Pinchas: Zealots, Radicals and Peaceniks



With religious fundamentalism terrorizing the world, this is a good time to explore the Torah’s view on zealotry.

Jews are not zealots. Jews are not radicals. Jews are not kamikaze pilots or suicide-bombers. Judaism – the Torah – abhors all forms of fanaticism and extremism.

And the historical record bears this out. In fact, there is only one documented instance of suicidal zealotry in Jewish history and that ended with the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel. We do well to remember that event as we commemorate the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, with the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz.

And with this thought in mind, it is most puzzling to see that, in this week’s reading, the Torah sanctions zealotry – for it commends Pinchas for killing Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, while the latter was involved in a public act of immoral behavior.

In fact, in all of Torah, this is the only instance of sanctioned zealotry. Why would the Torah commend this one instance of zealous behavior when it knows the risks of how it can be interpreted?

And what does this teach us about modern day zealotry and its dangers? Haven’t we learned the repercussions of the destruction perpetrated in the name of G-d by religious extremists?!

This sermon, while explaining why Judaism rejects radicalism, also demonstrates that there is a time for zealous passion – but guided by humility, love and compassion. And that in this era of apathy and complacency, it is very much needed.






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