“Extremism” is one of the most over-used terms in today’s political parlance. But what it actually means depends on your politics. “Extremism” is a relative term that presumes the existence of an agreed-upon norm. The further you are from that norm, the more you’re considered an extremist.
But who determines the norm? And in a Jewish context, does an agreed-upon norm even exist? For example, is believing in G-d an extremist position for a Jew, or is denying His existence an extremist view?
And which is more extreme from a Jewish standpoint, believing in the Covenant with its promise that we can live in peace in the land of Israel with no fear of our enemies as long as we obey the Commandments, or believing that the Covenant is a myth, that there’s no higher power we can call on, and that the Arab claim to the land is just as legitimate as the Jewish one?
Is normalcy defined by long-standing traditions that barely change over centuries, or by current popular opinion that can radically change from one day to the next? For Israel, the crucial question it will have to answer is whether its best hope for the future lies in embracing its ancient faith or abandoning it.
The Israelite nation was founded on two core beliefs, the supremacy of G-d and the truth of His Covenant. These are the beliefs that have sustained us as a people and a nation for thousands of years through every kind of hardship.
But these beliefs have always had opponents. In ancient times, many Jews worshipped idols, images made by human hands, to which they attributed supernatural powers. Even though these idols had no capacity to do anything at all, they still had wide appeal because they provided pleasurable experiences, were much less demanding than the G-d of the Bible, and could even be used to grant permission to do things that Jewish law forbids.
In course of time the idolaters became the dominant force in Israelite society. As a result, confusion reigned, the nation lost its ability to distinguish right from wrong, and its goals became vain and frivolous. It drove its Protector from its midst and before long the nation was destroyed and its people scattered all over the Earth.
Today, the spiritual descendants of those idol worshippers are too sophisticated to bow to idols made by human hands. Instead, they bow to ideologies, the work of human minds, including the ideology of Marxism with its many variants. These ideologies deny the existence of G-d and claim that Man, using his own intellect, can build a utopian society with no need for a deity if only people could be convinced (or compelled) to subordinate their personal interests to the needs of the collective.
The followers of these ideologies wage militant campaigns in their behalf, even though they never deliver on their promises and usually produce much more misery than happiness. But their appeal lies in the fact that they tell people they are morally superior while simultaneously giving them permission to attack and try to silence any people or institutions they disagree with. And like their idol worshipping ancestors, they wield disproportionate influence in Jewish life today, much to the harm of the Jewish people.
American and Israeli Jews each have to choose between two opposite extremes, and the choice they make will determine their destiny for many years to come.
In Israel, will they fear G-d more than they fear their enemies, accept His promise of living securely in the land in exchange for following His Commandments, and not be afraid to take what He’s already given them, or will they follow the path of appeasement, viewing their enemies’ rights in the land as equal to their own, and giving away more and more in the hope of attaining peace until they have nothing left?
In America, will Jews acknowledge the supremacy of G-d, follow His Commandments and seek peaceful relations with their neighbors, or will they devote themselves to radical ideologies that have no basis in Judaism, trying to force their man-made theories on a society that finds them repellent and running the risk of violent repression that they’ll be unable to defend against?
As an optimist I believe we’ll eventually make the right choices, but it will take a lot of effort on the part of a lot of dedicated people to make that happen.