Register here for the Oct. 28 event at the JCCSF.
Lehrhaus 360 Director
Waging war and pursuing peace have preoccupied Jews since the days of Biblical warfare, en route to and in the conquest of the Promised Land. Through nearly two millennia of diaspora life, they became secondary, though issues of violence, martyrdom and self defense by military might remained important and vexing. With the Zionist Movement’s return to Eretz Yisrael and the establishment of the State of Israel, war and peace have returned to center stage.
The biblical distinction between “Just War”- Milhemet Mitzvah (literally, “commanded war”) and just a war, is key to understanding the Torah’s prescriptions for conduct in battle, treatment of captives, protections for civilian victims, and environmental degradation in the service of combat. The concept of “Holy War” is not, by any means, alien to Jewish teachings.
Prof. Reuven Firestone
On the contrary, as our keynote speaker, Prof. Reuven Firestone, states in his newly published book: “Holy war, which is defined here as authorized or even commanded by God, is a fundamental part of biblical religion and a core institution in the Hebrew Bible.” At the same time, the pursuit of peace, not just nationally, but universally, is at the heart of the Bible’s teachings, from the Psalms’ “Seek peace and pursue it” to “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb” in the prophecy of Isaiah.
How do these concepts develop in the post-monarchy and post-biblical period, when the Jews are dispersed in diaspora and own neither the instruments of war, nor the power to make peace? There are many answers and perspectives. We will explore a wide variety of these in the conference workshops.
The picture changes dramatically with the establishment of a substantial Jewish community in Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The ramifications of a nation born in war and marked by one military conflict after another permeate every aspect of life in Israel: politics, religion, poetry, art,and popular music — to name a few areas addressed in our workshops. Perhaps most importantly, the specter of “Holy War” returned to Israel after the Six Day War, championed by the Settler Movement and its allies.
As Prof. Firestone states: “The path towards radicalization in Religious Zionism began as one of revitalization … The radicalization of modern Jewish holy war ideology … has not ceased. It continues to exert a great influence …” Why, how and where will this new incarnation of Jewish Holy War lead is one of the key issues we’ll seek to illuminate in this conference.