Religion: Judaism and Violence

Unlike other ancient Near Eastern religions, Judaism introduced the Hebrew God as unitary and solitary, thus juxtaposing a new era of monotheistic against the polytheistic religions, as well as introducing scriptures and religious texts rationalizing laws of siege, wars of extermination, and Zionist assassinations.

The Chosen People Have Existed on the Ashes of Past Empires

Judaism is a monotheistic religion, claiming a historical continuity spanning more than 3,000 years.  It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions, and the oldest one to survive into the present day; having faced ethnic, religious and cultural wars throughout its history.  Many suggest that its survival can be attributed to its violent nature and willingness to use violent means to eradicate enemies.  As with other major religions, the rationalization of violence is associated with the doctrines and texts.  Judaism is no exception, in that the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament hold repeated references and descriptions of the power and glory of Israel’s God in languages of violence.  The scriptures contain thousands of passages referring to Yahweh as acting violently or supporting the violence of humans and more than 100 passages involve divine commands to kill humans.  Since its beginning efforts to propagate and expand its religious beliefs, Judaic violence has been concentrated on nationhood and its inherent need to seek international recognition.  The existence of Israel among numerous volatile neighboring countries of Islamist origin, only begins to describe the animosity that exists in the tense region.

“Jews and Christian who smugly console themselves that Islam is the only violent religion are willfully ignoring their past.  Nowhere is the struggle between faith and violence described more vividly, and with more stomach-turning details of ruthlessness, than in the Hebrew Bible.” – Bruce Feiler, American Author

Much violence in Judaism stems from the belief that violence is condoned in the form of human sacrificed, violence against other religions or unbelievers, and the most common perception of the Jewish struggle for nationhood.  Followers of the Abraham religions believe that God accepts human sacrifice when he asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  When Moses gathered the Semetic tribes together, it was their religious instructions to wage war against the people who were living in what is now called Palestine, kill them all and take their land, because they were not believers in the Hebrew God.  According to the commandment of Milkhemet Mitzvah, war refers to a war during the times of the Bible when a king would go to war in order to fulfill something based on, and required by, the Torah.  In this sense, the text limits violence to defensive tactics, as anything non-defensive needs prior approval by a High Priest.  Nevertheless, as ambiguous a statement as ‘Interest of National Security’, religious perspective of ‘Defensive Violence’ has been extremely flexible.  The Tanakh contains commandment that require the Israelites to exterminate 7 Canaanite nations, and describes several wars of extermination that annihilated entire cities and groups of peoples.  Several scholars have characterized the exterminations as a genocide, supported by the Judaic scriptures that ordered Israelite not to leave anything that breathed alive.  Among the rationalizations for the extreme violence is a passage that suggests that if Judaic followers were to not strike out against the Canaanite nation, they would sin against their own Hebrew God.  Evidently, the threat of sinning against their own God rationalized a supposed preemptive genocide against 7 tribes of peoples.

“It is the law to kill anyone who denies the Torah.  The Christians belong to the denying ones of the Torah.” – Coschen hamischpat 435 Hagah 425. 5

Coupled together with the commandment to exterminate the Amalekites, there does exist a correlation between such violent attitudes and the modern era. The commandment to exterminate the Amalekites was given under the premise that if they were to rescind on their duty to pay a tax to the Jewish Kingdom, the Jewish army would be obligated in killing all the Amalekites, including women and children.  Mush of this animosity from Jewish fundamentalism is considered to be the source for much antagonism between Judaism and other cultures.  The divide between Palestine and Israelis is seen as a perpetuation of the extermination wars, as many suggest the Palestinians are like the Canaanites or Amalekites, vindication an inferred duty to make merciless war against Arabs who reject Jewish sovereignty.  This brewing conflict between Judaism and Islam, most evidently embodied by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has widespread effect throughout the Middle East and exists throughout the past of the Judaic religion.  Zionists believe that they can hasten the coming of the Messiah by seeking to establish the state of Israel by the violent Mosaic method.  According to their religious prophecy, the Messiah would arrive in Jerusalem; therefore, the reason for the eternal conflict between the Jews and Arabs is evident.  This division of the two is demonstrated by Abraham’s banishment and disinheritance of Ishmael, progenitor of the Arabs, and the appointment of Isaac, progenitor of the Jews.

“This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses. If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill 1,000.  And if they don’t stop after 1,000, then we must kill 10,000.  If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000.  Even a million.  Whatever it takes to make them stop.” – Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed

The battle for sovereignty, the general statement of recognized nationhood by all neighbors, has brought the Jewish nation of Israel into multiple climatic battles with the Islamic world.  Despite the political and military implication for the wars, there does exist a strong theological justification for violence, used by Israel and Palestine, against each other; as in both their religions, the religion and nationhood are inexplicably linked to the land.  The combination of Religion, People and Land equals the horizontal legitimacy necessary for a nation to exist.  Because they are different religions, different people and different nations fighting for the same land, the inherent violence conflict cannot be circumvented.  The rivalry between to two religions is demonstrated by the 4 wars waged against Israel: 1948 War of Independence, 1956 Sinai War, 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Much of the antagonizing and fault is laid to blame on Islam, and will evaluated in a following post on Islam to be later published, but the general religious volatility of the region between the Jews and Arabs is the rot for such bloody and ruthless violence, thus giving credibility to the general thesis that there exists an intrinsic relationship between religion and violence.

“All the nasty people who hate on Israel, like Abu Mazen [Abbas], vanish from our world… May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel.” – Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel

The influence of religion on radical sects and individuals is open to interpretation, but the manipulation of religious message has been utilized by many as justification for slaughter and murder, but leaving the perpetrators with a clean conscience.  Many Zionist leaders rely on religious doctrines for justification for the violent treatment of Arabs in Palestine, citing examples where pre-state Jewish militia used verses from the Bible to justify their violent acts, which included explusions and massacres such as the one at Deir Yassin.  Moreover, the teaching of Rabbi Meir Kahani were essentially a call for the killing of anti-Semetics, and were justified such deeds with Jewish theology, historical precedents and biblical examples.  It was his teaching that inspired Dr. Baruch Goldstein to slaughter 30 Palestinians and injuring scores more while they were praying at the tomb of Patriarchs in 1994.  Even the assassination of Prime Minister Rabid was seen as a sacred act in destroying someone, even their own leader, who committed a supposed heretical act in that he surrendered biblical lands to the Arabs.  The assassination was carried out by Yigal Amir, who was motivated by his political views and his understanding of Judaism’s religious law of moiser (the duty to eliminate a Jew who intends to turn another Jew into a non-Jewish authority, thus putting a Jews’s life in danger) and rodef (a bystander can kill one who is pursuing to murder him or her if he cannot otherwise be stopped).

“So Joshua smote all the land, the hill-country, and the South, and the Lowland, and the slopes, and all of their kings; he left none remaining; but he utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded.” – Joshua 10:28-42

In retrospect, Judaism has been a source of major bloodshed and prejudicial violence, mimicking many other major religions in their conquest to be the dominant monotheistic religion.  The violence between Islam and Judaism is forefront in public media because of its climatic perpetuation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the growing nuclear threat of Iran.  Nevertheless, it’s the religious scriptures about Abraham, the common denominator of both religions, that has somehow set these religions apart.  Furthermore, its is scripture and justified violence that has allowed many individuals to abuse the delusions of others and manipulate them into actions of unjust nature that only increase the severity of the growing divide between Jews and Arabs, as well as illustrating the overall stubbornness of religious sects.  It is the concept of holy lands and holy peoples, which have been forgotten individually except for biased interpretative scriptures, that has driven religions into ceaseless war.  Judaism has beliefs in human sacrifice for the coming of their peaceful God, yet the contradiction seems inherent in that a peaceful God is summoned by the murder of thousands of innocents.  Nonetheless, if the religious scriptures say so, then it must be true; because there can clearly be no other way except for that of the Hebrew Bible and its Chosen People.

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4 responses to “Religion: Judaism and Violence

  1. Being a Biblical scholar, I am not interested in leaving some inflammatory response here that simply leads to further polarization or another ceaseless round of back-and forth between the ill-informed and the uninformed. Instead, I will do my best to speak to attend to a broader point of view on this matter.

    Let me start with a warning about “nothing but” statements: that is, to say the God of the Hebrew Scriptures – or the Qu’ran, or the Christian Bible – is “nothing but” a violent and bloody God is missing the point. This kind of fight leads nowhere and in fact reflects the bickering partisanship of Congress today: one side throws out a quote or factoid, declaring the other side “nothing but” (fill in the blank) and thus justifying themselves.

    The truth is, violence exists in the Scriptures and history of all three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). I would be glad to debate Scriptural exegesis on the finer points of both, but at the end of the day the point is this: modern-day Israel, Islamic fundamentalists, and so-called “Christian” nations like the US all engage in violence. The point is really whose modern-day policies hold the greatest threats to global peace and yes on this issue, I think the finger can be pointed in all three directions to some degree or another. The difference, you see, is a matter of degrees and culpability, not innocence.

    There is not a great degree of difference, I agree, with blowing up two American office buildings in New York with their own airplanes, blowing up a Muslim leader while exiting a mosque with Israeli smart missiles, or storming the city of Fallujah and killing lots of civilians in the process. The sad truth is that violence begets violence, but I think the point that sometimes gets lost is the discussion is one of intent and execution. The issue is not that Islam isn’t the only bloody faith descending from Abraham: it’s that some people *today* are using Islam *today* in repeated acts of terrorism *today*.

    Israel sets up blockades in its own neighborhoods and shoots missiles at its next-door neighbors in the name of its sovereignty, not its God. America invades Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of its right to protect itself, not because its Christian Scriptures demand it. Neither action is necessarily justified, I fully agree, but that is not the same thing as public beheadings posted online in the name of Allah, and it is nothing like a man strapping bombs to himself and blowing up an Israeli cafe (or a group of Iraqi police) in order to get himself into heaven and have ninety-nine virgins.

    Notice I don’t claim any of these actions are good: not the US, not Israel, and certainly not the jihadists. Notice I don’t say that all three Abrahamic religions are about peaceful coexistence, either. I just want to point out the difference between the motivations behind these actions, as well as the specific actions themselves.

    Yes, there is more than enough guilt to go around and in each case and of course, we can always find exceptions to bicker over: I just want to point out that barring fringe elements in the US and Israel, the aforementioned are attempting to protect their nation, not champion the cause of their God or convert everyone by force to their faith, which is the primary motivation of any self-proclaimed jihadist.

  2. “In retrospect, Judaism has been a source of major bloodshed and prejudicial violence, mimicking many other major religions in their conquest to be the dominant monotheistic religion. The violence between Islam and Judaism is forefront in public media because of its climatic perpetuation with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the growing nuclear threat of Iran.”

    This whole article, although somewhat accurate, appears to be very anti-semitic. You need to tone it down for your own good. As an atheist jew, I do not subscribe to any of the beliefs mentioned above and take great offense to this article.

    • This is a series on religion that I am doing. I started with an overview on, as you said, “all religions are a source of violence”. Then I began with Christianity, Judaism, and I plan on writing about Islam, Hinduism and perhaps a few others. I am an atheist and found my blog as a window to voice my opinion, so I started doing this series. I like to see counterarguments or refutations, though I do not say this out of a sense of blissful arrogance in which I will only attest to my own righteousness. Every person is entitled to their opinions, I just detest those who wish to pour it down the throats of others.

      Thanks for the read!

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