The Associated Press reported on August 27th on a controversy in Israel. Ovadia Yosef, a strong spiritual leader of the Shas movement, an ultra-Orthodox political group in Israel, made controversial statements about Israeli soldiers. Speaking during a weekly televised sermon, he said:
"Is it any wonder if, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war?" he said, "when they don't observe the Sabbath, they don't observe the Torah, they don't pray every day, they don't put on phylacteries every day. Is it any wonder that they're killed? It's no wonder."
Of course this statement was met with outrage by the families of fallen soldiers. "Foolish words" by a "primitive man," is what Ran Cohen, a lawmaker from the dovish Meretz party, said of Yosef's remarks.
The head of the Shas party, Eli Yishai, quickly prepared a statement that Yosef was misunderstood, and would be issuing a clarification.
Yosef called Hurricane Katrina "God's Retribution" for President Bush's support of the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza.
Falwell and Robertson were silent on Katrina, but Yosef filled in for them. This is an example of religious extremism we are familiar with in the US, however, may not have heard much from Israel. Is this the result of basing your life on a religious text from thousands of years ago? The moderates were quick to condemn Yosef's statements, however, isn't he right? If you look at the Torah, isn't he right? Doesn't God punish those who don't follow his covenants? The moderates condemn him, but do they have a religious reason for doing so, or are they using reason, and common sense?
Moderate religious adherents allow extremism to flourish by using the same scripture as they do, but choosing to ignore parts they don't agree with. Modernity has allowed for much greater tolerance of people, and a more practical means for establishing ethics then stoning homosexuals or disobedient children. However, modernity, in a religious sense, has not updated scripture with the times. Is this because scripture is set in stone? Are there no more divinely inspired works because we now have the means to quickly discredit would be prophets? Why do we not treat ancient scripture with the same scrutiny we would treat David Koresh? If you are going to tell me that if I don't pray every day, and keep Mishvot, that God will kill me, you'd better have good evidence, otherwise, I'd just be wasting my time. Like Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."