Friday, 11 July 2014

Teaching on Violence

Some texts for a Shiur I’m Giving over Shabbat


Thoughts On Israel, Violence, Revenge and Strength



You shall not murder

(note the King James translation, ‘thou shalt not kill’ is simply not correct)


Pirkei Avot 4:1

Ben Zoma used to say, who is a hero – the one who conquers their inclination to anger.


Part One – Lessons of History

Crusade Chronicle of Bar Shimshon of Mayence circa 1140 CE

It was on the third of Sivan that Emico the wicked, came with his whole army against the city gate and the citizens opened it up for him. The children of the holy covenant who were there, martyrs who feared the Most though, still clung on to their Creator yet they had no strength to stand up against the enemy. Then came gangs and bands sweeping through like a flood.

One to another they said, ‘Let us be strong and let us bear the yoke of the holy religion, for only in this world can the enemy kill us – and the easiest of the four deaths is by the sword.’ Then all of them to a man cried out with a loud voice, now we must delay no longer for the enemy are already upon us. Let us hasten and offer ourselves as sacrifice to the Lord. Let him who has a knife examine it that it not be nicked and let him come and slaughter us for the sanctification of the Holy One.


Max Nordau, 1898  Muskeljudentum (Extract from 1903)

History is our witness that a [a muscular] Jewry once existed. For too long, we have been engaged in the mortification of our own flesh. Or, to put it more precisely – others did the killing for us. We would have preferred to develop our bodies rather than have to kill them or to have them figuratively and literally killed by others. Let us take up our oldest traditions; let us once more become deep-chested, sturdy, sharp eyed men.


Part Two – The First Act of Violence

Genesis 4

And Cain said to his brother Abel ... And when they were in the field Cain rose up against Hevel his brother and killed him.

And God said to Cain, ‘Where is Hevel your brother?’

And he said, ‘Dunno, am I my brother’s keeper?’

And God said, ‘What have you done, the voice of the bloods of your brother calls out to me from the Earth.


Midrash Bereishit Rabba 22:7&8

And Cain said to his brother Abel ...

What did they quarrel about? They said, Come let’s divide the world.’ One took the land, the other the moveables.

One said, ‘The land you are standing on is mine. Fly!’

The other said, ‘The clothes you are wearing are mine. Strip!’

From this Cain rose up against Hevel.


And Cain Rose Up Against Hevel His Brother

Rabbi Yochanan said ‘rose up’ must imply that Cain lay beneath Abel. [i.e. Abel was winning the fight and could have killed Cain.]

Cain said to Abel, ‘There are only two of us in the world, what will you go and tell our father [if you kill me]?’

Abel was filled with pity for Cain. Immediately Cain rose against Hevel and killed him. From this comes the saying, ‘Don’t do good by a despicable person, for then the despicable one can’t harm you.’


Part Three – Contemporary Israel

Windows Onto Jewish Legal Culture

Rav Shaul Yisraeli: Takrit Kibiyeh

There is a place for acts of retribution and revenge against the oppressors of Israel. … Those who are unruly are responsible for any damage that comes to them, their sympathizers, or their children. They must bear their sin.  There is no obligation to refrain from reprisal for fear that it might harm innocent people, for we did not cause it.  They are the cause and we are innocent.


Yeshayahu Leibowitz: After Kibiyah

We can, indeed, justify the action of Kibiyah before "the world." [Even though] its spokesmen and leaders admonish us for having adopted the methods of "reprisal"- cruel mass punishment of innocent people for the crimes of others in order to prevent their recurrence, a method which has been condemned by the conscience of the world. We could argue that we have not behaved differently than did the Americans, with the tacit agreement of the British, in deploying the atomic bomb… It is therefore possible to justify this action, but let us not try to do so. Let us rather recognize its distressing nature. There is an instructive precedent for Kibiyeh: the story of Shekhem and Dinah. The sons of Jacob did not act as they did out of pure wickedness and malice. They had a decisive justification: 'Should one deal with our sister as with a harlot?!'… Nevertheless, because of this action, their father Jacob cursed the two tribes for generations.


Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner speaking at Embassy of Israel Vigil, 3rd July

One rabbinic friend reminded me of a piece in the Jerusalem Talmud in which Rabbi Akiva warns against vengeance, he explains that vengeance is like one hand of the same body wounding another. Humanity is one, by vengeance, we damage ourselves.



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