Religio-Fascism and the Israeli Right-Wing
I have often expressed my frustration with politics — in particular, Israeli politics. I dislike dogma and extremism on both sides. This week, I am turning to the right-wing in Israel. They are a very broad camp. They include economic conservatives, secular idealists, religious fanatics, and, yes, religious fascists. Specifically, I am focusing on someone I consider to be a very dangerous man, who has done untold damage to traditional Judaism and Israel’s case abroad.
Yitzchak Ginsburgh is an American-born Chabad rabbi who heads a movement called Derech Chaim — The Way of Life. But the question is — whose life? His movement ought to be called “The Way of Death.”
He is certainly knowledgeable, prolific, and, some say, charismatic. His Gal Einai institute publishes his self-help and other books — over 100 in all, apparently. Gal Einai means “Open Your Eyes” — but I fear he is the perfect example of “none so blind as he who will not see.”
He is the darling of the nationalist, religious right-wing, because he has excused the 1994 massacre of 29 Muslims praying at the Hebron Tomb of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein.
Ginsburgh wrote a book, Barukh Ha-Gever, devoted to the proposition that the massacre was justified as an expression of divine intimacy with terror as a mystical technique. He has become the godfather of national religious fascism, justifying violence against non-Jews and non-Jewish property. His views are heterodox, and a distortion of the sources.
In 2009, two extreme students of his, Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, published a distorted tract (Torat Hamelech) justifying violence towards the Palestinians. It quoted sources claiming Jewish law permitted killing children “if there is a good chance that they will grow up to be like their evil parents.” Ginsburgh approved it, and wrote an approbation for the book.
Ginsburgh has said that the commandment “Thou shalt not murder” does not necessarily apply to non-Jews. He has referred to Arabs as a “cancer” — a remark that led to him being charged with, but never convicted of incitement. Last year, a recording was released of Ginsburgh encouraging students to carry out a “strong retaliatory act” two days after Palestinian gunmen killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach in the northern West Bank.
Ginsburgh and his students have responded to the controversy over his views by claiming that his concepts are taken from the Kabbalah and Chasidut. But the same could be said of both the false messiah Shabtai Zvi and the morally corrupt Jacob Frank. A distorted mind can twist anything.
This past week, two right-wing members of the current Israeli government (I pray they won’t be in the next one), Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, supported a gala held to honor Ginsburgh. But only Smotrich stayed for the award. This was much to the disgust of most Israelis across the political and religious spectrum.
The Palestinian leadership also expressed horror. (Their hypocrisy is breathtaking, as they glorify and reward those who kill Israeli women and children, and name squares after them.)
The vast majority of Jewish organizations condemned the event, including the moderate Orthodox rabbis and scholars of Torat Chayim, which issued a stinging condemnation.
In every society, there are extremes — including our own. We get very worked up about Arabs and Muslims who call for the death of Jews and support jihad. But instead of enabling us to hold the high ground, our enemies love to find excuses for tarring us with the same brush. Ginsburgh allows them to do so.
Ginsburgh also illustrates the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Chabad. They are the most devoted, dedicated, and welcoming sector of the Jewish community worldwide. Yet for all the good they do and all the warm, lovable people they produce, they also have their fair share of criminals and dangerous crazies that the late Rebbe would never have accepted.
Ginsburgh claimed that the late and great Lubavitcher Rebbe told him to be “melamed zechut” — to give the benefit of the doubt — to Goldstein. Of course, giving people the benefit of the doubt is a good thing, unless it does even greater harm. Goldstein’s massacre was on Purim 1994. The Rebbe died on the 3rd of Tamuz 1994 (about 3.5 months after the massacre), after two years of paralysis and inability to speak, during which the only communication he was capable of was via the movement of one arm. Making claims of what the Rebbe thought at that time is as ridiculous as the claim that, even today, the Rebbe sends personal messages to each bride and groom based on those he wrote 25 years ago.
I guess, like all fanatics, Ginsburgh thinks he is right, and everyone else is wrong.
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen received his rabbinic ordination from Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He has worked in the rabbinate, Jewish education, and academia for more than 40 years in Europe and the US. He currently lives in the US, where he writes, teaches, lectures, and serves as rabbi of a small community in New York.