Sedona Red Rock News has an article about a presentation given by
professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University, Björn Krondorfer, which offered academic insight of religious fundamentalism. At the presentation on February 22, 2017, Krondorfer examined the basics of fundamentalist movements in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
He outlines six aspects that characterize religious fundamentalism (listed below). All of these aspects are observed in the Chabad-Lubavitch ultra-Orthodox Jewish organization as well as most other sects of haredi Judaism
Krondorfer started off by defining fundamentalism as scholars understand it. The term emerged as a self-description of American evangelicals in the late 19th century and publicly manifested itself in the 1920s with the publication of a newspaper called “The Fundamentalist.”
At the same time, fundamentalist movements also rose in Islam, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, although in Judaism this development was delayed until after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
Krondorfer defined the main features of religious fundamentalism:
- Scripturalism: The literal belief in a sacred text, from which a single truth is derived.
- Traditioning: The application of a mythic past to the present. As Krondorfer made clear, this is not to be confused with traditionalism, which is the practice of maintaining a certain way of being from a certain point in time onward.
- Purity: The effort to achieve and maintain moral and social purity, which distinguished members of the movement from outsiders.
- Activism: The effort to convince the rest of society of the movement’s beliefs.
- Totalism: A way of living in which religion informs every aspect of life.
- Selective modernization: The use of technology and other modern achievements for the benefit of the movement.
In his discussion on Jewish fundamentalism, Krondorfer divides the movement into two groups: Talmudic fundamentalists and Torah fundamentalists. The most noteworthy difference between the groups is their attitude toward Zionism and the state of Israel in regards to their approach of hastening or speeding up the coming of the Messiah. Talmudic fundamentalists, the group haredim fall into, tend to oppose the state of Israel due to feelings that its secular nature will not help (and may delay) the coming of the Messiah. Krondorfer cites a group called the Gush Emunim, as an example of Torah fundamentalist who support settling the entire state of Israel as a means of bringing the Messiah.
As mentioned earlier, the features of religious fundamentalism outlined by Krondorfer above are found in all forms of fundamentalist Judaism. And they are all clearly present in the largest and most commercialized sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, the Chabad-Lubavitch outreach organization. Due to the fact that Chabad has to mingle with the outside world to execute and fund their outreach mission, they often go to great effort to minimize the differences between the movement’s insiders and the outsider population of Jews they target. On one hand they want to appear completely accepting of outsiders (their customers), while on the other hand they pursue the goal of changing the outreach target (who is in fact unacceptable as they are) to adopt full, Chabad brand, religious observance.
Chabad often sends mixed messages about their view of Zionism and the state of Israel as well. Traditionally they have not supported Israel. However since their customer base often includes many Israelis and Israel supporters, they speak of Israel in a way that implies support. For example, they may speak highly of “the land of Israel” but not “the state of Israel.” This is classic Chabad doublespeak designed to satisfy both sides of the fence in order to not alienate any potential donors.
Jewish fundamentalist movements can be categorized into Talmudic fundamentalists and Torah fundamentalists. The ultra-orthodox Haredim, for example, take the writings of Haredi Rabbi in the Talmud literally, and are therefore classified by scholars as Talmudic fundamentalists. The Haredim retreat from the rest of society and believe that when the Messiah comes, all Jews will be reunited in Israel. Because of this, they are mostly anti-Zionist, as they are certain that a secular state will not speed up the coming of the Messiah.
On the other hand, a group called the Gush Emunim can be designated as Torah fundamentalists. The members of this movement believe in the settling of Palestinian land as a religious mandate to hasten the coming of the Messiah. For the same reason, one of their main goals is to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. Krondorfer said that the Gush Emunim collaborate well with Christian fundamentalists, as the latter see the return of the Jews to Israel as a sign of the end of history and therefore support the aforementioned efforts.
Religious fundamentalism can often lead to dangerous religious extremism. Two examples previously discussed on this blog are: