Robert L. Wolkoff

Liberal Jews Cause Earthquakes. Who Knew?

It is no coincidence that Parshat Pinchas, which centers on blind zealotry, always comes during the build up to Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem—which was destroyed, the rabbis tell us, because of sinat chinam, blind hatred.

So therefore, it was altogether apposite that this week, in the Knesset, a Shas MK, who will remain nameless to protect the guilty, made the declaration that liberal Jews were not Jewish. Not only that, but the insistence of these non-Jewish Jews on getting an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall was, he claimed, the cause of the earthquake that struck Northern Israel a few days ago.

See what you did….?!

There is some delicious irony in the fact that this same week, some Iranian general claimed that the reason it doesn’t rain in Iran is because the Zionists steal the clouds.


We really do owe the MK (and, to a lesser extent, the Iranian) a vote of thanks, for demonstrating one thing with absolute clarity—that people with such intemperate views (that’s a generous description—one could say loony delusions) have no business being in a position of power over other people’s expressions of religiosity.

That, my friends, is called freedom of religion. The whole point of the exercise, as has been demonstrated for hundreds of years in the United States, is that religious belief is so personal, and so idiosyncratic, that no government can reasonably make a decision about what the right religion is, or what the proper exercise of a particular religion should be.

As Robert Heinlein once wrote, “One man’s theology is another man’s bellylaugh.”

What the Shas MK says around his shabbos table is his own business. If I had some time I wanted to waste at my shabbos table, I could talk about his brand of Judaism the way he talks about mine—about the corruption (his party has had more members thrown in jail than any other—nice for a “religious” party, wouldn’t you say?); the willful historical ignorance; the theological duplicity; the sexist and racist attitudes, etc. etc., ad nauseum. Literally.

Like I said, if I had time to waste.

But when the MK steps up to the podium at the center of Israel’s government, his right to think what he likes about my expression of Judaism bumps directly up against his responsibility as a member of a government. I don’t condemn non-pluralist people for being non-pluralist (although it sure can make them oppressive to be around). I condemn them for bringing their lack of pluralism to a government forum which, by definition, is intended to be pluralistic.

I don’t really expect the MK to understand any of this. Lack of understanding for such subtleties is typical of the self-absorbed troglodyte orthodoxy of which he, and his father, for that matter, are perfect representatives. There is no difference between his display of ignorance, the Iranian general, or the Texas politician who said that if English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for the children of Texas. (Actually, she never really said that, but you get the idea.)

I don’t expect anything from them. But I do decidedly expect better from the other 90% of the Israeli Knesset, from the Prime Minister on down. I expect it, and so should we all.

At this time of year, we think of the reasons for the Temple’s destruction. We ask ourselves what we need to do to bring the Jewish people together and avoid the sinat chinam that led to two millennia in exile. Seen in that light, the stupid remarks by the Shas MK are not just internet troll bait. They are a threat to our future.

Not to mention, the cause of earthquakes.

And global warming.

And the Mets being 13 games out in midseason.

Ribbono shel olam, Master of the Universe: Please save the Jewish people from its own stupidity.

About the Author
Rabbi Wolkoff serves Congregation Bnai Tikvah in North Brunswick. He has published hundred of articles and lectured internationally on Jewish topics, and has been active both in interfaith work and in the struggle against anti-Semitism, both in the United States and in Sweden, where he served for a decade. He is a JNF Rabbi for Israel.
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