Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
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Are these pious zealots or idol worshipers?

You may have met them: very pious Jews, who meticulously follow the letter of Jewish law. However, some of them are a good example for everyone, while others went astray and don’t even do Judaism. How to tell the difference?

First of all, the living saints. They are humble and meek, and when you talk with them, you feel honored if not loved. They may stride like an emperor / empress, but when you connect, they behave as a friend.

They might demonstrate to protect the interests of their insular communities, but they won’t throw stones or hurl insults. At a Shabbat demonstration against traffic through their neighborhood, they typically will invite the drivers to their Shabbat table. They will continue to love and honor their children when they go a different way.

But then there are these Jews who dress meticulously  in accordance with the highest norms of Jewish law, and seem only busy with holy endeavors, but somehow they are different from the righteous people mentioned above. And yes, they are! This gives them away:

  • They do not seem to serve G-d but rather they serve Stringency. They don’t know proper, only the most proper. Since they don’t serve G-d, they serve the idol of perfection, or rather just themselves and their tastes, their own exaggerated norms. (Bringing an alien fire that He had not commended them – Leviticus 10:1, from the weekly portion that this year we read three times before and three times after Seder Pesach.)
  • They must let out that they go by the highest norms. They can’t muster the humbleness to say: Some go even further …. They feel driven to divulge: I go further, but no one needs to. It’s my stringency.
  • They don’t weigh their stringency against other things. If they won’t eat something, it plays no role how that inconveniences or hurts another.
  • They hyper-focus on connecting with the Divine, making them blind to needs of others.
  • They can’t help making disparaging remarks about Gentiles and Jews who behave “less” than them. When you call them out, they’ll say that it was “only” an in-between word.
  • They are obsessed with what would enter their mouths (is it kosher enough?) and not concerned what gets out of their mouths (rudeness, insult, anger, judgment, slander, lies, untruths, pretence, etc.)
  • Their take away from learning is always very absolute, knows no gray, only aplomb all-or-nothing statements, spoken with great certainty, but when you check their sources, it doesn’t say at all what they claim.
  • They don’t smile, don’t say hello, and you feel judged and pushed away by them. When they feel threatened in their immovable positions, they immediately go on the attack or give you the silent treatment, convincing themselves that they are right and it’s no use talking to such low lives.
  • They do not change in one blow. It’s more like an infection, slowly taking over their whole functioning. So, it’s a condition that gets worse over time, in the name of “being consistent.” They deny what they did last year which they now call “too light” for them.
  • They also infect others, but only people who are vulnerable by preexisting blemishes (impoliteness, arrogance, selfishness, coldness, unfriendliness, angriness, judgmentalness, dishonesty, fakeness, etc.).
  • They flourish in their wickedness in judgmental communities. They compete with each other or try to keep up with the warped norms around them. Their loyalty is conditional and they’re very lonely.

Now, don’t judge, despise, hate or condemn them — that’s part of their playbook. They too do the best they can. You stay mild.

But also don’t feel pushed away from Judaism because of them. This is not Judaism. They’re trapped in idol worship, as I mentioned above.

Never consult such a rabbi. He will not look you in the eyes but rather look in the books, for answers from his one-size-fits-all semi-Judaism.

If they’re in the family or around at work or for another reason you don’t want the connection to be broken, keep it nice and friendly. If they say anything, don’t argue. If they get upset, try to calm them friendly, without reasoning. Remember that they are lonely and would love friendly non-threatening company.

Don’t confront them. That would only make them feel more above you. Rather, seek out Jews and communities that do real traditional Judaism. Eventually, their children will join you. If their loved ones come for help, help them without confronting the bullies. But if you would fear for your life helping them, secretly call the police and stay out of it.

Reb Shlomo Carlebach says: How do you know if you’re getting more or less religious? If you’re getting closer to others you’re getting more religious; If you’re getting farther away from others you’re getting less religious; even if some people tell you the opposite.

When we contemplate at the Pesach seder what to do with the rebellious child, this time don’t just think of Jews who do not follow the letter of the Law (who know what Commandments they follow that are considered minimal, like greeting everyone with a smile) but think of these fanatics who completely lost their way.

Or maybe they are the child who doesn’t know to ask. They can’t, because they (think that they) already have all the answers.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, previously a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He often makes his readers laugh, mad, or assume he's nuts—close to perfect blogging. He's proud that his analytical short comments are removed both from left-wing and right-wing news sites. None of his content is generated by the new bore on the block, AI. * As a frontier thinker, he sees things many don't yet. He's half a prophet. Half. Let's not exaggerate. Or not at all because he doesn't claim G^d talks to him. He gives him good ideas—that's all. MM doesn't believe that people observe and think in a vacuum. He, therefore, wanted a broad bio that readers interested can track a bit what (lack of) backgrounds, experiences, and educations contribute to his visions. * This year, he will prioritize getting his unpublished books published rather than just blog posts. Next year, he hopes to focus on activism against human extinction. To find less-recent posts on a subject XXX among his over 2000 archived ones, go to the right-top corner of a Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". One can find a second, wilder blog, to which one may subscribe too, here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * Like most of his readers, he believes in being friendly, respectful, and loyal. However, if you think those are his absolute top priorities, you might end up disappointed. His first loyalty is to the truth. He will try to stay within the limits of democratic and Jewish law, but he won't lie to support opinions or people when don't deserve that. (Yet, we all make honest mistakes, which is just fine and does not justify losing support.) He admits that he sometimes exaggerates to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * Sometimes he's misunderstood because his wide and diverse field of vision seldomly fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what some love about him. He has written a lot about Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (including basic statistics), Politics (Israel, the US, and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight reality), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA+, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), the Climate Crisis, Ecology and Veganism, Affairs from the news, or the Torah Portion of the Week, or new insights that suddenly befell him. * Chronologically, his most influential teachers are his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim, Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. This short list doesn't mean to disrespect others who taught him a lot or a little. One of his rabbis calls him Mr. Innovation [Ish haChidushim]. Yet, his originalities seem to root deeply in traditional Judaism, though they may grow in unexpected directions. In fact, he claims he's modernizing nothing. Rather, mainly basing himself on the basic Hebrew Torah text, he tries to rediscover classical Jewish thought almost lost in thousands of years of stifling Gentile domination and Jewish assimilation. (He pleads for a close reading of the Torah instead of going by rough assumptions of what it would probably mean and before fleeing to Commentaries.) This, in all aspects of life, but prominently in the areas of Free Will, Activism, Homosexuality for men, and Redemption. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, and disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He aims to bring a fresh perspective rather than harp on the obvious and familiar. When he can, he loves to write encyclopedic overviews. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds should be disputed. In short, his main political positions are among others: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, anti those who abuse democratic liberties, anti the fake ME peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, pro-Science, pro-Free Will, anti-blaming-the-victim, and for down-to-earth, classical optimism, and happiness. Read his blog on how he attempts to bridge any tensions between those ideas or fields. * He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to his parents who were Dutch-Jewish Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork. He grew up a humble listener. It took him decades to become a speaker too, and decades more to admit to being a genius. But his humility was his to keep. And so was his honesty. Bullies and con artists almost instantaneously envy and hate him. He hopes to bring new things and not just preach to the choir. * He holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam) – is half a doctor. He practices Re-evaluation Co-counseling since 1977, is not an official teacher anymore, and became a friendly, powerful therapist. He became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he was active in hasbara to the Dutch-speaking public. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having an original peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me. * His newest books you may find here:
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