concepts have changed almost beyond recognition (Ahituv, Josef in Safrai & Sagi, 2002).

Such a moderate attitude towards Halachic authority maintains that it can be revitalized and strengthened in contemporary times, if only leadership qualities and a broadmindedness of Israel’s rabbis would allow for it. The rabbis of the Mishnah (the oldest authoritative post-biblical collection and codification of Jewish oral laws) and the Talmud (scholarly interpretations and annotations on the Mishna that is primarily a legal compilation, although it treats matters from all areas of human interest) determined this authority. The religious beliefs of the Talmudic rabbis are clearly reflected in the decisions, ideas, and attitudes of the Talmud, which consider both ritual and social law to be of divine origin). It reveals that the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud created what they did, because they gave thought to all aspects of life around them. For instance, their familiarity with different trades, work implements and household utensils enabled them to rule on matters of impurity such as those discussed in the Talmudic tractate Kelim (Urbach, Ephraim, in Safrai & Sagi, 2002). There are certainly some cardinal questions, as to how Halachic authority and the rulings of individual rabbis managed to coexist throughout the generations, and how Jewish sovereignty in our day has added to the challenge and complexity of this dialectic. Looking at Judaism in a more comprehensive manner and realizing that the Halacha does not exist on a separate, artificial plane but rather takes into account the total Jew with all his thoughts and feelings, may pave the way for a vital but cautious development in the realm of Jewish law.

This delicate balance between the Halacha and civil law, between Orthodox Jewish society and civil society, has collapsed many times. Thus far, the most problematic religious occurrence is the national-religious fundamentalist movement that came into being after 1967 war. The 1967 war, soon given the inauspicious name "Six-Day War," conjuring up the six days of creation, was the great turning point. Today we know that Israel’s triumph was a Pyrrhic victory, but the post 1967 War feelings of strength, security, self-sufficiency and faith were anchored in the Jewish conquest of territories, especially Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem with their Biblical associations and holy sites, which invoke an effusion of religious symbols and rituals. Such an extreme religious-nationalist tendency existed in the past, in a very latent form, but had been accelerated during the following years. Nowadays, the national-religious movement represents a fusion of traditional messianism with modern nationalism, and even absorbs many ideas from their neighbours, i.e. Islamic fundamentalism.

The religious leaders of the national-religious movement Gush Emunim have proclaimed that the messianic process of the redemption of the Jewish people had begun and Jews had an essential role to play in this process. The most important religious imperative that every Jew must fulfil is the settling of the entire land of Israel. This fundamentalist movement acts as if it succeeds to reconcile in a relatively revolutionary way the civil religion of the State and Orthodox Judaism. Their pathway is grounded on a messianic dialectic: all the national goods (many of them from a socialist-secular legacy) have been confiscated and have been "baptized" in order to become a part of the messianic arsenal of this national-religious fundamentalist movement. They have pointed to the actualization of a number of signs of the messianic period that were predicted in sacred writings: the fertility of the land, the ingathering of the Jews from all parts of the world, the foundation of an independent state, Israel, and the conquest of the city of Jerusalem. Disasters and catastrophes as the Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli wars, as well as continuous Palestinian terror, are seen as "birth pangs of the Messiah." What’s more, they maintain that the Jewish people are able to reduce the "birth pangs" if they take their part in the process of redemption.

This messianic fundamentalist worldview was raised in the modern setting of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy of the Israeli society so that it absorbs many features, ritual, symbols and practical tools. However, most of their solutions to the problems of modern Jewish society in the Land of Israel find their authentic and faithful answers and elucidations according to the Biblical text and its farsighted implementations. For these reasons, every problem in the socio-political reality in contemporary times should find its suitable and reasonable answer in a similar form as in the Biblical Era. For instance, in Biblical times, the Israelites never regarded the people of Canaan as their partners in the construction of a state. They conclude that today, Arabs living in the land of Israel (along with other minorities) should have the same status. Such a social-political and cultural attitude is not acceptable by law and by the democratic sensibilities of enlightened Jews, although the impact of this fundamentalist ideology is so strong that even they do not consider the Arabs to be equal participants in the determination of Israel’s political, social, cultural or economic future. In view of the fact that the State’s law also maintains that the State’s tradition, symbols, mythology, rituals and ceremonies must express its Jewishness, the fundamentalists receive enthusiastic support even from the majority of the Jewish population.

It is true that similar contradictions are to be found in many democratic countries where the sancta of religious majorities are the official state symbols, but the question remains as to the consistency of such use of symbols with the principle of equality. Minorities are denied the spiritual motivation needed to identify with the state in which they are citizens. They cannot honestly pledge allegiance to a flag or sing a national hymn that implies that they are aliens. Many researchers, politicians and educators assume that Israelis have not yet fully grasped the implications of pluralism for state nationalism. Moreover, the majority of Israelis seem unable to overcome their paternalistic stance toward non-Jewish citizens. On the other hand, it must be admitted that their position is strengthened by the fears and threats caused by ethnic uniformity of most of the surrounding Arab states and the worldwide spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

It is obvious that this problematic state of affairs, as previously described, has had a high impact on the Israeli culture. The questions that Israeli society asks itself daily, questions that have a vital importance for the survival of every individual in this society and the society as a whole, are echoed in every Israeli classroom. In an attempt to preserve the State of Israel as both Jewish and democratic on one side, or to transmute the whole of Jewish society along with the State according to the fundamentalist Jewishness ideal, questions are asked. For example, what are to be the features of the public domain? Should it be restricted as a gesture to the sensitivity of the Orthodox or national-religious ideals? Who is to decide these matters? Are non-observant Jews to be completely free to create their own patterns and to live according to their way of life anywhere in the country? What is permissible to non-Jews? How far should messianic nationalistic visions be anchored in the Israeli cultural, social and political values?

There is already a status quo in some of these areas, but the questions are bound to persist as long as Halahic and non-Halahic Jews or messianic and liberal Jews disagree as vehemently as they do. How much of the messianic fundamentalist ideals can or should be adapted to Israel’s legislative, judicial, and administrative practices? There are those who argue that Orthodox Jewry should not secularize Jewish law by making it subservient to democratic procedures, while others, from the orthodox to the humanist, claim that such adaptation is to be expected in a modern Jewish state.

In support of social-political matters, Israel’s founding Fathers were able to compromise with the Orthodox establishment. But possible adjustments in the last years have been impossible because the messianic fundamentalist public is not able, or do not want to respond to the demands of non-Orthodox or/and liberal democratic Jewry. Neither orthodox/messianic nor democratic-minded Israelis seem to have an answer to the challenge of social-political and cultural discrepancy of the Jewish society. Orthodox Jewry and fundamentalist messianic Jewry are trapped by the limits of the Halacha’s system as well as by its extreme fundamentalist hermeneutics; liberal Jews have been unable to cope with the complexities of fashioning a new Jewish identity and to develop a clear-cut counterpoint philosophy to the messianic-fundamentalist religious challenge. The outcome is uncertain, but the main stream in Israeli society and culture is called to negate old methods and ideas and find some sort of compromise or middle ground that can guarantee the future of a united Jewish people.

What happens, then, at the crossroads where religious faith encounters non-religious life and a secular way of life? In such instances, religious faith is adamant that the religious person must assert his/her faith, which is and will always be the core of his/her identity. Faith is always fundamental and prior to any kind of knowledge or information, so that no information or system of knowledge could put in jeopardy its fundamental prominence. Furthermore, no intellectual progress, or achievement could bring to a religious person the fulfilment and well-being as religious faith can. For these reasons for a religious person, if there is any possible form of reconciliation between religious and non-religious system of ways of life, its starting point ought to be on the fundament of faith.

This type of fundamentalist syllogism denies, first, the liberal-democratic world-view for the simple reason that its starting point is grounded on the belief that religious faith continues to be a defining element of an individual’s identity and that religiously defined groups are cultural groups. Faith does not need any legitimating argument that has been approved by a pseudo-multicultural or liberal philosophy or state policy for the reason that its ultimate and eternal pillars are there and will be there for eternity. Knowledge and logic are not all-embracing needs for religious persons, especially if they are fulfilled with messianic energy and extremist faith.

The adherents of national orthodox fundamentalism reveal their great power and energy in the battle over the land of Israel. No pragmatic or real-political argument could be accepted, if it means to compromise over the land. The soil is sacred, so that any political, democratic or legal tool must be used in order to save the land from non-Jews as well as from the left wing, secular, anti-nationalist Jews. The struggle or the battle over the land is purely religious in character, an attitude that finds its resonance in the opposing partners’ world-view and deeds, namely in Islamic fundamentalism. Thus, if the battle is over land, then the land is the fundamental element on both sides of religious faith. Consequently, Jewish religious extremism provided the legitimacy for the assassination of the then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs, and formed the hard core of resistance to any territorial compromise over the Land of Israel. On the Muslim side, which is categorically rejecting the right of Israel to exist, it has produced many organizations that send suicide bombers to kill civilians indiscriminately.

Disappointment about the functioning of the secular state, rejection of the religion of democracy and the negative role of the police and the army in the religious war that is taking place in the Holy Land between Judaism and extreme Islam, are some of the basic causes of some groups of national-religious fundamentalist extremists. It is impossible for them to bridge the internal psychological inconsistency of their loyalty , i.e. the loyalty to the Holy Scriptures. According to their belief, this demands that they settle everywhere in the Holy Land, and actively show their loyalty to the State of Israel which many of them consider a modern democratic invention without any Jewish foundation. Consequently, the struggle for the land touches the basis of Jewish identity with the State, so that without settlements in the territories, the national religious fundamentalist public is liable to find itself bankrupt.

Now, the roots of the settlers’ propaganda success derives from the old-new cultural reality, the reality created in the earliest days of the State of Israel. At that time, for instance, when popular songs rhapsodized about the shepherd’s flute in the desert and the politicians delivered speeches with trembling voice about the people that reconquered its Land in the spirit of Joshua Bin Nun, the definition of the relationship between the people and its Land was exclusively Biblical. Thousands of years of Jewish thought and creativity, both religious and secular, in "Eretz Israel" (The Land of Israel) and in the Diaspora, were erased. Most of the Israeli preferred Samson the violent hero over Spinoza’s thoughtfulness, little arrogant David with his slingshot over David the singer with a harp or the Talmudic David, who contemplated the issue of leadership; let alone Rabbi Yehoshua who replaced Raban Gamliel, after he was deposed because he was alienated from the people.

The contemporary nationalist religious settlers point toward the early years of the State of Israel, at the time of a direct connection to the Bible, although God, who had dropped out of that connection, remained as "the Rock of Israel" in the Declaration of Independence (1948), and at those times quickly forgotten. In the new national religious reality, "God Returned" and new messianic approaches created an enormous cultural impact on Israeli society, both religious and secular. The settlers are now plucking the results of that course of action. They offer to the hungry soul of Israelis who are desperate for spirituality of some kind, an instant connection not only to the Bible and its heroes but also to a level above those heroes, the highest level of all, to the God of Israel and the Divine commandment.

The theology that formed the basis of the ideology of the religious right and proclaimed the Land of Israel as a value in and of itself is identified with the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and those yeshivas that follow its ideological line. The yeshiva was founded by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook (1865-1935), but it was his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982), who translated his father’s philosophy into a political platform when, immediately after the Six-Day War, he came out publicly against any territorial concessions.

It is his students such as Rabbis Shlomo Aviner, Hayim Druckman, Zvi Tau, Dov Lior Zalman Melamed and many others, who are the spiritual leaders of the political struggles of the religious right. Most of the influential rabbis and educators in the religious Zionist community are connected with this ideological school, and differences of nuance within the group are often the grounds for disagreement about the way the political battles should be waged.

The ideological school of Mercaz Harav, following classical Jewish thinkers such as Rabbi Yehuda Halevi and the Maharal of Prague, sees the Land of Israel as possessing unique mystical characteristics, which correspond to the unique traits of the Jewish People. The land is not only the substratum that sustains the existence of the people, but is a value in and of itself.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda continued the philosophy of his father who saw events such as the First World War or the beginnings of Zionism as part of Divine Redemption. The son interpreted the historical events of his time - such as the establishment of the State of Israel and the conquests of the Six-Day War - as continuing stages in redemption.

Because of the mystical connection between the Land of Israel and the People of Israel, Jewish rule over the entire Western part of the land strengthens the people. Any territorial concession is, therefore, working against the divine plan. As Rabbi Zvi Yehuda said, "The sin of handing over our land to non-Jews is nothing but a failing of understanding of true belief - and is not for the good of the people of Israel but rather will, God forbid be to their detriment."

Critics of this view, such as Rabbi Yehuda Amital, deny that there is always an identity between people and land. Circumstances may exist in which the good of the Jewish People does not call for retaining all of the land, in which case the people of Israel take precedence. The theology of Mercaz Harav denies the very possibility of concessions for strategic or geopolitical reasons. According to the belief of its followers, the power of faith and of the will is able to overcome all obstacles. Thus, their conviction that the struggle over Gush Katif (Gaza Strip) will be won through faithful determination and willingness for self-sacrifice.

These theological views are the basis for the political opposition to all compromise, but as in Orthodox Judaism the Halakhah always hold the trump card; the debate on the territories was carried over to the field of Jewish law. One legal source prohibiting territorial concession is the verse "lo tichanem" ("give them no quarter" - Deuteronomy 7:2), which was interpreted by the Talmud (Avoda Zara Tractate, 19b) and in the Code of Maimonides, (Laws of Idolatry, 10:4) as forbidding the transfer of land in the Land of Israel to non-Jews.

Further legal discussions raised the question of whether there are considerations (such as prevention of bloodshed) that may take precedence over the legal prohibition. Important rabbinic figures such as the late Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef have stated that such considerations must be taken into account (although in the present situation Rabbi Yosef has ruled that there is no reason to expect less bloodshed after unilateral withdrawal). The school of Mercaz Harav has found a number of legal arguments to support their dissenting position, that the prohibition of territorial concession is virtually unconditional.

Another Halacha’s argument against withdrawal was raised by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menchem Mendel Schneerson. He quoted a text from the authoritative code Shulchan Aruch (O.H., 329:6), which he interpreted as indicating that any concession to non-Jews ultimately endangers Jews. This claim (and the text on which it is based) is not specific to the Land of Israel, and is typical of the position of Chabad, which promotes a hawkish political program for the state without espousing Zionism.

In the context of Halakhah, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook introduced a concept into the argument that is problematic from a technical legal point of view but had great rhetorical impact. According to Jewish law, any prohibition is waived in the case of a danger to life, except for the prohibitions of idolatry, murder and certain sexual offences, in which cases the law says that "one must be killed rather than transgress." Rabbi Zvi Yehuda claimed that the prohibition of conceding land also falls into that category because the situation is one of "coercion against religion" in which any prohibition assumes the status of "be killed rather than transgress." In addition, on a number of occasions, the rabbi warned that "regarding Judea and Samaria, there will be an internal war." Among the students of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda there are differences of opinion about whether these statements are to be seen as practical directives or as rhetorical devices intended to show the level of determination called for in the struggle against withdrawal. In any case, none of these rabbis have called for violent actions anyway. In the process of pullout from Gaza Strip and four settlements in Samaria, in August 2004, the rabbinic leadership was emphatic in its opposition to violence, and therefore no severe violent actions took place. It should be emphasized that opposition to disengagement includes some who are not unconditionally opposed to any concession. Such opposition combines the connection to ancestral land, identification with the plight of the settlers, lack of trust in the government (and certainly lack of trust in the Palestinians), fear of security implications and lack of clarity about what is to be gained.

In a confused, post-modern, deconstructed world, the settlement movement spokespersons offer the ultimate temptation to the confused Israeli looking for an answer to the question of why there is no end to the cycle of violence and what, if any, should be the price of peace (or at least some quiet). On Rosh Hashanah Eve (2004/2005), for example, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner published a long poem directed to "Master Ahmed, Master Mustafa," in issue 478 of B’Ahava U’Bemuna (With love and faith, 2004), read by some 80,000 subscribers, including many of his devoted disciples. " This land is mine," wrote the Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who usually portrays himself as liberal and broad-minded, "Sarah our Mother said, ‘Tell that truth and its son, because it will not inherit that truth with my son Isaac.’" In addition, the poem goes on, "this is mine, I do not intend to give you a millimetre of it ... nor do I have permission to give you land." He does not have permission, of course, because he has a Divine Order, more powerful than any other commitment. During the same week, with regard to the same Torah portion (Ha’azinu - Listen), Hagai Segal, writing in Basheva (2004) (which is described correctly as the most widely circulated publication for the religious public in Israel, distributed to hundreds of thousands of households), also mentioned the sacrifice of Isaac, "one of the focal points of the Rosh Hashanah prayers."

Abraham’s moral quandary, according to Hagai Segal, continues to this day, and rightfully so. Nevertheless, according to Segal, since it is clear that "every mortal, even the chairman of the international association of heretics, would agree to sacrifice their son if delivered a personal instruction by the master of the universe," the question becomes why Abraham was made into a paradigm. Segal’s answer: The minute Abraham accepts the order, "he thereby announces his readiness to obey decisions that are too sublime for him to understand."

Segal then draws a direct line to our era: "One should not automatically obey the feeling of compassion," he says. "Abraham’s descendants were instructed not always to rely on their ability to distinguish between good and bad, light and dark ... not even the judgment of the people who formulated the Geneva initiative and the attorney generals."

Here is what Aviner, Segal and their ilk are offering Israeli society: Turn your backs on any other interpretation of the biblical text (including the sharp criticism by the sages of Abraham, such as the thundering silence of certain Rabbinical explanations about the sacrifice of Isaac), in favour of messianic mediation between a jealous, narrow-minded God and a feeble-minded nation of gullible laymen. He advocates a conception of Judaism as an isolationist, dangerous form of thought, and finally, total eradication of any of the universal foundations on which Zionism founded the state of the Jewish people.

As a result, analyzing Gush Emunim’s approach of messianic nationalism that springs from the national Orthodox cultural world, it is not surprising that their sons and followers have adopted their worldview and attitude and even reached more extreme conclusions. For these reasons, it is important to analyse the features and deeds of the newest extreme national-orthodox fundamentalist groups in Israeli society in the course of illustrating the social-psychological character of their members. In recent preliminary research about the extreme groups of the national Orthodox settlers conducted by Schlomo Kaniel (2003), the psychosocial aspects of their beliefs and behaviour were revealed. Schlomo Kaniel himself belongs to Gush Emunim so his attitude to subjects is full of empathy and enthusiasm.

These groups of young people who incorporate the extreme national Orthodox settlers have been referred to as Mityashvei H’Gavaout (Hill Settlers) and are the second generation of Gush Emunim , the radical fundamentalist founding fathers who started their activities since the beginning of the 21 st century. Kaniel’s study included 56 Mityashvei H’Gavaout from 27 hills, a sample that was selected from a population of 600 people. This study shows that 52.8% of the Mityashvei H’Gavaout defines themselves as "very religious" or "national ultra-Orthodox" so that they even may deny the authority of the state-appointed Chief Rabbinate, who are, in their eyes, simply State functionaries and ready to compromise the land of Israel. Their religious authorities dictate that loyalty to the land and the religious protectors of it are the ultimate authority that they are willing to obey, an authority, which is above that of the State. Some of them have even expressed the idea that in an extreme situation, if Israel were jeopardized by the State authorities, using fire arms against those authorities, (army or police) would be a legitimate action, even obtaining a blessing from certain rabbinical authorities (Kaniel, 2003).

Mityashvei H’Gavaout extremist beliefs are revealed in their attitude towards the media, which function according to the democratic rules of the game: these people live without television and newspapers, they are told to speak with no journalist and to stay away from public democratic debates. Their daily reality is filled with commandments, so that 62.9% say that the primary reason they went to live on the hills was to fulfil the commandment to settle the Land of Israel. The poor and miserable conditions on the hills do not bother them, since their presence contributes to the rebuilding of the Third Temple. For 49% of them, the most important things in life are the love and worship of God, the fulfilment of the commandments, the Kingdom of God and Jewish morality (Kaniel, 2003). .

Many of these young national-religious fundamentalists are aware of their image in the secular, liberal and multi-cultural public, namely that they have been poisoned by an evil ideology. Yet their fanatic-religious spirit turns its back on all that is dear to most of the Israeli public. Consequently, in order to contradict the image of Mityashvei H’Gavaout’s as national-religious extremists, Kaniel (Haaretz, 10/1/2001) found a parallelism between the attitude towards Jewish religion and democracy: every person can embrace his own faith, either religion or democracy. Nobody can maintain that one religion is positive or sacred and the other is negative and non-sacred. There are people who trust the Jewish religion as the true legitimate source and basis of society, while others made democracy their religion, condemning all others who do not trust this system and its values. This means that democratic decisions and their implementation by state authorities are just another secular religion which is not trusted by Gush Emunim fathers and their sons, Mityashvei H’Gavaout . Although Kaniel himself calls for a dialogue between both "religions," the conclusions are quite evident: the principles of democracy and the values of a multicultural society are not the agreed authoritative rules of the game of the Israeli society. National-religious fundamentalists accept rules only from a Divine source and not the human-made changeable rules of democracy.

In the view of their fundamentalist vision, 73.5% of Mityashvei H’Gavaout , the solution to the Jewish-Arab problem, as any other fundamental solution, is to be found in Biblical text, namely practicing the methods of Joshua bin Nun, i.e. expulsion, war and vengeance. A more moderate minority of these national-religious fundamentalists support the idea of annexation, according to the Halacha, that is to say, transmuting the status of the Arabs in the Land of Israel into Biblical Ger-Toshav (foreigners living in the land).

In sum, it is evident that these young men and women have a very low level of confidence in the State’s authorities, such as the police, the Supreme Court, the army or the security services. The State is doomed to be the enemy because it was the State’s decision to give its enemies territories and weapons in accord with different peace agreements in the past. The past agreements are a part of global processes, processes guided by the impact of global economy and interests and definitely opposed to Jewish faith. In reaction to the global processes involving the blurring of national-religious identity, the Mityashvei Ha’Gavaout are experiencing a counter-process of strengthening their own identities as individuals who belong to a small group. The messianic feelings that they are the chosen people who have to fulfil a holy mission are a dominant component of their vision and it becomes a vital component of their daily life and behaviour.

For instance, their spiritual fundamentalist leaders explain every political event that seems to support the cause of Mityashvei Ha’Gavaout as a victory, as a "divine revelation." Many hope for even more revelations alongside their sober analysis of the situation, which guides their painstaking political, and information campaigns, so that a miraculous, almost mystical perspective of the events has taken hold. This perspective is expressed in a profound, uncompromising faith, as well as in acceptance. They deeply believe that the course of events is guided by Divine Providence, and will accept the outcome, for better or for worse. A particularly powerful and extraordinary expression of this viewpoint can be seen in their writings in their internal papers and pamphlets.

The Mityashvei Ha’Gavaout actions are also guided by despair and in many cases agony, because the general Israeli public, Israeli intellectuals and (even worse) the State do not understand their vision and beliefs or destroy their determination and ambition as dangerous messianic deeds. On the other hand, the absence of public, formal democratic support never bothered these groups. Quite on the contrary, the Mityashvei Ha’Gavaout in their arrogance drew mystical strength from it. In view of the fact that according to their belief, they are the authentic representatives of a far more important and significant public than the Israeli one: They are the self-appointed representatives of the transcendental Am-Israel (the Jewish people), the living and the dead, the nation that is here, there and everywhere in the universe. On that plane they seem to be always guaranteed a majority, and to hell with the Israeli voter, not to mention his ephemeral governments.

As a result, when decisions have been taken, during the last year 2004-2005 by legitimate authorities to share the land of Israel with Palestinians, many MityashveiHa’Gavaout, in a state of despair, will express their opinion that this is a casus belli in their relations with the State authorities. Forty-one percent of MityashveiHa’Gavaout will fight actively against any decision taken by the legitimate authorities to evacuate them, and 38.8% will protest by using passive resistance against any form of evacuation. The impact of these messianic visions and their fundamentalist implementations are so great that MityashveiHa’Gavaout members make their feelings known that they cannot allow themselves to sit on the fence while all their dreams are falling apart. But, as in the first test case, in August 2004, they just practiced a mildly violent position and never used fire arms against the state authorities, i.e. the Israeli army and police.

Many observers and researchers condemn the massive impact of the national-Orthodox fundamentalist ideology and its great influence on the general public. For that reason, one of the ideas that many liberals think will be helpful in reducing the influence of the national-religious and orthodox establishment is the implementation of the separation between religion and state. Separation of religion and state is one of those issues that is constantly on the table in the Israeli agenda and often portrayed as emanating from secular liberal Jews. Nevertheless, the majority of the Israeli public rejects the basic ideas of Gush Emunim and Mityashvei Ha’Gavaout, along with their style of messianic nationalism that connected to their Orthodox cultural worldview. It follows that in many cases, national-orthodox fundamentalists prefer to keep their messianic hopes and their realization in the name of the greater nation of Israel to themselves, and cut themselves off from the rest of the State and its desire for peace. As a result, it ought to be recognized that religious faith continues to be the major defining element of many individual identities as well as a core element of different cultural groups in Israeli society. R eligious thought and faith, as an autonomous entity, continues to reign as the most essential constituent of the general national identity .

Tolerating religious faith is a part of the liberal worldview and a component of a multicultural and post-colonial society. Enforcing tolerance as an existential element in a society in which religious faith inspires, influences and dominates from its very beginning to contemporary times would not evoke any excited resonance. For that reason, the importance of religion and the major role that it plays in Israeli reality, in every domain of public or private life, promises it a future as a vital and fundamental component of Israeli society. Israeli reality is not dominated by a consensus of pluralist liberal forces; its culture has to be more open and inclusive towards different religious faiths. Israeli society is a multicultural one but its components are not tolerant toward the Other, i.e. other religious faiths due to oppressive, separatist and extreme features of its various religious and cultural communities.

On the other hand, due to the fact that religion, in very diverse forms, is a major factor in the life of every Jew, Arab or Christian, in Israel, it should be in the interest of society to integrate and amalgamate religion in a more tolerant form. Still, religion does need to be treated with fairness according to certain legal obligations and with respect because its place is higher than any other cultural form in Israeli society. In addition, there is no need for increasing and encouraging religious faith in order to give it a fair place in society. The opposite, in fact, holds true: religion could not be the right attitude or right policy of a society, whose multicultural and liberal values are very fragile and whose total existence is traumatized. In such a distrustful and defensive situation of the whole of society, imposing religion and religious faith as guiding ideas, that could be brought into society like any other product in a free market civilization, is a very dangerous idea, especially, when one of its leading elites identifies itself with extreme messianic religious nationalism.

Thus, applying a certain form of pragmatism as a common base, mediating between orthodox religious, messianic national religious, liberal, and the secular world-views of members of a society could be at a better starting point for a fruitful dialogue that would possibly establish a certain modus vivendi shared by the different groups. Pragmatism, which is based on the principles of usefulness, workability and practicality of ideas, stresses the priority of action over doctrine, of experience over fixed principles, and it holds that ideas borrow their meanings from their consequences and their truths from their verification. Ideas are essentially instruments and plans of action, a theory that has been proven in Israeli society more than once by the realization of messianic visions or fighting a war in order to realize them.

In a society that was and is still strongly influenced by religion, ideology and messianic visions, philosophical pragmatism could serve as a common base and useful tool for advancing tolerant behaviour in every socio-cultural religious domain. Such a pragmatic philosophy should enhance a program of reconciliation that would close the gap between different worldviews, and not adopting one Weltanschauung and rejecting the other. Such a program would try to locate at its base moderate religious hermeneutics and beliefs as well as their practical implementations for the well-being and modus vivendi of all cultural groups. In this way, scholars, men of religion and educators who promote inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, welcome this as a joint quest for common humanistic values existing in their respective heritages. Subsequently, it would be possible to search for an apt implementation of a universal moral code and universal rule.

Although Israeli believers and non-believers are increasingly immersing themselves in questions of nationality instead of in purely religious questions, a process that takes place because their counter parts, i.e. Islamic fundamentalists, are doing just the same, and in this way some pragmatic conceptions could enter their minds. Most of the active religious movements in the Middle East possess fundamentalist facets and are organized according to religious fundamentalist principles and ideologies. For this reasons, a fundamentalist-free Jewish religion, which might cause it to be open to new spiritual, mystic and abstract sources, independent of extreme national affinities, may be called a religion that acts according to the principles of prophetic pragmatism.

Cornell West’s concept of prophetic pragmatism (1993) has been adopted in this study as a new stance that should help Israeli society to overcome its internal religious discrepancies as well as to reach a post-colonial policy towards the Arab minority in Israel as well as the Palestinian neighbours. West’s systematic analysis of the basic issues that Afro-Americans are facing in American society could be relevant and suitable in certain circumstances to Israeli society. The challenging reality that many Afro-Americans are facing in the United States, their past tragedies and the seemingly hopeless situation for many of them in the present, relate in the same way to the continuous life of war and terror in Israel. A nihilistic threat to the society’s very existence, a profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness and social-cultural despair are overwhelming both societies as a whole. After analyzing the socio-psychological situation of Afro-Americans in the US, Cornell West endorses a positive philosophy, which advocates an "alliance of prophetic Christianity and progressive Marxism" as the "last humane hope for mankind" in the United States, a method that could be utilized, with certain modifications, in the Israeli society (West, 1982, pp. 95-120).

Cornell West’s theory of prophetic pragmatism is not a particular philosophy or world vision. It comprises many sources from many disciplines and schools of thought so that it would be relevant to other societies, as well. Creating an alliance of many disciplines, as is done throughout the work of West, a synthesis, which is the highlight of the American spirit is obtained, and this is called prophetic pragmatism. Yet to understand the discursive space of prophetic pragmatism in itself is to understand the disciplines and schools of thought that contribute to it, namely American pragmatism, Marxism, existentialism and black liberation theology (West, 1999, pp. 100-144).

More than anything else, prophetic pragmatism strives to be an existential system, a system that strives to unify the real and the ideal, vision and reality, dreams and facts. Cornel West’s philosophical method is anchored in the existentialist school of thought, a philosophy that was very popular in the 20 th century. According to the existentialistic approach, that characterized emphasis on human agency and the pursuit of meaning in the face of absurdity, alienation, and nihilism, West chooses the essential components of his intellectual project. It is the school of existentialism that provides a unique understanding of the human condition, i.e. "it gave me a profoundly Kierkegaardian sensibility, that required then that philosophizing be linked to the existentially concrete situations ... decision, commitment, actualized possibility, and realized potential" (Yancy, 1998, p. 33). As a pragmatist and a self-described Kierkegaardian, Cornel West finds truth and meaning, not in correspondence epistemology or scientific inquiry, but rather in the ability of an idea or an action to produce virtue, happiness, and the democratic ideal.

In conclusion, prophetic pragmatism is a philosophical method of inquiry and action that includes social, political and theological ideas. Its epistemological justification and democratic ideals are derived from American pragmatism; its existential component provides an understanding and an appreciation of the human condition in the face of the absurd. The Marxist component is a tool for understanding the circumstances that bring about such absurdity and the prophetic Christian tradition of the Afro-American church and of liberation theology provide the all-important moral impetus that drives everything. As a result, prophetic pragmatism is a wholly original collage of disciplines which are not limited to American reality but could be adopted by other societies and cultures which have similar components as their base. There are various reasons for adopting prophetic pragmatism in our analysis of Israeli religious reality and its future implementations by modifying it to contemporary Israeli actuality. Cornel West affirms the relevance of prophetic orientations that are grounded both in religious and secular traditions (which is definitely true in Israeli society), and calls upon a tradition of moral and ethical critique of an existing society from the perspective of ideals which transcend history and individual beings. People must have a sense of prophetic vision in a pragmatic form if they believe that it is possible to have faith in moral progress or hoping for moral victory in present times, in present reality. Moral norms provide the direction, which challenges and encourages the moral growth of members of society. In any case, prophetic pragmatism includes creative, visionary and critical elements of prophecy, and democratic, pluralistic and tolerant values of pragmatism.

For Israeli society, prophetic pragmatism seems to offer a great opportunity and a challenge to reduce the influence and the power of prophetic extremism and its fundamentalist extensions. Due to the fact that prophetic pragmatism embraces religious thoughts and feelings and does not adopt humanistic secular liberal values per se, many religious groups would have confidence in it. By adopting such a course of action, it can be seen that Israeli society has many cultural, religious, social, political and educational initiatives through which prophetic extremism could be replaced by prophetic pragmatism:

The last cardinal question relates to the implementation of prophetic pragmatism as an antithesis to prophetic extremism and secular extremism. Prophetic pragmatism as an antithesis to any extreme religious worldviews should become the synthesis of all social-cultural and theological streams. It is necessary to open a vivid continuous debate on ethics and moral ideals and behaviour in every domain of culture and education. This goal is very hard to realize because moral and ethical ideals inform any criticism on human actions. So, in order to make them active and guiding principles of human progress, they must be justified and given shape and meaning within the culturally, religious, political and historically discourse of every community and in the society as a whole.

Thus far, after many socialist secular Jewish or Pan Arabic ideologies, fundamentalist dogmas and ‘the end of the ideology’ waves swept over Middle Eastern societies (including Israel), all hopes for peace, progress and prosperity became dependent on pragmatic considerations. There is no way of winning the hearts of people for liberalization, peacemaking and improving their wellbeing without applying common values such as prophetic pragmatism has to offer. Prophetic pragmatism could be a positive tool to overcome the contradictions between religion and democratic principles so that religious leaders and educators will have no difficulty in adjusting to the realities of democratic and post-colonial life. This pragmatic conduct will play a vital function for the Israeli democratic system by transforming an insufficient majority into a more stable and operative one.

It should be emphasized that opposition to disengagement includes some who are not unconditionally opposed to any concession. Such opposition combines the connection to ancestral land, identification with the plight of the settlers, lack of trust in the government (and certainly lack of trust in the Palestinians), fear of security implications and lack of clarity about what is to be gained.

It is hard to know how the events of the summer 2005 will influence the religious philosophy of the right. As one of the younger generation of Zionist rabbis said to me: "We have not yet been able to formulate a theology of compromise." Maybe the crisis ahead will bring about such an innovation .

In addition, prophetic pragmatism has a lot in common with another Jewish modern school of thought, namely Jewish existential philosophy, according to which the significance of human existence lies in coexistence.

Con trary to modern European existentialists who stressed the darker side of human existence (anxieties, fear and thoughts revolving around death and the concept of "no exit"), dialogical existential Jewish philosophers analyze in very precise terms the miracle of total devotion, of love, or of friendship. For instance, Martin Buber with his romantic view of I and Thou (Buber, 1958) will change the world, as well as Franz Rosenzweig (Rosenzweig, 1985) and his view that, through love for others, the individual becomes a living soul and a part of society.

© Israel Idalovichi (Achva College of Education, Israel & Bolzano-Bozen Free University, Italy)


Allen, Norm R., (1991), African American Humanism: An Anthology. New York: Prometheus Books.

Buber, Martin, (1958), I and Thou, (Trans. Ronald Gregor Smith, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Kaniel, Schlomo, (2003), Is the Sabra a Biblical Type? Research on Mityashvei H’Gavaout (Hills’ Settlers) in Judea and Samaria, in Religious Zionism in Era of Changes: Selected Research in the Memory of Zebulon Hammer, Jerusalem: The World Council of Torah Education and Bialik Institute.

Rosenzweig, Franz, (1985), Star of Redemption , (Trans. William Hallo, London: University of Notre Dame Press. 

Safrai, Zeev & Sagi, Avi, (Edit.), (2002), Between Authority and Autonomy in Jewish Tradition, Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad and Ne’emanei Torah ve-Avodah.

West, Cornel, (1988), Prophetic Fragments, Michigan: Wm. B. Erdmann.

West, Cornel, (1993), Prophetic Thought in Postmodern Times. Maine: Common Courage Press.

West, Cornel, (1993), Keeping Faith, New York: Routledge

West, Cornel, (1999), The Cornel West Reader, New York: Basic Civitas Books.

Yancy, George, (1998), (Ed.) African American Philosophers: 17 Conversations, New York: Routledge.

Haaretz, 10/1/2001, Israeli Daily Newspaper

B’Ahava U’Bemuna, September 2004, A Rabbinical exegesis, in a National-Religious Newspaper

Basheva, September 2004, A National-Religious Weekly Newspaper

2.2. Models of Victimization in Contemporary Cultures

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For quotation purposes:
Israel Idalovichi (Achva College of Education, Israel & Bolzano-Bozen Free University, Italy): Cultural-Religious Sources of Messianic Extremism and its Evolution in Post-Colonial Times. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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