Biblical/Talmudic Concepts of War and Peace
Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 8.10
רבנין אמרין מלחמת מצוה זו מלחמת דוד מלחמ' חובה זו מלחמת יהושע. רבי יהודה היה קורא מלחמת רשות כגון אנן דאזלין עליהון. מלחמת חובה כגון דאתיין אינון עלינן.
Sages say: A sanctified war is like the wars of house of David; and an obligatory war is like the war of Joshua. R. Judah called a permitted/optional war one in which we attacked them; an obligatory war one in which they attacked us.[Translation by Righteous Indignation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why are the wars of the house of David considered sanctified? Why are the wars of Joshua obligatory? What was the difference between these two sets of wars?
2. How does R. Judah understand the difference between a permitted/optional war and an obligatory war? What do you think of this difference?
3. Are there ever situations in which war is permitted? What about encouraged? Is there a such thing as a sanctified war today?

Deuteronomy 25:17-19

זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם: אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים: וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ תִּמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt -- how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when Adonai your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that Adonai your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! [JPS translation. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What was Amalek's crime? Why are we commanded to remember what they did?
2. When are we commanded to remember what Amalek did? What does this teach us about the nature of trauma and memory?

Deuteronomy 20:19-20
כִּי תָצוּר אֶל עִיר יָמִים רַבִּים לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ לְתָפְשָׂהּ לֹא תַשְׁחִית אֶת עֵצָהּ לִנְדֹּחַ עָלָיו גַּרְזֶן כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תֹאכֵל וְאֹתוֹ לֹא תִכְרֹת כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר: רַק עֵץ אֲשֶׁר תֵּדַע כִּי לֹא עֵץ מַאֲכָל הוּא אֹתוֹ תַשְׁחִית וְכָרָתָּ וּבָנִיתָ מָצוֹר עַל הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר הִוא עֹשָׂה עִמְּךָ מִלְחָמָה עַד רִדְתָּהּ
When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you may not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siegeworks against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced. [JPS translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is the intention of this law? To what extent is it followed?
2. What does this text imply about the relationship of people and the environment?
3. What does this text imply in our broader considerations about war?

Proverbs 16:32
טוֹב אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם מִגִּבּוֹר וּמֹשֵׁל בְּרוּחוֹ מִלֹּכֵד עִיר
Better to be forbearing than mighty, to have self-control than to conquer a city. [JPS translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What type of strength does this text caution against? Why?
2. Are strength and power always a reflection of an inability to control one's anger? Are these traits ever positive?
3. How is this text a commentary on leadership? What about war?

Judges 4:17-21
וַתֵּצֵא יָעֵל לִקְרַאת סִיסְרָא וַתֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו סוּרָה אֲדֹנִי סוּרָה אֵלַי אַל תִּירָא וַיָּסַר אֵלֶיהָ הָאֹהֱלָה וַתְּכַסֵּהוּ בַּשְּׂמִיכָה: וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ הַשְׁקִינִי נָא מְעַט מַיִם כִּי צָמֵאתִי וַתִּפְתַּח אֶת נֹאוד הֶחָלָב וַתַּשְׁקֵהוּ וַתְּכַסֵּהוּ: וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ עֲמֹד פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וְהָיָה אִם אִישׁ יָבוֹא וּשְׁאֵלֵךְ וְאָמַר הֲיֵשׁ פֹּה אִישׁ וְאָמַרְתְּ אָיִן: וַתִּקַּח יָעֵל אֵשֶׁת חֶבֶר אֶת יְתַד הָאֹהֶל וַתָּשֶׂם אֶת הַמַּקֶּבֶת בְּיָדָהּ וַתָּבוֹא אֵלָיו בַּלָּאט וַתִּתְקַע אֶת הַיָּתֵד בְּרַקָּתוֹ וַתִּצְנַח בָּאָרֶץ וְהוּא נִרְדָּם וַיָּעַף וַיָּמֹת:
Sisera, meanwhile, had fled on foot to the tent of Yael, wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was friendship between King Jabin of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Yael came out to greet Sisera and said to him, "Come in, my lord, come in here, do not be afraid." So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket. He said to her, "Please, let me have some water; I am thirsty." She opened a skin of milk and gave him some to drink; and she covered him again. He said to her, "Stand at the entrance of the tent. If anybody comes and asks you if there is anybody here, say 'No.'" Then Yael wife of Heber took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down to the ground. Thus he died. Thus God will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war. [JPS translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What method of women's empowerment and heroism does Yael display?
2. Is Yael a feminist role model? Why?
3. Would this story play a different role in Jewish history if Yael were a man? What makes this story unique?

Isaiah 2:2-4
והיה באחרית הימים נכון יהיה הר בית יהוה בראש ההרים ונשא מגבעות ונהרו אליו כל הגוים׃ והלכו עמים רבים ואמרו לכו ונעלה אל הר יהוה אל בית אלהי יעקב וירנו מדרכיו ונלכה בארחתיו כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר יהוה מירושלם׃ ושפט בין הגוים והוכיח לעמים רבים וכתתו חרבותם לאתים וחניתותיהם למזמרות לא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב ולא ילמדו עוד מלחמה׃
In the days to come, the Mount of the Lord's House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills; and all the nations shall gaze on it with joy. And the many peoples shall go and say: "Come, let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob; that God may instruct us in God's ways, and that we may walk in God's paths." For instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Thus God will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war. [JPS translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to be "in the house of God"?
2. Is God's direct intervention necessary for nations to stop fighting? Is it possible for nations to engage with each other or do we just presume they will always be fighting?
3. What is the significance of weapons turning into plowshares and pruning hooks? What is the opposite of war?

Babylonian Talmud Berachot 17a
מרגלא בפומיה דאביי: לעולם יהא אדם ערום ביראה, +משלי ט"ו+ מענה רך משיב חמה ומרבה שלום עם אחיו ועם קרוביו ועם כל אדם, ואפילו עם נכרי בשוק, כדי שיהא אהוב למעלה ונחמד למטה, ויהא מקובל על הבריות. אמרו עליו על רבן יוחנן בן זכאי שלא הקדימו אדם שלום מעולם ואפילו נכרי בשוק.
A favorite saying of Abaye was: One should always be subtle in the fear of heaven. A soft answer turns away wrath, and one should always strive to be on the best terms with one's relatives and with all people and even with the heathen in the street, in order that that person may be beloved above and well-liked below and be acceptable to their fellow creatures. It was related of R. Johanan b. Zakkai that no one ever gave him greeting first, even a heathen in the street. [Soncino translation. Edited for gender neutrality and clarity]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why should we always try to have peace between ourselves and others according to this text?
2. Why does God care how we treat others? What does this reflect about us?
3. Who are the people that we are least likely to greet today? How can we strive to be more like R. Johanan b. Zakkai?

Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 127b
תנו רבנן: הדן חבירו לכף זכות דנין אותו לזכות.
Our rabbis taught: One who judges others favorably, they themselves are judged favorably. [Translation by Areyvut. Edited for gender neutrality]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to judge someone favorably? What does this process entail?
2. Do you judge others favorably? Do we as a community judge others favorably? How would our society be different if we did?

Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 11a
בזמן שהצבור שרוי בצער אל יאמר אדם: אלך לביתי ואוכל ואשתה, ושלום עליך, נפשי,
At a time when the community is suffering, no one should say, “I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself.” [AJWS Translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. In a time when one’s community is in trouble, why is one prohibited from engaging in the above actions?
2. What does this text teach us about the relationship of the individual to his or her community?

Talmud, Arachin, 15b
לומר לך מה יד ממיתה, אף לשון ממיתה
The tongue can be as murderous as the hand. [Translation by Hillel]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is meant by this statement?
2. How are hands murderous? How can speech be as murderous as hands?
3. When was the last time you spoke out against injustice?