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Rabbi Waxman is correct to be worried about the rise of religious extremism in the Jewish community. He should be equally worried that the Israeli government continues to pander to the extortion of the religious right, enabling the ultra-Orthodox haredim to become even more extreme with every step.

First, the haredim attacked women who had gathered as a small group to pray together at the Western Wall. The government did nothing to stop them. Now they are threatening bus drivers and parades supposedly protected by freedom of speech. Still the government is doing nothing to stop them. Where will it end?

It takes guts and a strong political will to stand up to extremists of any stripe, and especially if you want their votes to prop up your government. You would think Israel , of all nations, would know the heavy price that will need to be paid by standing by in the face of injustice and the rise of intolerance.

This leads me to another troubling thought to begun the secular New Year. Does religion breed hate?

That is what a congregant recently asked me. I answered that the world does not need religion for hate to thrive. Just look at Hitler and Stalin, two anti-religious demigods, and the movements they mobilized. Like any powerful energy, religion is a neutral force that can be used for good or ill. It is up to us to use it wisely. One would hope that religion could breed cooperation, understanding, and compassion. But we see that is not necessarily true.

The scariest thing is that most extremists share with liberals the desire to build a better world. The problem is our definitions of what a “better world” would be is so very different. That is when it becomes the responsibility of the government to protect the firm boundaries of a social contract that protects diversity and the common weal and shows no tolerance for citizen-initiated threats or violence.

–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

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