Peace; Not a silent prophecy



Martin Luther King, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

On this, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior’s birth, January 15, war is in the wind.  In cyberspace communities, and on the streets of Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, even on the supposedly serene avenues in America, people are engaged in brutal battles.  Be the clashes verbal or written, the combat is cruel.  The punishment is not proportional.  This truth is not unusual.  Sadly, it is the convention, steeped in tradition.  There is abundant conflict in every corner of the globe, contrary to the Civil Rights Leader, and nonviolent activist would want.  Certainly, these crusades are not as G-d would grant just.  

The command, “an eye for an eye” is used to justify vengeance.  Retaliation is said to be the way of the Almighty, Allah, and the son, Jesus.  Yet, theologians would admonish such interpretations of sacred text.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

~ Martin Luther King Junior

Martin Luther King Junior offers his veracity, which may speak to those who have faith in any of the teachings of holy passages.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are not silent on the subject of peace.  Please peruse, ponder, and perhaps, walk in peace . . .  

Parashat Mishpatim  [God’s Judgment and Human Judges]

written by Rabbi David Hoffman, Senior Rabbinic Fellow, JTS

God’s liberation of the Israelites had further implications. It served as the formative paradigm for the construction of an equitable vision of society.

One command in this week’s parashah stands out for me. It expresses the larger social vision that, I believe, all the commandments of the Torah must serve: “Do not oppress the stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger since you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

With this command God tells the Israelites, “You too know what it is like to be powerless – a stranger, at the mercy of the powerful, and this experience must cultivate within you a special sensitivity.” The “mishpatim,” the laws of our tradition, are there to create people and communities that are deeply sensitive to the experience of those without power and the disenfranchised.

This vision is manifested in a unique way in our parashah, without parallel in any Ancient Near Eastern law codes.

The law of Lex Talionis is presented in chapter twenty-one. Biblical law stipulates that if a person inflicts physical damage on another human being, the victim is entitled to restitution.  Based on the language and context of this law, Biblical scholars believe that the principle – “An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth” – (Talion) – mandated monetary compensation for bodily injury and did not call for literal physical retribution in retaliation for the physical injury suffered.

As Professors Moshe Greenberg, Tikvah Frymer-Kensky, and Nahum Sarna have all observed, the Torah’s articulation of Talion sought to limit retaliation to the exact measure of the injury and to reject the larger Near Eastern practice of vicarious punishment against family members. They also present extended arguments against a literal understanding of Talion and instead argue for an understanding of Talion as monetary reparation.

Most importantly for our discussion, Tikvah Frymer-Kensky, in her study on this law in the context of Ancient Near Eastern literature, observes that while the laws of Hammurabi distinguish between the social classes for the application of the law of Talion, the Pentateuch does not. Frymer-Kensky elaborates: “The laws of Hammurabi distinguish between the social classes of awilum and muskenum: physical attacks against the awilum are treated as crimes, while attacks against the muskenum (whose exact status is still unclear) are still treated as torts (lesser offenses).

While in the Bible, where there is no class distinction among free men, all physical assaults are treated as crimes.” (See Tikvah Frymer-Kensky, “Tit for Tat: The Principle of Equal Retribution in Near Eastern and Biblical Law,” BA 43[1980]: 230-234, p. 233.) In biblical law, slaves, not only free Israelites, are entitled to monetary compensation for bodily damage inflicted by their masters. (See Exodus 21:26-27.) Sarna claims that this law is “without parallel in other ancient Near Eastern legislation” in its commitment to equal justice for all citizens. (See Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, p. 127.)

The general principle of the equality of all in the eyes of the court, stranger and citizen alike, is made explicit in the iteration of the law of Talion in Leviticus 24:17-22:

The Preference of Peace, Wherever Possible and its Encouragement

A Muslim only fights when forced to, and after exhausting all peaceful means of reconciliation. If any opportunity of peace arises, then Islam makes it compulsory for the Muslims to take it. A Muslim is also required to extinguish the flame of war whenever and wherever he can. The Qur’an says:

‘But if they incline to peace, you also incline to it, and (put your) trust in Allah. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.’

(Surat-al-Anfal (8), ayah 61)

Jesus and the Law of Retaliation (Lex Talionis)

By James Davis, Associate Professor, Capital Bible Seminary

To bring the issue a little closer to home, one night my family and I were sitting at the dinner table. My daughter Keilah asked a thought-provoking question. She said, “If my brother hits me, is it okay if I hit him back?” Of course, our answer was that she come to appropriate authorities on the matter – Mom or Dad.

Too much of the world’s ethic is to: 1) strike back; 2) get even; 3) do unto others like they do to you. Many times the justification for retaliation is that ancient law, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”188 I have to admit that this retaliatory ethic to right an injustice is appealing to part of me, especially initially when I feel I have been wronged.

But Jesus says “No” to using “an eye for an eye” as justification for personal revenge. Instead, He says “turn the other cheek,” “go the extra mile,” “turn over two garments if sued for one,” and “give to the one who asks from you.” Jesus’ teaching is not merely legal and technical, but extends deeply and profoundly into the practical situations of conflict, oppression, and the needs of everyday life.

Matthew 5:38-42 reads:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

These verses have been described by many in the following ways:

1. The hard sayings of Jesus

2. The most difficult verses in the Bible

3. Hyperbole and impossible

4. Commands for another world

Jesus’ teaching here is confronting the popular misuse and abuse of the Old Testament law, known as the law of retaliation, in Latin, “the Lex Talionis.” The law of “life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etc. . . .

III. The Law of Eye for Eye in the Old Testament.

So let’s start with looking at this law in the Old Testament.

Imagine yourself for a moment in an ancient situation where you and your family lived in a place with no police force, no courts, no local, state, or federal government – no king or other authority ruling over you or the people around you. Then one day as you are going about your business, you are shocked with the news that one of your neighbors had intentionally and maliciously hit your daughter so hard that four of her teeth are permanently knocked out. What would you do? There is no authority to report it to – to seek justice.

What if the situation was worse, and your child was intentionally killed? You would probably want to take the matter into your own hands and seek retribution, maybe even to the point of blood revenge. Perhaps you would try to impose the same type of injury on the attacker that he imposed. Maybe you would even want to punish him in greater degree than his offense. After you take revenge, the attacker’s family may feel that they have been mistreated and may want to respond, setting up a cycle of retaliation and revenge between you and them – the Hatfields and the McCoys so to speak.

Genesis 34 records an actual incident like this between Jacob’s family and the family of Shechem. After Jacob’s daughter Dinah is physically abused, Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, seek revenge by first deceiving Shechem’s family into getting men circumcised, and then they take the retaliatory action of killing all the males. Of course, it is clear from later in Genesis 49:5-7 that God did not approve of this action.

So the institution of the lex talionis into the Mosaic law for the nation of Israel and the ruling authorities was, I believe, a real advancement for the cause of justice designed to prevent personal actions of retaliation and revenge. The injured person or relative of the injured person could go to the governing judicial authority in Israel to seek justice. But what should the appropriate punishment be in the case of murder or maiming? This is where the law comes into play: “a life for a life,” “an eye for an eye,” “a tooth for a tooth.” The punishment must fit the crime – no more than the crime but also no less.

It was strict but fair. It was also designed to prevent and deter such crimes. It was there to remove punitive actions for crimes from the hands of the victim and his family and put them into the hands of the governing judicial system. It was designed as a principle of proportional justice. It was also designed to appropriately punish the offender.

This is the irony and abuse of how people misunderstand this law. It is misunderstood now the same way it was misunderstood at the time of Jesus. A law that was designed to prevent actions of personal retaliatory revenge is used to justify it!

The misunderstanding of the law would say if someone slaps you on the cheek, slap him back (after all “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”). If someone sues you, sue him back. If you are forced to go a mile by a Roman soldier, resist and fight back. Jesus is trying to confront that type of teaching and mindset.

Let me be clear that God wants us to take actions of personal revenge out of our hands. We can turn them over to the governmental authorities if appropriate, and even if that doesn’t work, we need to turn them over to God Himself.

May G-d grant us peace and prosperity for all.  May man remember retaliation and revenge, are not as he, she, or those who trust only in themselves, would choose.  The Lord Almighty, Allah bestowed upon his offspring free will.  He created us in his image.  The divine, be he or she an entity or merely an enigma, endorses peace.  May mankind also embrace tranquility.

The Qualified Quest for Justice



Jews, Christians and Muslims Unite Against Evildoers

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

Just days ago, throughout the globe, people celebrated religious holidays.  Peace on Earth and good will to all men was the palpable feeling that filled the air.  Everywhere anyone turned expressions of fondness for our fellow beings could be heard.  People were filled with glee.  Then, suddenly, the sound that is the silent hum of joyous laughter was broken.  Everything changed.  Yet, indeed nothing did.  The cycle of violence that has perpetually existed on this planet began again.  The qualified quest for justice was once more the people’s agenda.  In Israel and Gaza, bombs blasted.  Bullets whizzed by the heads of frantic, frightened people who sought shelter from another Mediterranean storm.  Some died.  Hamas was blamed for the initial attacks, this time.  As had occurred on other occasions, Israel, in the name of self-defense, fought back.  The roles might have been reversed and have been.

Each believes the other is at fault.  One force characterizes the antagonist as an occupier.  Late in 2008, the people who are said to have been the provocateurs are tagged as terrorists.  The monikers are interchangeable and have been for centuries.

This recent barrage of words and weapons was not the first on sacred terrain.  No one expects it will be the last.  Apparently, today, as has been true for eons, people have accepted peace as a temporal occurrence.  It is always followed by war.  

Pious people only pretend to honor the hallowed Commandment found in every faith, “Thou shalt not kill.”  In truth, on some principle not evident in scriptures, the Bible, the Qur’an, or other religious teaching, humans conclude all men and Not created equal.

For the wise, the worthy, the wondrous creatures who believe all beings are created equally, and in G-d’s image, the concept of fairness and empathy for all others are only ones of convenience.  These can be, and by all means should be, ignored, when a country, clan, chap, or cute daughter of Eve feels there is reason for self-defense.  When the quest for conquest is greater than the desire for tranquility, justice is found in a series of deadly explosions!

Rational persons become self-righteous when they feel attacked or wish to assault another.  Whatever excuses an ethical individual, or a respectable region, can find to intellectualize war will serve a being who wishes to be brutal.  One need only reflect upon the writings of a few to understand why warfare never ends.

In what would become a foundation for America, within the Declaration of Independence, the words of Thomas Jefferson appear, “All me are created equal.”  This thought was meant to remind citizens of this country of a tenet adopted in ancient times, by not just one, but by many religions.  

A Jewish theologian, Torah scholar, Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld reflects on a historical reality rarely honored by modern man.  “(A)ll men are created equal” (women too for that matter), and, as eloquently as Thomas Jefferson put it, this comes directly from our own Torah.  Maimonides (Mishne Torah, Hil’ Teshuva 5:2) writes that unlike the belief of foolish Gentiles and unlearned Jews that each person is predestined to good or evil, it is within the ability of each person to determine his or her own fate.”

Rabbi Rosenfeld then further elucidates each of us can be virtuous or iniquitous.  As individuals, apart from our intellectual measure, personal milieu, history, monetary means, or influence we have the capacity to choose what we wish to do and who we yearn to be.

The scholar and teacher of Torah, Dovid Rosenfeld shares the observations of another, devout academician, Dean of Aish HaTorah International, Rabbi Noach Weinberg (www.aish.com), “We are certainly not equal when it comes to talents, predilections, or natural abilities.  But in this one regard we are all equal: we all possess souls.  We have the potential to develop ourselves, whether in goodness or wickedness, and we possess the free will to determine which path we will follow.  Goodness and closeness to G-d are not reserved for the intellectual, the scholarly, or the well-pedigreed.  It is the inherent right of all mankind and the simple fact of our humanity.”

While many amongst the Jewish faithful quote the wisdom of each of these devout devotees of the Almighty, the significance of the statements is void in action.  The same is true in Islamic tradition.  Several fervent followers find solace in the scriptures; indeed, “The Glorious Qur’an mentions, with commendation, Prophet Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as it does to Prophet Moses (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him),” others who purport to believe in teachings of Islam, Hamas amid these, ignore the splendor found in the religious text.

Islam aims at eliminating all aspects of racism and dislikes prejudiced-oriented party gatherings.  Islam, equally, disapproves all acts leading to disputes, fights, among individuals and peoples.  Islam requires its followers to believe in the Divine Messages and Scriptures of all previous nations [community] in order to eliminate any hatred or biased feelings.  Islam considers such an act as one of the essential tenants of faith.

While the most boisterous today, and for centuries, have beat the battle drums, murdered, caused mayhem, massacred, and engaged in the most dire deeds, all in the name of justice, a very few participate in another, more harmonic quest.  

These individuals believe in sacrosanct traditions too.  The truly peaceful propose actions must reflect religious and rational reason.  Those who work towards universal serenity walk with the Lord on holy days and during the most mundane of times.  Advocates of amicable exchanges and equality for all, aspire to a stable serenity, as is referenced in theological text.  

“Pacifists,”, do not adopt the vicious edicts of those who think war will bring about peace, albeit, the warriors admit, provisionally.  The tranquil people have faith that all men, women, and children can choose how they wish to respond to conflict.  People are free to engage in good or evil.

Those on a quest for nonviolent justice, one without qualifiers that restrict the significance of religious commandments, talk without the accompaniment of a big stick.  They walk with a sincere sense of awe for kindnesses.  They also type articles that advocate for empathy and avoid the argument of self-defense.

Thus, on November 10, 2000, Deborah Ducrocq, then Managing Editor of the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, a devout Jew in her own right, published an article, she received.  The missive penned by another Judaic faithful, Judith Stone, is titled, “The Quest for Justice.” The tone and transcript were considered controversial by the clannish amongst the American Jews.  Indeed, after the missive appeared, the Ms Ducrocq was promptly dismissed by her ?superiors.

Yet, as much as the words offended the Jewish employers, for persons who struggle with a spiritual history, Jew, Gentile, and Islamist who yearn for authentic and lasting global harmony, the wisdom Judith Stone inscribed, and Deborah Ducrocq delivered, resonates.

While some might say this early essay is no longer politically pertinent, others trust, the sentiment expressed is as valid today as it was then, and will be tomorrow.  


“Quest for Justice”

By Judith Stone

I am a Jew.  I was a participant in the Rally for the Right of Return to Palestine.  It was the right thing to do.  I’ve heard about the European holocaust against the Jews since I was a small child.  I’ve visited the memorials in Washington, DC and Jerusalem dedicated to Jewish lives lost and I’ve cried at the recognition to what level of atrocity mankind is capable of sinking.

Where are the Jews of conscience?  No righteous malice can be held against the survivors of Hitler’s holocaust.  These fragments of humanity were in no position to make choices beyond that of personal survival.  We must not forget that being a survivor or a co-religionist of the victims of the European Holocaust does not grant dispensation from abiding by the rules of humanity.

“Never again” as a motto, rings hollow when it means “never again to us alone.”  My generation was raised being led to believe that the biblical land was a vast desert inhabited by a handful of impoverished Palestinians living with their camels and eking out a living in the sand.  The arrival of the Jews was touted as a tremendous benefit to these desert dwellers.  Golda Mier even assured us that there “is no Palestinian problem.”

We know now this picture wasn’t as it was painted.  Palestine was a land filled with people who called it home.  There were thriving towns and villages, schools and hospitals.  There were Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  In fact, prior to the occupation, Jews represented a mere 7 percent of the population and owned 3 percent of the land.

Taking the blinders off for a moment, I see a second atrocity perpetuated by the very people who should be exquisitely sensitive to the suffering of others.  These people knew what it felt like to be ordered out of your home at gun point and forced to march into the night to unknown destinations or face execution on the spot.  The people who displaced the Palestinians knew first hand what it means to watch your home in flames, to surrender everything dear to your heart at a moment’s notice.  Bulldozers leveled hundreds of villages, along with the remains of the village inhabitants, the old, and the young.  This was nothing new to the world.

Poland is a vast graveyard of the Jews of Europe.  Israel is the final resting place of the massacred Palestinian people.  A short distance from the memorial to the Jewish children lost to the holocaust in Europe there is a leveled parking lot.  Under this parking lot is what’s left of a once flourishing village and the bodies of men, women, and children whose only crime was taking up needed space and not leaving graciously.  This particular burial marker reads: “Public Parking.”

I’ve talked with Palestinians.  I have yet to meet a Palestinian who hasn’t lost a member of their family to the Israeli Shoah, nor a Palestinian who cannot name a relative or friend languishing under inhumane conditions in an Israeli prison.  Time and time again, Israel is cited for human rights violations to no avail.  On a recent trip to Israel, I visited the refugee camps inhabited by a people who have waited 52 years in these ‘temporary’ camps to go home.  Every Palestinian grandparent can tell you the name of their village, their street, and where the olive trees were planted.

Their grandchildren may never have been home, but they can tell you where their great-grandfather lies buried and where the village well stood.  The press has fostered the portrait of the Palestinian terrorist.  But, the victims who rose up against human indignity in the Warsaw Ghetto are called heroes.  Those who lost their lives are called martyrs.  The Palestinian who tosses a rock in desperation is a terrorist.

Two years ago I drove through Palestine and watched intricate sprinkler systems watering lush green lawns of Zionist settlers in their new condominium complexes, surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire in the midst of a Palestinian community where there was not adequate water to drink and the surrounding fields were sandy and dry.  University professor Moshe Zimmerman reported in the Jerusalem Post (April 30, 1995), “The [Jewish] children of Hebron are just like Hitler’s youth.”

We Jews are suing for restitution, lost wages, compensation for homes, land, slave labor and back wages in Europe.  Am I a traitor of a Jew for supporting the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their birthplace and compensation for what was taken that cannot be returned?

The Jewish dead cannot be brought back to life and neither can the Palestinian massacred be resurrected.  David Ben Gurion said, “Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves… politically, we are the aggressors and they defend themselves…The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country…”

Palestine is a land that has been occupied and emptied of its people.  It’s cultural and physical landmarks have been obliterated and replaced by tidy Hebrew signs.  The history of a people was the first thing eradicated by the occupiers.  The history of the indigenous people has been all but eradicated as though they never existed.  And all this has been hailed by the world as a miraculous act of G-d.  We must recognize that Israel’s existence is not even a question of legality so much as it is an illegal fait accompli realized through the use of force while supported by the Western powers.  The UN missions directed at Israel in attempting to correct its violations of have thus far been futile.

In Hertzl’s “The Jewish State,” the father of Zionism said, “…We must investigate and take possession of the new Jewish country by means of every modern expedient.”  I guess I agree with Ehud Barak (3 June 1998) when he said, “If I were a Palestinian, I’d also join a terror group.”  I’d go a step further perhaps.  Rather than throwing little stones in desperation, I’d hurtle a boulder.

Hopefully, somewhere deep inside, every Jew of conscience knows that this was no war; that this was not G-d’s restitution of the holy land to it’s rightful owners.  We know that a human atrocity was and continues to be perpetuated against an innocent people who couldn’t come up with the arms and money to defend themselves against the western powers bent upon their demise as a people.

We cannot continue to say, “But what were we to do?”  Zionism is not synonymous with Judaism.  I wholly support the rally of the right of return of the Palestinian people.

Indeed, what is to be done amidst the bombs and bullets.  Those who have faith in talk, treatises that remain forever intact and tranquility can only bemoan the truth when they witness calm, compassionate, persons, who say they care for all mankind, become clannish when they chatter about political agendas in the Middle East.  

What can anyone do when people preach peace and practice violence in the name of the Lord, Allah, or the Almighty, or even atheist theories.   When the pious come to blows, fist to cuffs, as they fight for freedom and justice for all, or at least all who look or live as they do, what do the quieter “others” do?

The peace lover takes no comfort in the obvious; canons are practiced inconsistently.  Even the religious are ready to attack.  Excuses are made.  Each nation and its inhabitants offer validation for vicious, vindictive, imprudent assaults.  Nor does the antiwar wish to ask questions that are never truly answered.  Is it ethical, inevitable, eternal, and when, or how will it ever end.  Conscientious objector to combat acknowledge the mantra will likely be reactive.  Attack; inquire of ethics anon.

This is why peaceful persons might try not to actively engage in discussions of the affairs in the Mediterranean, ever.  They know.  While warriors wish to answer such inquiries with another, “What would you do if your home were blasted, would you retaliate?”  The peaceful can only ponder, what is this strange quest for justice?  Revenge?

“Don’t take vengeance and don’t bear a grudge against the members of your nation; love your neighbor as yourself”. (Leviticus 19:18.)

~ Torah

“Those who spend in ease as well as in adversity and those who restrain (their) anger and pardon men.”

~ Qur’an

Religious References . . .

Perils of Being a Jew

© copyright 2008 Storm Bear. Town Called Dobson


To view the original, travel to a Town Called Dobson. Perils of Being a Jew

A good friend of mine was telling me a story about some new people he met recently – he was the first Jew they had ever met. In their curiosity, they had a laundry list of questions based on anti-Semitic comments they had heard probably their whole lives.

“No, we do not own the media.”

It is good that uninformed people seek to find the truth, but in the 21st Century, one would hope this level of stuff would no longer be necessary. But alas, Rupert Murdoch is not Jewish. Steve Jobs, the largest shareholder of Disney is not Jewish. Steven Spielberg is Jewish however, but he does not own the media – he is a filmmaker. Robert Rodriguez is also a filmmaker but he is not Jewish and neither of them run the Evening News.

So my ultra-patient friend sat through the eye-rolling questions. No, they do not sacrifice babies. They do not have a secret base on the dark side of the moon.

And no, Israel does not have a fleet of flying saucers.