In the years since the end of World War II, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has seen dramatic growth in the U.S. and has been influential in fueling extremism and terrorism in Israel.
While fewer than 100,000 Orthodox European Jews entered the country after 1945, their effects were profound. “Only the religious believers had a clear and unshakable answer to the question of why be a Jew,” Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg has written. These particular believers, according to Hertzberg, “asserted the most uncompromising, separatist version of the Jewish religion…For the first time in modern American history, the secular humanistic impulse of American Jewry…faced the challenge of a vibrant, charismatic and almost completely antithetical belief system with institutions and folkways of its own
Aside from an energetic and visible leadership, the Jews who support the Oslo agreements are largely those disengaged from Israel in all but sentimental ways. The opposition, resting disproportionately in the Orthodox population, is the segment of American Jewry most involved with Israel, most committed to it in concrete actions. This passionate minority has dominated the peace issue, influencing events from the halls of Congress to the settlements of the West Bank, arguing on grounds of both security and Torah that Israel must never surrender the lands won in 1967
“The lineage of American extremists,” writes Freedman, “led directly to Kiryat Arba’s doctor, a former New Yorker named Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein studied with Meir Kahane. He closely followed Alan Goodman’s attack at the Dome of the Rock. And on Feb. 25, 1994 he enacted a more successful version of it, shooting to death 29 Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Hebron
The case of Baruch Goldstein highlights the connection between Jewish extremism in the U.S. and Israel. Goldstein, a militant Zionist from New York, had been a member of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), founded by the late Meir Kahane. Kahane urged his followers to emigrate to Israel and called for the removal of all Arabs from the West Bank. After the violent mass murder at Hebron, Goldstein was viewed as a hero by many of the Israeli settlers.
Goldstein’s hero, Meir Kahane, had moved to Israel in 1971 and was popular enough to win a seat in the Knesset under the banner of his Kach Party. He developed legislation for The Prevention of Assimilation Between Jews and Non-Jews and for the Sanctity of the Jewish People. It called, among other things, for separate beaches for Jews and non-Jews and for an end to mixed summer camps and community centers. His legislation, much like Nazi Germany’s Nuremburg Laws, declared that, “Jews are forbidden to marry non-Jews…mixed marriages will not be recognized in the countries in which they were held…Jews are forbidden to have sexual relations of any sort with non-Jews…”
Early in the 20th century, the Orthodox in America gave every indication of withering to a vestige. As late as 1955, sociologist Marshall Sklare dismissed the Orthodox experience in the U.S. as “a case study of institutional decay.” Now, we have witnessed an Orthodox renaissance. With less than 10 percent of the Jewish population, the Orthodox disproportionately affect the larger community.
The Halakhic instrument promoted by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, both in Israel and the U.S., that ultimately convinced Yigal Amir that he should kill Yitzhak Rabin was the ancient Jewish doctrine of zealotry. The doctrine maintains that under the most extreme circumstances, a God-loving Jew can kill another person without asking permission.