Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Being Religious and Self Defense: Part 1

There is a false view that is often classified as Judeo-Christian that implies that religious people are not supposed to fight back when oppressed. This view goes on to suggest that, being religious in this format, means a person who is rightous just sits back and lets bullying, oppression, etc. exist as a part of being "holy." This view is not Jewish nor connected to a blanket Jewish view of the world and here is why.

In Hebrew Shalom is traditionally translated peace, but it means so much more. Shalom comes from a root word which means complete/full payment/etc. The word is also used to mean payment.


According to the Sefer Ha-Yasher 56:9, a book of additional teachings on the Bible from Genesis to Joshua, Jacob on his deathbed requests that his son Judah insure that the Hebrew combat art be passed down to his progeny forever:
ויאמר יעקב אל יהודה: ידעתי בני כי גביר לאחיך אתה ומלך עליהם ובניך ימלכו על בניהם עד עולם אך למד נא את בניך קשת וכל כלי מלחמה למען ילחמו את מלחמות אחיהם המלך בכל אויביו

''And Jacob spoke to Judah: 'I know, my son, that you are a master to your brothers and king over them, and your sons will reign over their sons forever. However, please teach your sons Qashath [the Hebrew weaponless combat art] and every weapon of war, in order that they will fight the wars of their brother the king, against all his enemies.''

It is this that was being referenced by King David in the book of 2nd Samuel chapter 1 after the nation had just suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of the Philistines where both King Saul and David's friend Jonatan died.

וַיְקנֵן דָּוִד, אֶת-הַקִּינָה הַזאת, עַל-שָׁאוּל, וְעַל-יְהוֹנָתָן בְּנוֹ. 17
17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his

וַיאמֶר, לְלַמֵּד בְּנֵי-יְהוּדָה קָשֶׁת, הִנֵּה כְתוּבָה, עַל-סֵפֶר הַיָּשָׁר.18
18 and said: [It is mandatory] to teach the sons of Judah qoshath—behold, it is written in the Sefer Ha-Yashar

There is a concept in traditional Judaism that a religious Jewish nation can not wage war without first offering shalom. The same in terms applies to the individual religious Jew. Even as the Jews drew close to battle, they were commanded to act with mercy. Before attacking, the Jews offered terms of peace, as the Torah states, "When approaching a town to attack it, first offer them peace." (Deut. 20:10) Judaism teaches the supreme value of life, yet we're not pacifists. Wiping out evil is also part of justice. As (aka Rashi) explains (Deut. 20:12), dangerous disputes must be resolved. Because if you choose to leave evil alone – it will eventually attack you.
Rabbi Shraga Simmons taught some interesting points from the Torah (Five Books of Moses) on this type of topic. Whoever sheds the blood of a human being shall his blood be shed, for in the divine image did God make humanity Genesis 9:6. The rabbis elaborated on this point and claimed: When one destroys a single individual, it is as if that person destroyed the whole world (Sanhedrin 4:5). According to Judaism, a part of each human being is Godlike and to murder one human being is to diminish God and destroy the world. The reality is that war makes one callous and cruel. Therefore, since God Himself had commanded the ancient Israelites to rid the Land of evil, God likewise promised the soldiers that they will retain their compassionate nature. (Deut. 13:18).

The Bible is filled with numerous men and women who were both faithful to God and defeneded themselves and the weak. Examples such as.
  • Abraham who fought off 10 kings to save his nephew Lot.
  • Moses who killed two Egyptians who oppressing the Israelites.
  • The Israelites who fought the Canaanites, the Moabites, the Midyanites, etc.
  • Devorah who led the Israelites against the Canaanites.
  • Samson who fought the Philistines.
  • David who fought the Philistines.
  • Elijah who stood up to the pagan priests of Baal.

The list goes on and on. There is no concept in the Bible of being a push over, except when God has decreed it in specific situations. For example, during the time of Jeremiah Israel was supposed to submit to the Babylonians because of the sins of the past generations of Israel required that they be conquered. The Israelites were submissive to the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, etc. until God either delivered them or raised up a leader to show the people how to stand up for themselves.

Needless to say, there are times when a person has to submit to a greater authority than themselves and seek peace and non-violent means in order to exist and survive. Yet, there are also times when a person has to stand up against injustice because allowing it to exist is unrighteous. It is unrighteous to, for example, allow a widow or an orphan to be persecuted. The reality is that the Torah deals with how violence came about, and gives us path in which to deal with it and still retain our sanity as well as our connection with God.

Note: Pictures are from the Abir Warrior Arts web-site and the Ryu Kyu Kempo Web-site. Both are fighting styles taught with the Torah (i.e. Hebrew Bible) and Judaism as the focus. Both are also taught in Israel.

1 comment:

Miriam said...

Also Levi and Shimon who defended their sister Dina.

Gideon (my favorite, for some reason)

Yaakov's almost battle with Esav -does that count?

Barak & Devorah (?)