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GENESIS — 15:1 fear

GEN831 A core commitment to the preservation of humanity—our own and that of our enemies—means that we do not shy away from protecting ourselves, our civilians, and our values, but that when we fight, we do so not with bombast and arrogance, but with fear and trembling.  We never delight in the opportunity to fight, and we work to ensure that our soldiers’ conduct in war lives up to the highest possible standards of moral decency.  The fact that a nation may have a legitimate need to fight does not justify recklessness. … In [this verse], Abraham emerges victorious after fighting the invading armies of four mighty kinds.  In his first moment of rest after the battles, he is addressed by God: “Al tirah Avram—Fear not, Abram” But why would Abraham be afraid?  He has just vanquished his enemies and is, for the first time in years, able to dwell in peace.  The Rabbis teach that his fear derived from a persistent post-war apprehension, as he thought, “Perhaps there was one righteous or God-fearing person among the people I killed.” Bereshit [Genesis] Rabbah 15:1.  What would that kind of moral sensitivity look like in our time? The hour calls for a heartfelt reaffirmation of our shared humanity—something that seems to have been lost in contemporary warfare.  Perhaps that will help us step out of the morass of these violent times and begin to build pathways toward peace.  DORWAR 104


GENESIS — 18:32 ten

GEN1055 [I]f we are to oppose genocide as Jews, then surely we need to be able to say that the biblical genocides should have been opposed.   Or we at least need to say that we now recognize their wrongness, even if that involves arguing with God.   But we have precedents for arguing with God.   Abraham argued against God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, though he stopped short of a flat-out condemnation of what God was doing.  His last question was [this verse].  Surely he should have kept going—what if there were five, or even one?   And since this was an argument only about adults, Abraham should also have insisted that all the children in the two cities were innocent—like the 120,000 children of Ninevah, “who do not yet know their right hand from their left,” for whose sake God spared the city, against the wishes of the prophet Jonah (Jonah 4:11).  DORWAR 60


EXODUS — 19:6 holy

EXOD328 The right to privacy is at the core of human dignity. The more our privacy is invaded, the more we lose two central components of our dignity--namely, our individuality and respect we command from others. When our innermost selves become the subject for the knowledge and criticism of others, the resulting social pressure will quickly wear away our individuality... The community does have a right and, indeed, a duty to establish and enforce some norms, but if the community can know and scrutinize absolutely every one of our thoughts and actions, we will inevitably displease the majority in some ways and lose their esteem in the process. Conversely, the very requirement to honor and protect a person's privacy both stems from, and engenders, an inherent regard for that person. Thus by preserving human individuality and honor, privacy contributes to human dignity. Privacy is at the heart of mutual trust and friendship. If you reveal things I tell you in confidence, I will think twice before entrusting you as a business partner, a colleague, or a friend. Privacy also enables creativity to flourish, for it protects nonconformist people from interference by others. Along the same lines, privacy is a prerequisite for a free and tolerant society, for each person has secrets that concern weaknesses that we dare not reveal to a competitive world, dreams that others may ridicule, past deeds that bear no relevance to present conduct, or desires that a judgmental and hypocritical public may condemn. These moral concerns justify the protection of privacy in any society, but a religious tradition like Judaism adds yet other rationales for safeguarding an individual’s privacy. First... the Jewish tradition teaches us that when we reveal a person's secrets we not only defame that person, but we dishonor the image of God within that person and thus God Himself. Moreover, God intends that the Israelites be “a kingdom of priests and a holy people” (Exodus 19:6). Among other things that the Torah requires of Jews so that they might become a holy people... [is that they] protect a person's home, reputation, and communication by forbidding both intrusion and disclosure


EXODUS — 20:1 all

EXOD349 Lest a man should say, “Since some scholars declare a thing impure and others declare it pure, some pronounce a thing to be forbidden and others pronounce it to be permitted, some disqualify an object while others uphold its fitness, how can I study Torah under such circumstances?” Scripture states, “They are given from one shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11): One God has given them, one leader [Moses] has uttered them at the command of the Lord of all creation, blessed be He, as it says, “And God spoke all these words” (Exodus 20:1). You, then, should, on your part, make your ear like a grain receiver and acquire a heart that can understand the words of the scholars who declare a thing impure as well as those who declare it pure, the words of those who declare a thing forbidden as well as those who pronounce it permitted, and the words of those who disqualify an object as well as those who uphold its fitness. Although one scholar offers his view and another offers his, the words of both are all derived from what Moses, the shepherd, received from the One Lord of the Universe. Midrash, Numbers Rabbah 14:4


EXODUS — 22:1 while

EXOD625 Jewish law recognizes not only a right to self-defense, but a positive duty to protect endangered life, elevating the “Good Samaritan” principle (that is, the duty to rescue) to the status of a legal requirement. [See Mishnah, Sanhedrin 8:7; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 73ff; Shulchan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 425:1-2. Rashi and Tosafot, ad.loc. Sanhedrin 73a; and Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Rotzeah 1:6.] The law also commands that we hinder a perpetrator (rodef; lit. “pursuer”) with force, even lethal force, from committing a crime, where no other means of prevention are available. Limits on Self-Defense. Given the overwhelming sanctity of life, however, the Rabbis recognized the enormous danger of issuing an obligation that overrides the prohibition against force, so they placed stringent limitations on applying the principle of defense: … 2. Force must be a spontaneous reaction to present danger, not a premeditated act of preemption or revenge. One may not kill or injure another to avenge or punish a crime. Punishment is reserved for the criminal justice system--with its careful inquiry into the facts, its procedural safeguards, and its presumption of innocence. One may cause harm in self-defense only in a moment of unavoidable urgency, when life is in immediate danger. [See for example Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Geneiva 9:7-10, Meir ben Baruch (Maharam bar Baruch) cited in Mordekhai, Bava Kamma 196, and Rashi, ad. Loc., Exodus 22:1]


EXODUS — 28:35 heard

EXOD955 Our Rabbis taught: Seven things did Rabbi Akiba charge his son, Rabbi Joshua: My son... Do not enter your own house suddenly, and all the more your neighbor’s house... Rashi on this passage: “Do not enter your house suddenly,” but rather call out to them [those inside] before you enter in case they are engaged in something private. Rabbi Yohanan, when he would go to visit [Rabbi Hanina] would knock at the door, as it says, “its voice should be heard when he comes into the sanctuary” (Exodus 28:35). Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 112a (cf. Niddah 16b).


DEUTERONOMY — 20:10 peace

DEUT989 Principles of Waging War. Given the essential commitment both to self-defense and to the defense of what is just and right, let us consider three examples of how war is to be initiated and conducted according to Jewish law. The first principle of war established by the Torah and reinforced by the Rabbinic tradition is that it must truly be a last resort. We are enjoined to work to exhaust all diplomatic options in an attempt to avoid violent conflict. (E.g., see Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:13). In the Torah, emissaries of peace are sent to hostile cities to search for any alternative to war. (Deuteronomy 20:10). If diplomacy ultimately proves unsuccessful, however, one is not permitted to attack unless the enemy initiates hostilities. And even then, one is forbidden to commit any acts of unwarranted cruelty against the inhabitants of enemy territory. Jewish law even goes so far as to require that an escape route be provided for those who desire to leave a besieged city at any point. [Maimonides (Rambam), Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 6.] Permitting war only as a last resort minimizes the likelihood of violent engagement and creates a cultural aversion to warfare. War may be a necessary evil; it is never something to relish. The second principle of warfare laid out in Jewish tradition is that war must be conducted in a way that preserves the humanity of the soldiers and civilians on both sides. This requires great moral sensitivity and vigorous protection against the dehumanization that typically characterizes warfare. Nahmanides (Ramban) taught that even the “most refined of people become possessed with ferocity and cruelty when advancing upon the enemy... [Torah wants the soldier] to learn to act compassionately with our enemies even during wartime.” (Nahmanides (Ramban), Commentary on the Torah (Bi’ur), Deuteronomy 23:10). Part of the Jewish resistance to fighting is rooted in the humble awareness that more than life is lost in warfare--that violent conflict often comes with devastating moral compromise. In response to this moral challenge, nations that go to war must do everything in their power to ensure that their soldiers are trained with sensitivity and compassion, and that they are reminded, even amidst violent conflict, of the humanity of their enemies. In fact, the Torah offers specific rules intended to prevent the degradation of the enemy, even in the midst of dangerous conflict. (e.g., Deuteronomy 21:10). The assumption is that this moral training will ultimately preserve a soldier's own humanity as well. A third guiding principle of war is the obligation to protect against unnecessary destruction--of human life, of the enemy's property, of the environment--during violent struggle. The call for soldiers to cultivate sensitivity toward the enemy renders wanton destruction thoroughly indefensible. “When in your war against a city,” the Torah teaches, “… you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Maimonides (Rambam) extends this prohibition: “Also, one who smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys articles of food with destructive intent transgresses the command, You shall not destroy.” (Maimonides (Rambam), Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 6:10). As Reuven Kimelman writes in his extensive treatment of the parameters of war from a Jewish perspective, “If one can control destructive urges provoked by a war against non-human objects, there is a chance of controlling destructive urges against humans.” Reuven Kimelman, “War,” Frontiers of Jewish Thought, Steven Katz, ed., (Washington, DC: B’nai Brith Books, 1992), 315. (By Sharon Brous)


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