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When we discuss the religious that spun off Judaism, we attribute their malicious and unanimously condemned artifacts like Crusades and Jihad to the fact that they "altered the sacred tradition" or misunderstood it or disregarded our extensive Oral Tradition.

However, looking at our sources it appears that since Matan Torah Judaism in big wasn't so different, as our sources describe the way our people conquer, destroy, exterminate or subjugate other nations, whenever we could (with G-d's help, of course).

Here's an excerpt from the Wiki article on "Judaism_and_violence":

Forced conversions occurred under the Hasmonean kingdom (circa 150BC). The Idumeans were forced to convert to Judaism, either by threats of exile, or threats of death, depending on the source.
In Eusebíus, Christianity, and Judaism Harold W. Attridge claims that “there is a reason to think that Josephus’ account of their conversion is substantially accurate.... these were not isolated instances but that forced conversion was a national policy is clear from the fact that Alexander Jannaeus (ca 80 BCE) demolished the city of Pella in Moab, 'because the inhabitants would not agree to adopt the national custom of the Jews.'" Josephus, Antiquities. 13.15.4.

We practiced the death penalty as prescribed in the Torah and allowed the Beis Din authority to kill "unlawfully" (עונשים שלא מן הדין).

With time, the Israeli kingdoms and authorities were destroyed and we lived in exile (under other nations' control) for the last 2500 years, eventually becoming a very nonviolent and peaceful religion, minimizing and eventually canceling the death penalty and corporal punishment, forgetting the idea of cleansing the Holy Land or conquering others.

My question is, imagine the first Temple wasn't destroyed ever and a strong Israeli kingdom would continue to flourish, what in our original tradition is intrinsically benevolent that would prevent Judaism from developing into violent fanatism aiming at subjugating the rest of humanity and getting rid of infidels?


This is not a comparative religion question, this Q. is speculative, about possible ways of development of our tradition.

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    "We practiced the death penalty as prescribed in the Torah and allowed the Beis Din authority to kill "unlawfully" (עונשים שלא מן הדין)." Yep, and when Moshiach comes we'd do so again. And have corporal punishment. Your question seems based on an invalid framing – user15253 Jul 12 at 11:30
  • We fight for the absolute truth, using necessary force too. As I said, we would not use brutal cruelty for the sake of it, nor take advantage of the ability to be violent; this is not an allowance to bully or hate; we would not allow any בן נח to live a life contrary to the Torah - it's their choice which way to do it. – chortkov2 Jul 12 at 11:35
  • @Orangesandlemons Please continue about the framing... – Al Berko Jul 12 at 11:47
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    Judaism won't develop into Jihad or Crusades because we have no purpose for it. Some other religions believe that their purpose is to kill all the heretics and convert everyone to their religion or suffer eternal damnation. We are fine with Jews being Jews and Gentiles being Gentiles (with a few exceptions), so we have no need to go around on a worldwide Jihad or Crusade to subjugate the rest of the world. – Salmononius2 Jul 12 at 13:18
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    @Salmononius2 - This is a myth. Although we are not marketing being Jewish for everyone, we do think that Judaism is for everyone - just different strokes for different folks; the laws for Jews are not the same for Gentiles. But there is One Hashem for all the nations, and there is no other religion. Everyone is expected to conform to Judaism, and we must enforce that (when yad yisroel tekifah). We do not believe in 'live and let live'. – chortkov2 Jul 12 at 14:27
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By definition, little can. But we do have some protections in that Judaism places human life on such a high pedestal relative to other values. To explain.

In today's world, a religion that preaches violence won't really enter the mainstream. What happens instead is a splinter emerges that emphasizes other texts and other interpretations. (Of course, when your mainstream is some 1.6bn people, that splinter group could still be bigger than the entire Jewish population.) Which means that there is no way for the mainstream interpretation to prevent violent fundamentalism -- that will just be part of what the fundamentalist group will reject.

However, violent fundamentalism is more likely the more values the belief system teaches to have a higher priority than life itself. And in particular, more important than other peoples' lives.

א"ר ישמעאל מנין שאם אמרו לו לאדם עבוד עבודת כוכבים ואל תהרג מנין שיעבוד ואל יהרג ת"ל (ויקרא יח, ה) וחי בהם ולא שימות בהם יכול אפילו בפרהסיא תלמוד לומר (ויקרא כב, לב) ולא תחללו את שם קדשי ונקדשתי

Rabbi Yishmael said: From where [do we know] that if they tell a person to worship "star worship" [an idiom for idolatry in general] and you will not be killed, from where [do we know] that he should serve and not be killed? It is taught "and you shall live by them" and not die by them. Could it be even if [asked to worship idolatry] in public? It is taught, "and do not desecrate My holy name [i.e. G-d's reputation among humanity], and I will be sanctified within the Children of Israel.

- Sanhedrin 74a

As the discussion continues, dying for the cause is only prescribed in limited cases:

  1. Three "cardinal" sins: murder, public idolatry and certain kinds of sexual immorality. (By men. Women, for whom sex can be a passive experience, are not required to risk their lives to avoid sex even if required to be actively engaged. The activity is considered incidental to the core prohibition.)
  2. In times of religious persecution, one is permitted to sacrifice one's own life rather than accede a demand to violate any iota of Judaism. Even a difference in fashion, the textbook case being where Jews wore a different color shoelace than non-Jews.
  3. War.

The application of this short list to anyone else's death is a wholly different matter.

The author of the Shulchan Arukh condemned the "slaughtering rabbi" who ruled during the Inquisition that it was preferable to kill children rather than let them be converted and raised in Catholic homes.

So, of the three, it's really only war that opens the door to placing another Jewish value ahead of someone else's life. And so we can shift the question to exploring when war is permitted or even mandatory.

Wars that are permitted in the Torah but not mandatory would require:

  1. an annointed king, something we won't have until the messiah assumes the throne;
  2. confirmation by a prophet and
  3. by the urim vetumim in the kohein gadol's vestments

In a practical sense, that's off the table. In terms of Jewish Values an extremist might extrapolate from, it seems clear from Rashi (on Devarim 12:10-11) that these wars were to secure the settlement. Not an actual defensive war -- fighting in those falls under mandatory, and we're talking permitted but non-mandatory warfare. So, the rationale is lives now vs more lives later. Still, life as the primary value.

Mandatory wars include:

  1. defensive wars, which has the same life vs life rationale;
  2. the commandment that any member of Amaleiq must be killed or converted to at least Noachidism; and
  3. the commandment to take the land of Israel from the 7 Canaanite nations.

As Amaleiq and the Canaanites were forcibly assimilated in the late First Temple period, your violent fundamentalist group would have to invent a rationale for that law that would apply to contemporary people, AND they would have to believe that the law itself is extended, in order to override "thou shalt not murder".

As I said, we left the potentially violent very little to work with. A religion that Hillel summed up as "That which you loathe, do not do to another. That is all of the Torah, the rest is commentary. Now go study!" (with similar summaries by Rabbi Aqiva and Ben Azzai) is very hard to turn into a justification for violence.

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    Ethiopian Judaism (which is similar to your "Isacharism" thought experiment in the comments) has no concept of pikuach nefesh (מסיני לאתיופיה page 164). If the reason Judaism couldn't possibly devolve into violence is because of pikuach nefesh, how can pikuach nefesh be lost so easily from Judaism? – b a Jul 12 at 14:54
  • I wouldn't assume Ethiopian Judaism did always evolve from within the system. But that aside... I really only raised piquach nefesh to show how high of a priority life has; really, it's OTHERS' lives that's the issue WRT violent offshoots. – Micha Berger Jul 12 at 15:03
  • @ba but I think all-in-all, you are reinforcing a point I tried to make, "[A] religion that preaches violence won't really enter the mainstream. What happens instead is a splinter emerges that emphasizes other texts and other interpretations. ... [T]here is no way for the mainstream interpretation to prevent violent fundamentalism -- that will just be part of what the fundamentalist group will reject." – Micha Berger Jul 12 at 15:05
  • "Women, for whom sex can be a passive experience, are not required to risk their lives to avoid sex even if required to be actively engaged." I don't think this is the generally accepted definition of karka' 'olam (though perhaps the Nimukei Yosef and the GR"A imply this view when comparing Elisha Ba'al K'nafayim to Esther, but it's unclear). Most rishonim say that the woman would have to be totally passive in order to qualify as karka' 'olam. At the other extreme, you have the Rivash who simply interprets karka' 'olam as limited to a situation where resistance is physically impossible. – Fred Jul 12 at 19:02
  • @Fred: The "even if required to be actively engaged" part wasn't intended to be included in qarqa olam. Rather, because it's the same issur whether forced to be qarqa olam or forced to actively participate, it's not yeihareig ve'al ya'avor in either case. Whether or not she qualifies becoming like qarqa olam when not compelled really is irrelevant to a discussion of yeihareig ve'al ya'avor -- by definition, we're only talking about being under compulsion. – Micha Berger Jul 14 at 2:17
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I heard a nice vort that directly addresses your question but might or might not satisfy you.

Shemot 20:15 says the whole people saw the voices (וְכָל־הָעָם֩ רֹאִ֨ים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹ֜ת). But we can't really see a voice. Why did the Torah had to write this?

Because two verses earlier, the sixth commandment reads לֹ֥֖א תִּֿרְצָֽ֖ח. Now if you hear this, you do not know if it is lo tirzach with an alef or with a vav. With an alef it means "do not kill". With a vav it reads "for him you should kill", or "in his name, you should kill".

For us to be sure the Torah meant "do not kill", we had to see the voice.

(for a more traditional set of interpretations, see here).

  • That's nice, please continue. If you notice, unlike some other commands, לא תרצח wasn't elaborated at all, so the interpretation of whom we're allowed to kill is up to the Sages, as the Gemmoratells about one who rode a horse on Shabbos and was killed by the Beis Din "just because they thought it was needed". So what do you think would prevent Jewish Jihad Has"Vhalilah? – Al Berko Jul 12 at 9:31
  • As Chinuch puts it "שלא להרג נקי" - one who we declared "clean from sin" should not be killed, but by attributing anyone a sin (even Derabanan) we can proceed to kill without any Halachic obstruction. That's what puzzles me. – Al Berko Jul 12 at 9:39
  • You both should investigate the roots of the multiple words in Hebrew that are commonly & incorrectly translated as ‘kill’. Also, ta’amim often indicate very contrary meaning to what is commonly thought. The primary distinction of Judaism was given to us from G-d via Moshe that all of our choices should lead to life, meaning soul in a body. Not in Heaven nor the World to Come, but now. Remember, G-d created the Angel of Death and maintains its existence too. And as Torah teaches, only good comes from Above, טוב, that which leads to life (ח״י). – Yaacov Deane Jul 12 at 11:56
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    @YaacovDeane, a tangent: "Kill" was at the time of King James, the correct translation. His "kill" and "slay" are today's "murder" and "kill". The language evolved and the KJV and derived translations did not. Similarly, in his day, "apple" meant not only a fruit of the Malus domestica tree, but also fruit in general. Like the French "pomme". (Or tapuach, in tapuz [tapuach zahav] (orange), tapuach adamah (potato), literally translated from the French...) So the KJV was right to say that Eve and Adam ate an "apple". Translators were wrong not to keep up with the language drift. – Micha Berger Jul 12 at 14:37
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    @YaacovDeane: thought of a third example. Par'oh didn't see maize in his dream. But KJV's "corn" meant "grain", not some species that no one outside the Americas dreamed existed yet. – Micha Berger Jul 12 at 14:39

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