Is there any difference between a religion and a cult?

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  • #2075499
    jews4biden
    Participant

    Religions seem to be the same as cults, but everyone goes crazy about cults, and most people (except atheists) are pro religion? Why is that? Is there a difference or is it hypocrisy? Come at me

    #2075562
    ujm
    Participant

    Christianity is a cult. It’s founder, who claimed to be g-d, was a cult leader. It’s claims are as absurd as they get.

    #2075602
    ☕️coffee addict
    Participant

    People who follow a religion are seen as moral (there is a moral code)

    People who follow a cult are usually seen as immoral (kidnapping, marrying people against their will, etc)

    #2075618
    Ysiegel
    Participant

    Ok sure, let’s define; what is a cult? (in other words, what exactly are we talking about before we go down a whirlpool of each of us giving lists of points that are completely irrelevant to that of the other? Let’s make sure we’re talking about the same things before proceeding. What exactly, then, is a cult as you are intending?)

    #2075623
    Reb Eliezer
    Participant

    Maybe Shlomo Hamelech who says אל תצדק הרבה, don’t be too religious is warning about making Judaism a cult.

    #2075634
    AviraDeArah
    Participant

    Ujm, we don’t find that yushke claimed divinity. The early accounts say that he prayed; god wouldn’t pray to himself.

    Paul attributed divinity to him, but even this wasn’t formalized into christian doctrine until the council of nicea hundreds of years later.

    Cults are “cultivated”, around charismatic yet dubious individuals who are interested in power, self gain, etc

    Religions are organized movements which don’t require such a dynamic, although there have been many which did.

    #2075637
    akuperma
    Participant

    In legalese, there are distinctions. Canon law (which determined the legalese in most western languages) considers a cult to be a subset with specific laws and customs (e.g. the “Oriental Catholic” rites), but at still part of the normative religion. By that standard, Ashkenazim and Sefardim would be “cults” of Judaism.

    In some modern legal systems, a “cult” may be defined such as to allow its persecution even though “religion” is respected (consider “Scientology” which is banned is some countries that otherwise hold by freedom of religion). From a Jewish perspective, “Reform” would be probably considered a “cult”, as would be Christianity and Islam.

    In popular American usage, a “cult” is a religion that you disrespect.

    A factor to consider is whether members of the groups in question freely intermarry without asking one party to convert. That in part gets to the definition of a sect.

    #2075663
    Yukel face
    Participant

    Btw I wanna open a cult…

    #2075664
    Yukel face
    Participant

    In general, A cult is an extreme version of any religion including judaisim, were there is abuse, and extortion
    But in truth, you have to see one to know one…

    #2075667
    ObservantJew
    Participant

    Religion is what I follow, cult is what people I don’t like ARE!

    #2075679
    2scents
    Participant

    While there are some overlapping similarities between a cult and a religion, they are not the same.

    In simplistic terms, a cult is where people have extreme dedication and worship a leader, or are controlled by a leader.

    Religion is a set of shared beliefs about a supernatural power and is consistent with basic mainstream standards for human dignity.

    There are some overlapping characteristics which is why religions are sometimes brushed off as cults, but they are fundamentally different.

    #2075693
    GadolHadofi
    Participant

    Lev Tahor pretends to be part of Judaism but has been proven to be a murderous cult.

    #2075730
    Avram in MD
    Participant

    jews4biden,

    “Religions seem to be the same as cults, but everyone goes crazy about cults, and most people (except atheists) are pro religion?”

    The term “cult” does not have a cut and dry definition. In older usage, it may describe a group within a broader religious tradition that focuses its devotion on a particular religious ritual or figure, such as Catholic cults dedicated to certain saints. In modern English usage, however, it is a pejorative used against people who think things you don’t like. Thus, secular people hostile towards religious belief may label all religions as cults, while religious believers may label those who hold beliefs they are opposed to as cultists. Not all accusations of being a cult or a person being a cult leader are religious in nature (Exhibits A and B: Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci, depending on your political views).

    How I personally define it: a cult is a group of people with complete devotion to a charismatic leader, where the leader exercises almost complete control over his/her followers’ lives. Cultists usually will break off contact with family and friends at the behest of this leader, will give him complete control of their finances, their children, where they live, etc. By this definition, a cult would be avoda zara for Jews, as it involves the worship of a human being, whether or not the cult is based on religion. Unlike ujm, I would not call those who worship a dead man a cult, as the dead have no power to control others, though such worship is still avoda zara. However, cults can form when a person claims the mantle of a dead figure that others worship and uses that claim to control them.

    #2075739
    commonsaychel
    Participant

    Is there a difference between a troll and a sock puppet?

    #2075749
    Reb Eliezer
    Participant

    Jim Jones in Guiana, 1978 where 900 people killed themselves for his name is an example of a cult.

    #2075826
    Marxist
    Participant

    Some people have claimed that Marxism is a religion and a cult.

    #2075855
    The_Silent_Majority
    Participant

    A common aspect of almost all cults is a disregard for the quality of life of women and children. Typically, absolute power is held by a man or a few men. The voices of all others, notably women and children, are completely silenced. Child brides, poor to non-existent children’s education and denying basic human dignity of women and children is often the common denominator.

    In this light, there are religions that are also cults.

    #2075863
    AviraDeArah
    Participant

    Silent, there have been cults that don’t differentiate between genders, such as scientology.

    #2075862
    BaalHabooze
    Participant

    The answer is that by a cult its leaders tell all followers not to talk to anyone outside the cult about what goes on inside the cult rooms.
    This is what I heard from people working in kiruv rechokim, and helped people ‘stuck’ inside a cult.

    #2075890
    ☕️coffee addict
    Participant

    Baalhabooze,

    Don’t we tell other Jews not to get into religious discussions with other religions?

    #2075984
    ready now
    Participant

    Who here is defending religions other than Judaism and the 7 Noahide laws?

    All other religions are cults they are based on belief in non-existant g-ds, some of them so-called supernatural, some physical, they are all non-g-ds, null, void, cults, even when shrouded in societal respectability. Those revering ‘monotheism’ have it wrong,- to ascribe attributes to the G-D of Israel other than what those attributes are actually is also known as idolatry.

    Anyone who imagins that in Judaism a person who brings back his own Jewish child is kidnapping is naive, completely unlearned.

    #2076117
    Chaylev Halyah
    Participant

    @jews4biden
    ATHIESTS are just as religious as anyone else – they are polytheists %100.
    They worship the gods of Creation – and their belief system is just as religious as everyone else.
    just as radical as everyone else.

    Dont try to make it sound like they arent religious – that is PROPAGANDA!!

    #2076202
    BaalHabooze
    Participant

    @Chaylev,
    All atheists nowadays are absolutely dumb uneducated ignorant fools. They are not religious, nor polytheists, all they are is people living the ‘free’ life they want and making excuses and tirutzim and rationalizations to back them up their lifestyle. If they really really wanted to know the truth about Gd, they would use common sense with a mix of all the great teachings of past authors on the subject: Rambam, Yehuda HaLeivy (Kuzary), Ramchal, etc etc. But they never read any of that and are simply uneducated cynical people with limited minds. You think they worship gods?! They don’t have time for gods except when they curse.
    Even religious goyim are so few and real and true to their religion. The biggest religion nowadays is Hollywood movies.

    #2076122
    AviraDeArah
    Participant

    Ready, you don’t need to hyphenate the word god when it’s lashon chol. You’re allowed to say “I don’t believe in elohim acherim” without saying elokim as well, because it’s not a name of Hashem.

    There’s a popular (and hartzig) isaac honig song that includes the words “ain kemocha be’elohim Hashem”, there is none like you among the… Powerful ones? gods? I forgot the pshat in that phrase, but either way, when i sing that song i say elohim because it’s lashon chol.

    #2076200
    BaalHabooze
    Participant

    @coffee addict, nope. never once was I told that. But I know what you mean. People are scared of others going OTD if they hear what’s going on out there, but that’s because it might me enticing. But on the other hand, Da Ma Shetoshuv, you need to know what to answer. As a matter of fact I’ve had many many non-jews ask me about my religion over the years and I gladly answered them all. I was once told by a goy that his religion was true and it is clear in Nach. I did not have an answer at the time as I was young and didn’t know pesukim from Yecheskel etc which he quoted. So I asked my rabbi what its talking about and that was the end of that. Most people are asking out of curiosity.
    By a cult you dare talk a word about what they do.

    #2076215
    smerel
    Participant

    The question sure seems like a troll question but I’ll answer it anyway.

    These days the term cult (which the question makes no effort to define) is used so broadly that it frequently really boils to “members of a group with strong opinions or a lifestyle you dislike”

    As such pretty much any group can be accused of being a cult. Or one could can question if joining a cult is really such a bad idea. If you can enhance your life by joining a group that others consider to be a cult I would say go right ahead (assuming the only real issue with the group is that others accuse it’s members of being cultists)

    A cult is only bad and a cult when there is a charismatic leader knowingly misusing the trust of his followers for his own benefit. An example of such a guy is Reverends Moon . A guy who misleads his followers to terrible results because he believes what he is saying is not a cult leader. An example of such a guy is an atheistic scientist.

    #2076225
    Gadolhadorah
    Participant

    A couple of years ago there was a story here on YWN about some young man who got semicha (I don’t recall from whom) and then immediately declared he was starting his own chassidus with himself, of course, as “the Rebbe”. No idea what has happened to his chassidus but I don’t think this would qualify as a “cult”. Conversely, it would seem among yidden, the Lev Tahor types along Berland and his frequently violent followers clearly fall within most notions of a cult expressed above.

    #2076232
    AviraDeArah
    Participant

    Gadol, I agree with the sentiment that lev tahor is a cult. It literally has every characteristic of one – it’s insular, views any outsiders as eternally condemned heathens, makes its adherents live in squalor, has one or two leaders who everyone gives their undying loyalty and money to, engages in immoral behavior for the sake ot its continuity…the list goes on

    I don’t believe barland’s followers are part of a cult. As far as i know, he did not separate them from the rest of the world and make them live on communes. He didn’t make all of his followers give him all of their money. He also didn’t regard any non-shuvu bonim person as a heretic. They live normal lives, except for the few criminals he had in his orbit. I don’t see the comparison.

    #2076235
    AviraDeArah
    Participant

    Also, unlike the founder of lev tahor, barland was, at some point, a talmid chochom who was recognized as such. He was a rosh yeshiva who gave shiurim. He was held in moderate esteem by his contemporaries, but was not without his detractors either.

    LT was started by a confused, probably manic depressive megalomaniac with little education who decided that the whole world was off the derech.

    #2076243
    🍫Syag Lchochma
    Participant

    I believe that in addition to many of the above ‘stuff’, a huge determiner of cult is when the leader starts doing things that are wrong (halachically, morally) and people keep following anyway. Which is why Avirah is wrong about Berland followers. He may have been a talmid chochom at one time but as soon as he was rubbing his hands on female faces, telling people to put explosives under a bed and other things out in the open to followers who don’t call him out on it, well, that’s when it’s a cult. If CH”V a gadol or talmid chochom displayed these behaviors in public, yidden would shut him out.
    The problem is when it involves bad behavior done in private. I am not addressing that because there are other factors involved, but PUBLIC displays of inappropriate behavior that are accepted by ‘followers’ indicates cult behavior at worst and non Jewish behavior at best.

    #2076241
    Gadolhadorah
    Participant

    AD: While I acknowledge that at some point decades ago, Berland may have started out as a “normal” rav, he long ago sunk into the dark slime of someone who abused and assaulted women and misled thousands of yidden into a cult-like following which has resulted in multiple criminal indictments and convictions. He is today a rashah gamur, notwithstanding what he might have been in a prior life.

    #2076244
    Gadolhadorah
    Participant

    AD: Good point regarding Berland’s followers. I’m probably casting too wide a net rather than focusing on the subset of thugs that have been engaged in violence and in my mind, are acting in a cult-like manner.

    #2076252
    🍫Syag Lchochma
    Participant

    GH – how is it a good point? If he is a rasha gamur and they are supporting him in droves, then they are obviously in cult mode

    #2076256
    AviraDeArah
    Participant

    Syag, while it obviously would have been best to cast him out as soon as he started engaging in sinful behavior, things don’t work that way even in the non jewish world. When someone is in a position of power, it can take a long time to bring things to light. Also, I hear your point that people shouldn’t be defending him, but at the same time, wlif chas veshalom the belzer/gerrer/satmar/ any other rebbe turned bad, would everyone automatically drop them? If they clung to their rebbe, would they be cultists? To bring the point a little more down to earth, when someone’s family member is accused of abuse, are we to fault them for wanting to protect their father/brother/mother? The same way that’s not cultist, but rather nornal human frailty, i believe barland’s followers are defending their rebbe because they love him, as they would a family member. It’s wrong, and can cause harm to the victims, but i wouldn’t call it cultish.

    My point about his background is not to praise him or talk about his maalos; far from the case, being a qualified rov only makes sinful behavior worse, not better. My point is that people who follow(ed?) him are no different than those who follow any other established rov.

    #2076271
    🍫Syag Lchochma
    Participant

    AD – you are going waay off topic. I specifically said I am not talking about private. It includes too many people who don’t want to believe. I am talking ONLY about public behavior that is assur. And yes, if Challila a gadol did something like that in public, we would drop him. And no, it isn’t a process that takes time, that is with rumor and private behavior. When a respected Rabbi wrote a column about a topic of hashkofa in a publication and it took a wrong turn, it was over.
    And yes, anyone who decides to set fire to someones house on orders of a trusted individual is definitely a cultist, not an eved Hashem. And the trusted individual who picks and chooses who to give such orders to … that too.
    But the topic was cult vs religion and when a cult leader starts veering from torah in public expecting approval, and the followers approve, that’s a cult, not a religion.

    #2076268
    ujm
    Participant

    Avira,

    Rav Avrohom Pam ZTVK”L signed a letter supporting R. Helbrans, YBL”C Rav Dovid Schustel Shlit”a made a parlor meeting in his house supporting R. Helbrans. So did the Bobover Rebbe, the Skulener Rebbe, the Melbourner, and twenty other Gedolei Yisroel come out in support of him.

    #2076280
    GadolHadofi
    Participant

    Joseph,

    Whether the various Gedolim who supported Shlomo Helbrans thirty years ago were right or wrong is water under the bridge since he subsequently drowned to death in Mexico. It doesn’t change the fact that a bunch of these murderous, abusive, kidnapping cultists have now been convicted of their crimes and are getting locked away. If you’re twisted enough to defend them just because they wear long black coats, perhaps you should join this merry band as they run from country to country committing crimes, get extradited and finally thrown in jail.

    They’d be happy to have you!

    #2076281
    smerel
    Participant

    >>>Rav Avrohom Pam ZTVK”L signed a letter supporting R. Helbrans, etc.

    Without context this is motzey shem ra.

    At the the time Helbrans had a Yeshiva in Boro Park that was relatively mainstream . He was facing accusations of kidnapping someone who lived in his house. Helbrans claimed he was hosting a troubled youth who was running away from a dysfunctional family . The teenager involved (then an adult) who was not a follower of Helbrans and not living with him anymore consistently backed up Helbrans side of of the story. As far as I know he still does. The letter of support was limited to that court case. Not any type of controversy that Lev Tohor was involved (at that point in time they weren’t involved in any)

    Without context this is motzey shem ra.

    #2076301

    There are religions that are cults…but there aren’t cults that are religions

    #2076403
    ohreally
    Participant

    IIRC Rabbi David Gottlieb emphasized aspects of deception and cooercion as determining factors of what we would call a cult.

    There is also something called the BITE model of authoritarian control, which attriubutes the distinction to degrees of types of control that the group exerts on it;s members, Behaviour control, Information control, Though contol and Emotional control. I think there are other models as well.

    #2076410
    dry sense of humor
    Participant

    SHORT ANSWER: yes there’s a difference, LONG ANSWER: i dont know how theyre diff

    #2076437
    ujm
    Participant

    smerel: My comment was very much in context whereas you’ve taken it out of context. As you surely noticed, my comment was clearly labeled as a response to Avira. Avira wrote that Rabbi Berland was once a respected Rov who had mainstream supporters whereas Rabbi Helbrans was never respected by the mainstream Rabbonim. My comment refuted that, as I demonstrated the greatest Gedolei Hador publicly supported Rabbi Helbrans. Whatever the context of their support was, it certainly indicates he was not considered to be fringe.

    That’s all said above without in any way accepting any of the unproven wild allegations, mostly made online. Repeating lies often enough in news stories certainly leads to some believing everything they read. There absolutely is nothing motzey shem ra because there’s nothing conceivably wrong with Rav Pam’s and 20 other Gedolim’s righteous support of R. Helbrans, who was in the right in that situation.

    Regarding the details of the story from the early 1990s, you have a number of the details very incorrect. The bochor was just Bar Mitzvah when R. Helbrans was involved. The bochor was under 15 years old for the entire duration of the controversy. The bochor learnt in R. Helbrans Yeshiva. He originally boarded in his home. His parents were indeed dysfunctional and divorced and fighting and not religious. The bochor became religious around the time of his Bar Mitzvah through Rabbi Helbrans. That’s when his father wanted him to stop being religious and leave R. Helbrans Yeshiva. R. Helbrans instead put him with another family to hide him from his dysfunctional family who wanted to stop him from being religious. R. Helbrans was charged with kidnapping. And Rav Pam, the Bobover Rebbe, the Skulener Rebbe, the Melbourner, YBL”C Rav Schustel and over a dozen other Gedolim publicly supported Rabbi Helbrans.

    #2076490
    Yserbius123
    Participant

    I read something once by the guy who ran the anti-cult organization “Jews for Judaism”. He said that a religion allows you to choose to what extent you want to be part of it. You can be frum, but no one is forcing you to be frum, and if you choose to no longer follow certain mitzvos, you can do so with little consequence (at least in Olam HaZeh). A cult on the other hand, is ruled by an enigmatic leader or leaders. You cannot choose your level of involvement. You are either all in, completely following the Dear Leader’s every word, or out.

    #2076521
    Reb Eliezer
    Participant

    Yserbius123, a very good differentiation.

    #2076495
    huju
    Participant

    The 3 religions I am familiar with – the Abrahamic ones – are based on interpretations of ancient texts, as such texts have evolved over the years. There is generally lots of room for debate about the texts, and there is little hostility to differing interpretations. Cults are based on recent texts, or recent pronouncements of the cult leader. There is no room for debate, and lots of hostility to dissenters.

    #2076632
    ujm
    Participant

    huju: Your description leads to the conclusion that Christianity and Islam were cults when still new, but evolved into religions with time.

    #2076757
    ☕️coffee addict
    Participant

    I was thinking the same thing

    #2076804
    ready now
    Participant

    Judaism has not ‘evolved’, it is the same pure knowledge as the first day, and even well before the first day. To say there is little hostility to differing interpretations of Hashem’s truth is not evidenced in reality because of the persistent hostility through the ages against Jews just because we belives in Hashem’s truth, the real Torah.
    All religions other than Judaism are cults, they enslave the mind to lies to different degrees.
    They propagate and enforce lies to varying degrees, using any means they happen to choose that are convenient to them at different times, in different situations. It is just that some of us have become used to the cults and call them religions- not a good way to think, you cannot elevate tuma.

    #2076837
    leiby
    Participant

    huh

    #2076908
    huju
    Participant

    For a cultish interpretation of Judaism, see the comment by ready now. I am confident that it is wrong.

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