My Way Or The Highway

Religious Zealotry

Rabbi Paul Plotkin
5 min readDec 1, 2022

Bibi Netanyahu had quite a day yesterday. He spoke at a NY Times sponsored event, DealBook, and then appeared on Bari Weiss’ podcast. In the first event he spoke about Israel and the world. He talked about Iran but also how he can bring about peace with the Palestinians since he will spread the peace process to other Arab nations that will in turn “ lead to the immediate peace with the Palestinians”.

With Bari Weiss he talked about domestic issues and knowing that there is great concern about forming a religious right-wing coalition that will include a minister from a party that is anti LGBTQ as a party platform, Bibi said,” This Israel is not going to be governed by Talmudic law….We don’t adopt the prohibition of rights to people who deserve it under Israeli law”.

It sounds good until you hear that he has agreed to the religious party Shas, and their demand that the Knesset pass a law to overturn the Supreme court’s ruling that recognized all converts converted in Israel for citizenship . They want to change that so that all converts converted in Israel must be converted by Orthodox Rabbis certified by the chief Rabbinate of Israel. This is important because now all Jews can currently receive citizenship under the law of return. That won’t be true after they pass this law. From that time on, converts converted outside of Israel by all streams of Judaism will still be accepted as Jews for citizenship but all converts converted in Israel will not be accepted unless the “right “ Rabbis, those recognized by the chief Rabbinate, do the conversion. This is a power play to keep out more progressive ORTHODOX Rabbis from being accepted, as well as Conservative and Reform Rabbis. And remember that Conservative and Reform conversions in and outside of Israel were never recognized as Jews for religious purposes in Israel.

A few years ago, someone leaked a secret list of Rabbis of all three denominations whose converts were not recognized. I am proud to share that I was one of the rabbis listed. Proud because I saw this like Groucho marks saw his exclusion from a restricted country club. He said I would not want to be a member of a club that would accept me as a member. I don’t want to be part of a rabbinate that would accept me as a member.

All this got me to thinking, why is there so much zealotry in religions? Why do zealots want to force conversions or at the least restrict the lives of those who do not share their beliefs? Why do they want to force their beliefs and practices on others? Can’t they live and let live?

If you don’t believe in abortion then fine, don’t abort your fetus. Can you hear me, Herschel Walker.

If you don’t believe in same sex marriage then fine, don’t marry the same sex.

If you live in Israel and don’t drive on shabbat then fine, don’t drive but don’t restrict your neighbor who wants to go to the beach.

If you don’t believe in inter-racial marriage, then don’t marry someone from another race. Can you hear me Justice Thomas?

And if you don’t believe in contraception don’t use it but get out of my bedroom you 6 judges of the Supreme Court.

These are not rhetorical questions that I am asking. I think they are real questions, and I will attempt to offer answers.

1) some people believe that they have a God given duty to proselytize. Proselytize means “to convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another”. Some are motivated to save your soul from eternal damnation. The rack of the inquisition was helping you by suffering in the short term but saving your soul for eternity. Others feel they are letting their God down by not saving you. Their failure is a demerit in the eyes of their god.

2) Some are just bullies who have power or want more power, and this is how they can get it. It is all a manifestation of a power trip and for small people this is the only way to power that they could not earn on their own.

3) There are a lot of insecure people in the world. When they commit to something they want everyone to do the same. This way they can be sure that what they have chosen is correct. For others to refuse or to refute is to challenge the wisdom their choice. “You are all with me or against me”. It is a binary choice with no room in the middle.

4) We have chosen a more restrictive pathway, foreswearing alcohol, or drugs or sex or frivolity in pursuit of a higher calling, yet you are drinking and partying and having casual sex, and do not seem to be suffering in the least. It is not fair! We should all be limited in our options because it is for a higher calling. If you don’t get it we will be sure to remind you, what the right approach is supposed to be.

5) Many committed people believe there is only one truth, and they own it. By definition then, all who are not with you do not have truth but have falsehoods they need to be saved from, even if sometimes it may kill them.

It seems to me that truly religious people are all about loving outreach. They understand that everyone has choices and their goal is to offer you something pleasant, something warm, welcoming, and loving that exposes you to a religious lifestyle. A true convert is one that chooses to join you not one who is forced to.

If you don’t want someone to drive on shabbat share with them the warmth of a shabbat table, the liberation from work stress and the ubiquitous cell phone, and let them choose not to drive.

If you don’t want someone to have an abortion teach them your view of when life begins, but at the same time offer them the resources that will pay for the birth and the upbringing of that child, and then they have real options to choose from.

If someone identifies as LGBTQ then accept them as being created in the image of God and work with them in finding their way to God, instead of trying to change who they are.

Otherwise, what you are saying is God made a mistake, and if you are truly religious how can that be?

People condemn religion because of all the wars that have been fought over religion. A closer look would show you they were wars for power and money and the religion was merely the uniform for your team. A tribal banner posing as a religion. It is time for love not hate, acceptance not contempt, tolerance not zealotry and if we did that we would be shocked to see how many religious people there would be.

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My book, “Wisdom Grows In My Garden” will be released April 27. More info to follow.



Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .