Jewish Fundamentalism on the Rise: ‘More Like the Sopranos Than Like Fiddler on the Roof.’

Ultra-orthodox adherents of the Torah already account for 49 percent of religious New York Jews. Given demographic trends, that slice of the population is poised to grow. In the words of the Jewish daily the Forward,  New York Jewry will soon be predominantly “fundamentalist, poor, uneducated and reactionary.”

Non-Orthodox Jews will look like the secular Persians of Iran: once the complacent majority, now a minority oppressed by fundamentalists.

The Forward’s Jay Michaelson, a contributing editor, explains:

Call them what you will — ultra-Orthodox Jews, “fervently Orthodox” Jews, Haredim, black hats. They will soon become the majority of affiliated Jews in the metropolitan New York area, and the religious majority in Israel. The results will be catastrophic.


We’ve read stories recently of Haredim in Israel comparing Israeli politicians to Hitler and throwing stones at women praying at the Kotel; of Haredim in New York fighting to restrict the prosecution of sex abuse claims; of Haredim in Germany threatening the fragile truce on circumcision by defending the practice of adult men sucking blood directly from the penises of infants.

And that is just the tip of the fundamentalist iceberg. In recent months, the Forward has depicted the coercion and ignorance prevalent in American ultra-Orthodox communities: in brilliant essays by Judy Brown and Shulem Deen, in exposés of Hasidic money laundering… And of course, “fervently Orthodox” leaders have defended, justified, covered up and explained away sexual predators in a way that would make a Vatican official blush.

What has emerged from all this is a picture of a subculture that looks more like “The Sopranos” than like “Fiddler on the Roof” — a world in which a small elite maintains power at the expense of thousands of serfs. …

Meanwhile, “modesty brigades” and families willing to disown anyone who dares to leave patrol the walls of this contemporary shtetl. Imagine you’re an 18-year-old woman in a Hasidic enclave. You’re married, with two or three kids already, and you’ve been told that “outside” everyone is evil, depraved and miserable. You barely read English. And you know that when your cousin left, she was destitute, disowned and disgraced. There is no one to help you if you leave. You’re on your own. So of course you stay.

We are abandoning thousands of our fellow Jews to this hierarchy of power and abuse. We are doing nothing to help them.

And pretty soon, the hierarchy will overwhelm us.

Contrast this castigating of Jewish fundamentalism, published in an important Jewish news medium, to the crickets we get from Islamic media on the topic of Muslim fundamentalism.

Michaelson is right to raise concerns, and brave to risk the fury of his fellow Jews. I wish he had (more) company among followers of Allah.

[Image via Thanks to FailedMessiah for the link.]