Tanakh extremists?

Yair Sheleg, a respected and thoughtful journalist, recently suggested that the wave of Jewish terror against Palestinians results from Bible study unmediated by classical commentary. With all due respect, his blaming of the rise of the violent, religious, right-wing fanaticism on the modern study of Bible is preposterous. As with all fringe radical groups there is some idea or some text or some personality upon which they latch themselves, but the real cause of their radicalism has little to do with those.

Anyone familiar with teens knows that the teen years are filled with internal struggle, a search for identity, a search for meaning, and other searches. They are integral to the process of growing up, without which adulthood can never emerge. These searches express themselves in a variety of ways, one of which is the rejection of authority. Healthy, mature teens manage to struggle through these difficult years as healthy, mature adults. But not all teens have the emotional maturity to navigate their way through the complex world around them. In the absence of those tools they prefer to see the world in very stark lines of black and white, with no shades of grey in-between and certainly no color.

This is further complicated when their belief in their absolute rightness about everything, and that everyone one is wrong (they have the exclusive access to ultimate truth) is compounded by their exaggerated belief in their immortality and their omnipotence – the belief they CAN change the world, and nobody can stop them. They are present in every culture and in every generation. There were many anti-war protesters in the 1960s but only a handful who did so violently. There were many marchers for the freedom of Soviet Jewry in the 1970s, but only a few who tried to firebomb a Russian ballet troupe. It is the same phenomenon, but with a different coat.

Without youthful idealism our world would be a poorer place. The problem lay not in idealism, belief, or even in the educational system against which they rebel (which, by and large, does try to teach nuance), but in the inability to live with nuance or complexity. It is unfortunate that they are sometimes led by charismatic adult figures who lack the same ability to balance their idealism with realism. That balance is deeply embedded in the Torah, and even in the Bible of which Sheleg is wary.

About the Author
Zvi Grumet is a Rabbi and educator with more than 40 years of active involvement in Jewish education and Jewish life, both in Israel and overseas. His books include Moses and the Path to Leadership, Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, and he is Senior Editor for Koren's new Humash Koren Lev Ladaat.
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