Jewish fundamentalism should be just that, a return to the fundamentals. Not the creative Reconstructionist reworking of the commandments to suit today’s preferences. Not the wholesale Reformist abrogation of the commandments. Not the rabbinical substitution of the wise and arcane for the divine. The Karaites were initially close to the mark, but eventually developed a body of interpretation just like the pharisaic rabbis’.
One cannot easily believe the rabbinical accusations of heresy against the Sadducees, the righteous descendants of the High Priest Zadok who were in charge of the Temple until its demise. Whatever the corruption among the Temple’s clergy—and it couldn’t have been worse than the modern corruption among rabbis—it is implausible that the priests consciously perverted the Jewish religion by rejecting the Oral Torah. It is unbelievable that the priests lacked the Oral Torah which, as the rabbis claim, was received at Sinai along with the commandments.
The Oral Law derives from the very questionable premise that every question should be legislated. When the Torah bans exhaustive work on Sabbath, the question arises: should every Jew interpret the term “exhaustive work,” or should it be legislated in the minutest details? A secular version of the argument is this: pedestrians can cross the road on a green light; should they start walking from the right or left leg?
It’s not only a question of the Oral Torah. In halacha, the Oral Torah laws laid out in the Mishnah are very few. For the most part, halacha expounds on the mishnaic laws. For example: the Torah bars Jews from boiling a goat kid in its mother’s milk. From that, the Oral Torah surmises that no meat can be cooked with milk in any way. The prohibition was expanded to bird meat, and eventually developed all the way to maintaining separate sinks for meat and milk dishes.
Rabbis equated halachic rules with the commandments: in rabbinism, both are equally binding. Such an approach set a trap for less-than-Orthodox Jews: once they reject the unreasonable prohibition against using a mobile phone on Sabbath, they also reject the biblical prohibition of Sabbath work. Rabbis themselves have a nice Midrash on the issue. God told Adam not to eat from the tree before Eve was made. Afterwards, Adam related to her the divine prohibition, adding that she should not even touch the tree. The serpent pushed her unto the tree, and contrary to what Adam had told her, Eve saw that she didn’t die. She consequently concluded that the rest of Adam’s prohibition was also untrue—and ate the apple. She would not dare to break the divine prohibition per se, but broke it as a part of her husband’s unreasonable prohibition. This is what happens with rabbinical law: many Jews who wouldn’t dare to break the simple divine commandments abandon them as a small part of the halachic heap.
Many halachic laws are sensible and beneficial, but that doesn’t make them sound theology. Brushing teeth is also beneficial, but the Torah is silent on it. Washing hands is also beneficial; the ritual possibly saved the Jews during the Black Death, but it was invented by rabbis with no immediate basis in the Torah.
The fundamentalist’s answer is: You should not subtract a single word from the Torah—but neither can you add to it.
Rabbis have not only added to the Torah, but subtracted a lot. There are a total of 613 commandments in rabbinical tradition. Most are circumstantial rather than expressed directly, some are derived implausibly, but more or less the number is correct. Rabbis require modern Jews to observe less than 20 percent of the commandments; the rest are declared outdated. Two huge classes of thus phased-out laws are the purity and law enforcement.
The rabbis abandoned purity laws because the Temple was destroyed. The reasoning might have backfired. During the centuries of benevolent Muslim rule in the holy land, Jews could have rebuilt the Temple alongside the Al Aqsa. The Muslim structure rigorously conforms to the Jewish requirements of monotheism and the absence of images, and wouldn’t have defiled the neighboring Temple. Be it as it may, the rabbis opposed building the Temple, and contrary to Rambam’s opinion demanded that it be delivered supernaturally.
Jews have an experience of living without a Temple or the Tent of Meeting. When Samson was conceived rather supernaturally, his father made a sacrifice right in the field without a thought of going to the Tent; visiting angel approved his offering. Jews in the Kingdom of Israel could not possibly have conducted purification rites in the Temple, a month’s journey away from them. For the same reason, they could hardly have gathered in Jerusalem thrice annually for the major festivals, but were obligated to bring the offerings nonetheless. Recognizing this situation, Deuteronomy allows Jews who live far from the Temple to slaughter animals away from its gates. Now, in the absence of the Temple, we must reinstate offerings, including animal slaughter. Besides being the right thing religiously, that would also serve a great political purpose: the Jews who bring animal sacrifices to God, even as a matter of picnics, are not liberal interfaith people like everyone else. Such Jews cannot be asked to leave Judea or Jerusalem.
The Temple-less sacrifices are historically standard. Without urim and tummim devices, the high priests were unable to perform ideally, as the Torah tells them. After the Arc was lost, the First Temple ceased to be divine. The Second Temple, whose Holy of the Holies was routinely desecrated, was hardly a divine abode. Its high priests would have shamed Aaron, and were hardly more advanced spiritually than Ovadia Yosef. The rule is to observe what we can. Jews sacrificed in the non-ideal Temple; we can sacrifice without the Temple.
Rabbis abrogated their responsibility for criminal enforcement for a reason: subjugated to Graeco-Syrians, then Romans, then Christians, Jews lacked criminal jurisdiction. In order to save face, the rabbis abandoned criminal justice by establishing impossible rules of evidence and procedure. For example, in the absence of rightful Sanhedrin they refused to impose capital punishment. For most of our history Jews sentenced other Jews to death without Sanhedrin. To assert that Sanhedrin sat in the Temple is ludicrous: the Temple was controlled by anti-pharisaic Sadducees who wouldn’t allow the rabbinical court anywhere close. It is equally absurd to imagine that all those accused of capital crimes were transported from Israel to Judea for hearings. The Bible is clear that town elders had the necessary jurisdiction. It didn’t take Sanhedrin to kill the evil queen Jezebel.
During the centuries in the Exile, Jews executed informants with no Sanhedrin, simply because they endangered the entire Jewish community, sort of like the Knesset today. It is obscene to imagine that Jews lacked the right to execute Judenrat authorities or Eichmann because the rabbis cannot properly reestablish Sanhedrin.
Citing the absence of Sanhedrin, the rabbis effectively abrogated possibly the most important commandment: to establish justice in Jewish society. They formally comply with the commandment to establish courts, but the rabbinical courts preside over trivial matters only. This situation, in which Jewish political and religious criminals go unpunished, is unbearable. Contrary to rabbinical teaching, the Torah doesn’t support the idea of afterlife punishment. Prophet Samuel’s soul complained to Saul of being awakened. If the soul of such an exceedingly righteous man abided in eternal sleep, then the souls of the wicked enjoy no life, tormented or otherwise. The pharisaic doctrine of the reincarnation of good people’s souls isn’t biblically unwarranted.
Rabbis creatively solved much heavier theological problems than the broken line of succession in Sanhedrin. The real reason behind their reluctance to reinstate the court is that they don’t want the responsibility. Once the court sits in place, some very uncomfortable questions would arise. The Torah commands us to execute transgressors of the Sabbath and banish homosexuals. Some of the harsh rules are solved already in the Torah: a wife without the tokens of virginity was originally executed, but later just divorced because her husband found “something shameful about her.” The rabbinical assertion that a single person was executed for Sabbath violation is without basis. True, the Bible contains a single example of such an execution, but so what? It is not a court record. There is no biblical example of Jews washing their cows; should we not wash ours at the farms? Besides, even if a single Jew were killed for transgressing the Sabbath, it reconfirms the law rather than demonstrates that it was meant to be moot.
The religious enforcement according to the Torah rather than Shulhan Aruch won’t be intrusive. What Jew in his right mind can protest the prohibition of exhausting work on Sabbath or leaven on Pesach? Even secular people would gladly agree to this mild coercion, which would form Jews into a nation. And we can always select the ultra-left traitors for exemplary execution.
Fundamentalist Judaism signifies a return from being nice persecuted Jews to real-life existence. Rabbis ban evil speech, but the Torah prescribes that we confront evildoers, reproach them, and stop their wickedness—by force if necessary—lest we share in their guilt through our inaction. The real Judaism, you see, is anything but nice; indeed it is rather militant. It is a religion for club-wielding Jews who are equally ready to wield their clubs on their enemies’ heads and on those of Jewish transgressors. Indeed, the Torah commands average Jews who happen to witness a crime to execute the transgressors once they are condemned.
Jewish fundamentalism sheds the man-made and resumes the man-abrogated in the theology of Judaism.