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A great many decades ago when I was yet the student in my beloved yeshiva on the old west side of Chicago, I remember that one of my great teachers told us an anecdote that points to an eternal truth regarding people and their personal ideologies and beliefs. He said that both the cat and the owner of the house are opposed to rats and mice. The difference however is that the owner of the house prefers that there be no rats or mice that will invade the premises one lives in. The cat on the other hand hopes that rats and mice will invade the house so that it will be able to pursue and catch them.

There are many areas of strife within our society regarding matters that, on the surface, appear to be those of religious observance and Jewish culture. There are among us very good people who would like to see these areas of disagreement minimized, debated quietly and decided wisely. They prefer that ways be found to solve the technical issues that arise without escalating them to the areas of ideology, true faith and eternal reward.
However, there are those in both the religious and secular sections of Israeli society that are determined to invite the rats into the house so that they can be caught and that every tactical issue and problem must automatically be raised to the level of crucial social ideology and policy. These people are the zealots that exist within both elements of our society.
Unfortunately, these people are the ones that seem to drive the agenda and the discussions regarding all issues. They always claim to be either defending religion and Judaism or defending democracy, pluralism or other currently politically correct ideas. But it appears they are only expressing the zealotry that somehow exists within them that drives them to extreme statements and eventually, bad behavior.
Some decades ago, Jerusalem was subject to weekly demonstrations on Shabbat regarding the issue of vehicular traffic on the main street of the city that passed directly through the middle of a neighborhood exclusively populated by strongly observant Jews. The zealots in that neighborhood quickly organized many hundreds of people every shabbat afternoon, shouting insults at the drivers of the cars traveling on that street.
They also insisted on warring with the police that were called to somehow keep the street open and prevent acts of violence from taking place. The zealots in the secular community immediately organized counter demonstrations that stood on the other side of the very same street and shouted insults and threats to the religious Jews gathered opposite them.  
This was a regular feature of Shabbat afternoon here in Jerusalem for many years until, almost magically, the issue lost its importance for both groups and the demonstrations and counter demonstrations disappeared.  It appears that once in the midst of these almost choreographed demonstrations, the secular group notified the religious group that somehow they would be unable to mount their demonstration on the next given Shabbat for various personal and technical reasons. In response to this, the religious group generously agreed that it would not mount its demonstration that Shabbat either since the mice would not appear there was no reason for the cat to exert itself.
Every society contains within it the malcontents and those who are always looking to stir up trouble and controversy. By so doing, they feel important and vindicated in their beliefs no matter what those beliefs may be. These people live for the turmoil and controversy that they are always attempting to create. The ideologies that they claim to represent are mostly specious, even irrelevant. Yet, the naïve and young are a willing audience for this type of zealotry because it creates the “other” that is necessary for zealotry to flourish.
Zealotry always flies in the face of reality. That does not allow one to accept the situation as it is but rather to try and force it to be the situation that one wishes it would be. In political contests and electioneering, this leads to very rough accusations and characterizations. Left unchecked it will eventually lead to violence, discrimination and autocratic rule.
In matters of ideology, it leads to censorship of thought and speech and demonization of others, no matter what the true circumstances and situation. A recognition of this type of behavior could enable our society to counter it and soften our debates and minimize our differences.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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