Dangers of Ultra-Orthodoxy
© February 2002 by Asher Intrater
Since the creation of the state of Israel, the political power and social influence of the ultra-orthodox has grown steadily. There are many striking similarities between the ultra-orthodox of today and the group known as the "Pharisees" in the first century. It is important that we have a balanced view in understanding the spirit of ultra-orthodoxy.
In ultra-orthodoxy, we find both the best and the worst elements of spiritual life. The ultra-orthodox are particularly beloved in my eyes. I feel a certain call to them and have had the opportunity for close personal contact and sharing, more than most of the Messianic Jewish community.
In the history of Christianity, Jews were often seen only on the negative side. The fact was missed of how the Jews are "beloved" and they were seen only as "enemies." Not only was this unbalanced and unbiblical, but as the Christian church turned Gentile and became distanced from its Jewish roots, this theological mistake also took on racist terms. The Jews were seen as the "synagogue of Satan" (Revelation 2:9, 3:9) in an almost biological sense: Gentiles were good genetically and Jews demonic.
The modern Messianic movement has done much to restore the appreciation of the positive elements within ultra-orthodoxy. In this restoration of understanding the "beloved" nature of our people, we have sometimes erred in overlooking some of the dangerous elements. I have written and spoken much on the positive elements. In this article, I want to touch upon a few of the dangers.
Note: In Israel the term used for ultra-orthodox Jews is "haredi." By the term "haredi", I am referring primarily to those who wear black coats and black head covering (although there are some haredi who do not wear black). The haredi have traditionally been anti-Zionist and against serving in the army, although today that is also beginning to change.
Let us endeavor to find that balance in loving and appreciating the haredi on the one hand, and yet being aware of the spiritual dangers on the other. Yeshua (Jesus) did warn us not to be effected by even a little bit of their teachings. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, Luke 12:1). Have we become so sophisticated in our theology that we do not need to heed Yeshua's warnings?
In Matthew chapter 23 Yeshua brought sharp criticism against the Pharisees for the spirit of hypocrisy. That passage contains relevant criticism for all of us, as each person has a tendency towards hypocrisy. Yet, there is also a particular warning in that criticism about spiritual dangers still found today in the haredi community.
Yeshua criticized them for laying burdens on others but not bearing those burdens themselves (verse 4). The two greatest burdens in Israel today are the heavy taxation and the military service. The ultra-orthodox have not contributed to the tax base but have taken money from the government to support their religious institutions; and they have refused to serve in the military, sending other young Israelis to die in their place.
Yeshua's criticisms about emphasis on clothing (verse 5), on maneuvering for seats of honor in the synagogue (verse 6), and inflating titles of honor for the rabbis (verse 7) are still acutely relevant today. The emphasis still is placed on the minutiae of ritual law instead of basic moral issues (verse 23), on cleaning hands and utensils more than purity of heart (verse 25), and an obsession with funerals and gravesites (verse 29).
We Messianic Jews, actively involved in sharing the gospel with our people, have noticed the intense and even irrational hatred for us and for Yeshua. This hatred is coupled with guilt manipulation and religious intimidation. This guilt and intimidation is based on a two fold lie:
1. If you believe in Yeshua you will go to hell, and
2. If you witness about Yeshua, you deserve to die, because you are leading other people to hell.
This dual lie puts huge pressure on any person of haredi background who wants to follow Yeshua. (In fact six times in the gospel of John, it is mentioned that people would not admit that they were believers in Yeshua because of their fear of the Jewish religious leaders [John 3:2,7:13,9:22,12:42,19:38,20:19].)
In this way, the religious leaders not only reject Yeshua themselves, but they also work to prevent other people from believing in Him.
These are classic cult tactics. Every cult pressures its members to stay in the group through guilt manipulation, intimidation by the leaders, and mind control.
Ultra-orthodoxy in Israel today is aggressively recruiting new members. This is a phenomenon not seen in the 2,000-year history of the exile, but found today in a modern Israeli secular state.
Matthew 23:15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell (Gehenom) as yourselves."
There is a matter of truth here. Is Yeshua the Messiah? Did He come to save us from condemnation? Of course! The truth happens to be exactly the opposite of what the religious leaders are saying. Those who believe in the gospel will be saved, and those who refuse to be saved will be damned (Mark 16:18). God so loved the world that He gave us Yeshua so that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life (John 3:16). Yeshua did not come to condemn us but to save us (John 3:17). Anyone who believes in Yeshua will not be condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned by the mere fact that he has missed God's offer of salvation (John 3:18).
All of our sharing of the gospel is for one purpose: to give people life and salvation and to escape condemnation. We encourage free examination of the texts of the Tenach (Old Testament), the New Covenant, and all additional literature whether Jewish or Christian in origin. It is the intellectual honesty to allow independent study of the texts that makes the difference between cultic control and religious freedom.
We love our people with all our heart, whether secular or religious. However, we must not underestimate the demonic nature of opposition to the gospel. We cannot help our people to be delivered from this demonic spirit unless we recognize it. Were we dealing with a person who had come out of drug abuse, Hinduism, prostitution, Islam, or a witchcraft cult, we would immediately be aware of the conflict with demonic spirits. We must challenge those spirits the same way if we are to see our people set free.
Yeshua is obviously not saying that Jewish people are a demonic race. (He and we and all His disciples are Jewish.) He is saying that there is a religious blindness connected with ultra-orthodoxy that is empowered by a demonic spirit. There are elements today within the haredi world of superstition, magic, reincarnation, mind control and cultic manipulation.
Yeshua spoke these words of harsh rebuke in order to set His people free because He loved them and was not afraid to challenge the demonic spirits holding them captive. Let us have the same love and boldness so that we might see our people saved.
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