I was wondering if there is such a person as a Jewish fundamentalist, the way that there are those folks in Christianity and Islam? If so, what percent of Jews would or could be classified as Fundamentalist? And, what would their core beliefs be?
I’m not sure what your definition of fundamentalist is, but here’s mine: A fundamentalist is someone who believes that theirs is the only true path, and anyone who does not follow their ways is evil. The fundamentalist sees only two options for the rest of humanity – join us or suffer the consequences. Other nations are there to either missionize or destroy, and any belief system that does not conform with theirs is to be eradicated.
A fundamentalist is not the same as an extremist. There are those who are passionate or even extreme about their own beliefs, whether a born-again Christian, devout Muslim, radical liberal or die-hard atheist. We can debate the pros and cons of each of these belief systems, but a strong conviction alone doesn’t make you a fundamentalist. It is when you cannot accept that there may be another road to truth, that not everyone has to fit in to your own world view – that is when you have strayed into the realm of fundamentalism.
For this reason, Judaism can never tolerate fundamentalism. Quite simply, we don’t believe that Judaism is for everyone. Jewish thought is comfortable with the belief that there are many paths to G-d; Judaism is the path for Jews, and non-Jews can find Him in different ways. They can live a moral and good life without keeping the laws or sharing the beliefs of Judaism. Anyone can join Judaism by converting, but this is not necessary – a non-Jew can be fulfilled, close to G-d, and earn a place in heaven without becoming Jewish. I think it is this universalistic approach that has saved Judaism from the plague of fundamentalism.
Don’t get me wrong – there are certainly Jewish extremists, ratbags, troublemakers and whackos. But I don’t know of any significant group of Jewish fundamentalists. Judaism poses a challenge to the fundamentalist: If you really love G-d so much, shouldn’t you also love all His children, who are created in His image?
Rabbi Aron Moss teaches Kabbalah, Talmud and practical Judaism in Sydney, Australia.