How Is Peace Understood in Judaism? Essay.
The Jewish greeting ‘Shalom’, coming from the same root as the Arabic ‘Salaam’ means peace. This emphasises the centrality of this concept to Jewish thought. Yet peace is only peace in contrast to its antithesis. The Jewish scriptures begin with the creation out of chaos of a beautiful garden. Almost immediately rebellion creeps in, to be followed soon afterwards by the expulsion of mankind from the garden and of course murder. According to the Jewish scriptures man is Godlike.
Genesis 1 v 26, 27 ‘God said, ”Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all creeping things that creep on the earth. ” And God created man in his image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them. ’ This means that not only is man responsible for the care of the earth and all that it contains, but he is also expected to at least attempt to emulate the qualities of God and to promote justice and righteousness.
Whether or not one accepts the early chapters of the book of Genesis as literal it clearly represents what Judaism felt at the time it was written and the oral tradition that preceded it – that God had created a perfect world for which man was now responsible and man had failed at the task. It follows that if man is Godlike then to kill a fellow human is to attack God. Genesis 9 v 6 ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in his image did God make man. ’ This clearly refers back to Genesis and the story of the creation.
Liza Katz, in her article ‘The Jewish Way to War’ quotes from a Sanhedrin document , ‘When one destroys a single individual, it is as if that person destroyed the whole world. ’ (Sanhedrin 4:5). I t would seem from these quotations with the high value that they place on the life of individuals that Jews would be opposed to war, an d living in peace and justice with their neighbors is the way of God. Yet in practice of course this isn’t always what happens. The writer of Ecclesiastes said in chapter 3 v 8 ‘There is a time for war and a time for peace.
’ Despite the high status of peace Jewish scholars have come to the conclusion that in some cases war is justified. These wars they divided into two types – obligatory as when God commands his people to take up arms, and discretionary war. This later is more controversial. It is concerned with the widening of the borders of Israeli lands beyond the area designated in the Bible records. The rabbis say that such a war can only be conducted after debate and approval by the 71 elders who make up the Sanhedrin.
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, possibly King Soloman, lists in chapter 3 many other pairs of opposites – weeping and laughing, slaying and healing. He was a philosopher who was also out to get the most from life, but he struggles with the concept of man’s duty to God and the responsibilities that it places upon him. The list contains things presumably from his own experience, things he felt were part of the normal pattern of life. At the end of his book he comes to the conclusion:- The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe His commandments! For this applies to all mankind.
Miss Katz quotes from the Torah about how a war should be conducted and this included peace. Before going to war peace should first be sought. Deuteronomy 20 v 10 ‘When you approach a town to attack it you shall offer it terms of peace’. Such commandments are actually common sense and would mean a reduction in casualties and lives lost. Even more a civilian population must be given the opportunity to leave in peace. She quotes here from Maimonides, a mediaeval commentator on the Mishnah, the oral law of Judaism, who described the actions of Joshua before he crossed the border into Israel.
According to the rabbi Joshua sent three letters asking for peace, before finally crossing the Jordon. There is a similar story in Deuteronomy 2 v 26 when Moses tell show he sent messengers to the king of Sihon with an offer of peace. Miss Katz is speaking to the Jewish community asking them to consider carefully the whole subject of peace as is my next writer Gidon Remba. ‘Great is peace, as the whole Torah was given in order to promote peace in the world, as is written: ‘Her ways are the ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.
’ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah. These words and the story of how God told Moses to make war but how instead he sought peace are quoted by Gidon D. Remba when writing of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Remba goes on to quote from Isaiah 48 v 22 ‘There is no peace – said the Lord – for the wicked. ’ Yet Israel sought for peace and God was not angry, despite their obvious disobedience. His article asks what the correct ethical position is that the nation of Israel should take in the circumstances in which it finds itself in relationship to the Palestinian people.
He asks important questions about Judaism’s historical claims, – religious, symbolic and political which, if ratified, would mean an end to Palestinian ideas of statehood. He mentions critics who state that it is a betrayal of Judaism if instead the nation acknowledges the human rights of all. Remba also quotes from Genesis, in this case from chapter 5 v 1, which again states that humanity is created in the form or likeness of God. This, if accepted, applied long before the Jewish nation came into being.
Remba goes on to quote from Leviticus 19 v 18, words familiar too to Christians ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ The same chapter in the Tanakh also has the words ‘Do not profit by the blood of your fellow. ’ (verse 16). The rabbi Hillel is quoted as summing up the Torah, the law of Israel, in this idea, known as the Golden Rule. There are those who contend that this applies only to their fellow Jews, but Remba points out that in the same chapter , verses 30 -34 it is clear that the command applies to all, whatever their race or origin.
Remba argues for the universal application of such principles, even if they cause difficulties. The Torah he says clearly states that ‘other’ is to have equal value with ‘I’ and ‘mine’. :- I can no longer give preference to myself (or my own nation or group) in virtue of the immediate and profound experience I have of my own (or my people’s) needs and desires, in contrast to the more remote inferential knowledge I have of others’ “foreign” feelings and needs. Remba may seem idealistic, but he is clearly quoting from scriptures that he believes are God given and which therefore ought to be obeyed.
He rightly states that many would put the sanctity of the land above the command to live at peace. Hi s writing is in the context of modern times in the middle east. Those who oppose peace seem to believe that the capture of former Palestinian territory by Israeli forces was sanctioned by God. He compares this to the view of others that righteousness should be the abiding principle and again scriptures are quoted especially Deuteronomy 16v20 ‘Justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land. ’ Clearly this idea of justice is linked to that of peace as a principle to be upheld.
This is a view shared by members of the Movement for Judaism, Zionism and Peace, otherwise known as Netivot Shalom who consider that the value of the land to Judaism should never be put above the value of human life. Yossi Beilin’ s article ‘The Small Chance Warrants a Great Effort’ is found on the Netivot Shalom site and is a recent one. Reporting on the decision taken in Geneva to negotiate a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine in 2007 He states that :- 2008 presents us with a window of opportunity. We have now an Israeli Prime Minister who is backed by a Knesset that will support
any peace deal, a Palestinian president who is pragmatic and committed to reaching an historic peace agreement…. Beilin mentions the openness of all concerned and a willingness to admit and to learn from prior mistakes. He stresses that although it is those in government who make the decisions those in non-governmental bodies need to co-operate if true peace is to result. Speaking of the proposed Peace Agreement he concludes by saying ‘Only the naive can believe that without such an agreement, Israel’s future as a Jewish Democratic state is secure. ’
Beilin is being both hopeful and pragmatic, but those who are opposed to such an agreement are unlikely to read his report tucked away as it is on a site dedicated to Peace. I am reminded that although it is thousands of years since Israel first claimed the land modern Israel is a very young nation, only three generations old at most. It takes time for things to settle down after what is virtually an invasion, whatever the history. Compare this to the invasion of Britain by the Normans in 1066. Duke William felt he had a justified claim on the land.
The Saxons were very much the underdog, but over an extended period the two nations gradually integrated to the benefit of both. In many places around the world people with very different ideologies manage to live peaceably alongside each other, yet of course in other places this does not occur. It is a situation that must be worked at. People will have to accept compromises, without compromising on the really important issues of peace and justice. On a recent B. B. C. program, ‘Adventures in Architecture’, historian Dan Cruickshank visited a number of cities including Damascus, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city.
The purpose of his visit was to discover why some communities thrive and others do not. There are within that city’s walls long established communities of Muslims, Christians and Jews. They are a stable community and when questioned residents said they felt safe. They don’t think of their fellow citizens as being members of a particular religion but rather as neighbors and friends. Between them the residents have built a successful city. Perhaps the inhabitants of Israel need to look north. ‘To Acknowledge the Suffering of the ‘Other’: Religious Obligation, Psychological Challenge.
’ was the title given to an event which took place at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem in 2001. There were a number of speakers. Rabbi Rosen was able to quote from Jewish documents from many sources and periods to put his point that the way of peace is always the preferred way. He also stated that while a soldier should be able to defend himself, this should only apply to a real threat and not just a perceived one. Another speaker, Dr Horani, concentrated on the question ‘How can one person’s suffering be different from another person’s suffering?
’ The group were asked by a psychologist ‘Do we want to recognize the suffering of the “other”? ’ Another psychologist talked of the influence of trauma on a person’s perception of history. He talked of how the events of 1948 were seen by Palestinians not so much for their political importance as for the way their group and individual lives were affected. He spoke of the problem of recognizing the needs of others if this also means that you would be giving up what you feel are your legitimate rights.
This event examined the problem of obtaining peace for all at a deep level, but as the audience consisted of only 100 people the wisdom put forward would have a relatively small effect and the majority of even those who attended would probably already share similar views. ‘For Israel. Land or Peace’ is an article by former American president Jimmy Carter that appeared in the Washington Post in November 2000. Although not himself a Jew Mr Carter was of course deeply involved in the peace process in the late 1970’s.
H e speaks of agreements made at that time and since broken. He stresses that territory should not be taken by acts of war and the need for all to work towards peaceful solutions. He recognizes the importance of Jerusalem to people of various faiths and stresses that all need free access without discrimination. Mr Carter speaks of course from a rather different point of view to other writers cited and he does not quote from Jewish writings. He is able to be more objective although writing of a very emotional situation, but his conclusions are the same.
His words would have had a wide audience, at least in America, but those who are only concerned about the land are likely to think he should not interfere, while the peacemakers are already convinced. The difficult situation in Israel at present has its origins in the very distant past. The concept of the Promised Land is long established in the Jewish psyche. But even before that there was the concept of every man being valued as being in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect and justice.
The idea of Israel as the land of the Jews is very attractive, especially to a people who have been so oppressed, especially in the last century, and who had in many cases to flee for their lives. It is no wonder that the concept has a huge support base in places such as the United States, where many fled in the 1930’s. Yet these are people who suffered tremendously so it is difficult for me to comprehend why these same people would be prepared to support the oppression of the Palestinian people. The Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple in C. E.
70 and the death of many of the inhabitants of the city together with their leaders is now almost 2,000 years ago. Although some Jews always did remain in Israel, throughout the Roman period, the Islamic period and through the Crusades, for the majority it was a place to visit or dream of. Don’t they still say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ during the Passover feast. That is a very long time to hold on to a dream. Yet throughout all those years Jews have remained Jews, their scriptures have been studied and commented upon and then finally in 1948 they thought that once more they were entering the Promised Land.
It must be very difficult for such a people to realize fully that the land hasn’t been empty all that time. The promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 15, where he is told he will have innumerable offspring, was before either of his sons were born – Isaac, but also Ishmael. God speaks in that passage of creating a multitude of nations. The scriptures tell us that from that time on there were problems. That was a very long time ago and surely it is time to forgive. The practical solution is not easy to work out, but the spiritual one is easier to identify.
If there is any belief in God, as religious Jews claim to have, then that God is the creator not just of the Jewish people , but also of all other peoples. The Jews believe that in some way they are special, but this does not necessarily mean privileged in the sense that the rules of common humanity do not apply to them. The concepts of Peace and Justice are central to their belief system and nowhere do their scriptures say that property rights have priority over the concept of respect for others as equal parts of God’s creation and in some unexplainable way a tiny part of God himself.
Pelikan,J (editor) The Tanakh, New York, Quality Paperback Book Club, 1992 Television Cruickshank,D, Adventures in Architecture, B. B. C. 2, 30th April 2008 Electronic Sources Beilin, Y. The Small Chance Warrants a Great Effort, An Agreement within a Year, 2008, 30th April 2008, http://www. geneva-accord. org/SIP_STORAGE/FILES/8/1058. pdf Carter, J. For Israel, Land or Peace Washington Post, 26th November 2000, 30th April 2008, http://www. abbc2. com/historia/zionism/carter_land4peace. html Katz, L.
The Jewish Way to War 29th April 2008 http://judaism. about. com/library/3_intro/level2/bl_war. htm Netivot Shalom 2003, 29th April 2008, http://www. netivot-shalom. org. il/ Remba,G. Jewish Ethics and the Palestinian-Israeli Problem, Tikkun, Volume 12 number 4 , July/August 1997, 29th April 2008, http://manuscriptservices. co. uk/mla. shtml Veshalom, O. To Acknowledge the Suffering of the ‘Other’: Religious Obligation, Psychological Challenge Neviot Shalom, 2003, 30th April 2008, http://www. netivot-shalom. org. il/