Holy War In Judaism

When the Spirit of Holy War Takes Over
by Andrew Levine, CounterPunch 2-3-2013

Not long ago, it was widely assumed that faith in God is no longer an authentic motivator in modern politics…
The idea that the Creator of all there is would care about the political affairs of particular Homo sapiens, that He (always a He!) would favor some members of our paltry species over others, seemed too preposterous to take seriously. God was effectively read out of analyses of political life, even by those who believed that God exists.

 

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Back in the day when God’s irrelevance to modern politics was widely assumed, no one touched by the Enlightenment cared much about rabbinical precepts or laws – except as historical artifacts or objects of curiosity.
Nevertheless, many non-believing or indifferent Jews believed that God chose the Jewish people to dwell in the land of Israel. Many still do. It is a remarkable state of affairs.
It is also a recent one. In pre-Zionist days, religious Jews thought that the land of Israel would be theirs only when the Messiah came, not a moment before; and they accepted rabbinical injunctions not to take matters into their own hands. …
Then Zionism hijacked the Jewish religion. It was a process that took decades, and that remained unsettled until Israeli victories in the Six Day War established what some came to regard as a theologically momentous “fact on the ground.” Why wait for a perpetually dilatory Messiah when God is on the side of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces)?

Not many decades ago, Time Magazine proclaimed God’s death on its cover. That would seem like a bad joke today.
In that period too and for many decades before, in Israel-Palestine and indeed throughout the entire Middle East, all significant political activity was secular. Obviously, this is no longer so.
With the historical Left in eclipse, our lodestar for waging sounder forms of class struggle and for resisting imperial and local forms of domination has gone missing. Its replacement by atavistic forms of religious zealotry is a tragedy of historic dimensions.

Is the situation reversible? Time will tell. The one sure thing is that “the fault,” as Cassius said to Brutus in Julius Caesar is “not in the stars.” The fault is ours. If we fail to get the pendulum to swing back in time to avert catastrophic consequences, it will be our fault as well.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).
 
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The Political Messiah
King, Military Leader, Will Win Many Battles
Judaism 101 Website


• The Jewish idea of mashiach is a great human leader, not a savior
• The Bible identifies several tasks that the mashiach will accomplish
• Jews do not believe in Jesus because he did not accomplish these tasks

Belief in the eventual coming of the mashiach is a basic and fundamental part of traditional Judaism. The term “mashiach” literally means “the anointed one,” and refers to the ancient practice of anointing kings with oil when they took the throne.
The mashiach is the one who will be anointed as King in the End of Days. The word “mashiach” does not mean “savior.” The notion of an innocent, divine or semi-divine being who will sacrifice himself to save us [..] is a purely Christian concept that has no basis in Jewish thought.

The mashiach will be a great political leader… He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (in Islamic terms: Sharia-imposer). He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel. He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions. But above all, he will be a human being.
If the time is right for the messianic age within that person’s lifetime, then that person will be the mashiach. But if that person dies before he completes the mission of the mashiach, then that person is not the mashiach.


Olam Ha-Ba: The Messianic Age
Jewish Religion Only True Religion
All Gods Will Be Dead, Except The Jewish God And His Holy Army

The world after the messiah comes is often referred to in Jewish literature as Olam Ha-Ba (oh-LAHM hah-BAH), the World to Come. In the Olam Ha-Ba, the whole world will recognize the Jewish G-d as the only true G-d, and the Jewish religion as the only true religion.
We believe that in that future time, everyone will simply know what the truth is, in the same way that we know that 2+2=4, and there will no longer be any reason to argue about it.

 
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Reuven Firestone: Holy War in Judaism
The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Idea
LSE Book Review, June 2012

Holy-war10Throughout much of Jewish history, religious leaders recommended a life of Torah study and observance, delegating victory over Israel’s enemies to God in future messianic times.
It seems that the notion of ‘holy war’, that is, the belief in divinely legitimised military action against one’s enemies, was limited to periods of political sovereignty and to religious fundamentalists. For most of the time and for most Jews, war was neither a reasonable option nor an action for which they would claim divine support.

Throughout late antique, medieval, and modern times rabbis took quietist stances, advocating Torah study and piety in the present and hoping for divine redemption in the future. This “quietist messianism” condemned human military action as interfering with God’s plans.
Firestone views this rabbinic “re-alignment of priorities” as a watershed in Jewish history and thought: Rabbis “made it virtually impossible for holy war to be an operative catergory in Judaism”. “Holy war” was just a theoretical concept.

The situation changed with Zionism and the eventual establishment of the State of Israel, when war against political enemies became a reality again. From the 1930s onwards some religious Zionist rabbis began to revive the issue of holy or commanded war.
The ‘holy war’ ideology and rhetoric has been revived within the camps of fundamentalist religious Zionists, who became more outspoken after the successes of the 1967 and 1973 wars and stand behind the settlement building activities. Radical right wing groups such as Gush Emunim even view terrorist activities against Arabs as ‘holy war’ meant to advance the coming of messianic redemption.

Firestone emphasizes at the end of his study that a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict can be implemented only when fundamentalist radicalism and ‘holy war’ ideology cease on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

Reuven Firestone is Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at the Reform-Jewish Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.

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