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Taking Our Torah Back From Tyrants

I was done with Judaism and I was angry about being done and I was telling my aunt Renee all about it.

It was about seven years ago; that was the last time I ever saw her, before she made Aliyah to Israel.

We were not too far from the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC. Its words are from a speech he gave on March 15, 1941, nearly a year before Germany declared war on the United States and we responded in kind.

A fuller quote from the speech explains why Nazism was not only an existential danger but an ideological one. It is the sick idea that there are a few superior people who deserve to rule the many, and that if they have to do so by force then so be it.
"Nazi forces are not seeking mere modifications in colonial maps or in minor European boundaries. They openly seek the destruction of all elective systems of government on every continent — including our own; they seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers who have seized power by force."
The President explains that the Nazis’ followers were brainwashed into thinking things would be better, more orderly, more stable in the future idealized “new order.” But that is not the way stability works. For stability is based on freedom. Freedom yields willing participation by the many over a long period of time.
"Yes, these men and their hypnotized followers call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order. For order among Nations presupposes something enduring — some system of justice under which individuals, over a long period of time, are willing to live. Humanity will never permanently accept a system imposed by conquest and based on slavery."
No matter how pious somebody seems to be, if they act to control other people’s lives, they are nothing more than evil.

Sometimes it takes us awhile to figure out what is happening. But eventually that lightbulb does go off in our brains.
"These modern tyrants find it necessary to…eliminate all democracies- eliminate them one by one. The Nations of Europe, and indeed we ourselves, did not appreciate that purpose. We do now."
My aunt Renee is observant but she did not try to proselytize me like religious people tend to do when confronted with an angry nonbeliever.

She simply said, “You owe it to yourself to explore your heritage first.”

Those 10 words.

They were the beginning of a very painful journey, one that I am still on.

Because I had been running away from a corrupt, cultish version of Judaism that did not resemble the observant ways I had learned in my youth.

In my mind I never conceived of the possibility that my own personal experience was part of a much larger problem. Which can be briefly stated thus:

Orthodox Judaism itself had become more and more tyrannical, and it was suffocating me.

Was it a coincidence that we walked near the FDR memorial that day?

I don’t think so.

Tyranny is a social disease — a cancer that can spring up anywhere. Even among those who have survived it.

The intervening years have left me wandering, or maybe more like stumbling, along a path that feels something like “coming back to faith.”

Something else is happening as well. Something hopeful, something shocking, something spontaneous that I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would live to see.

Observant Jews themselves are gathering in a loosely networked movement.

We are waking up to that fact that some people use religion as a cover for something that is truly, deeply evil.

Our G-d is One G-d and He gave us the Holy Torah by which to live our lives. Good people can disagree, can have a healthy debate about what the moral course of action is in any given situation.

But bad people have to have their way. And when they try to have their way, they inevitably claim that G-d Himself is behind them.

Truly Orthodox Jews are not tyrants.

We have come to take our religion back.

More on this to follow.

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All opinions my own.

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