The Bible Says What? ‘Judaism prays for peace but isn’t pacifist’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Judaism prays for peace but isn’t pacifist’

Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and offers a progressive response

Bullets (Photo by Mykola Makhlai on Unsplash)
Bullets (Photo by Mykola Makhlai on Unsplash)

“‘There’s a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8)

It is often said that Judaism is a religion that values peace, and that is true. We pray for peace at all our services. Hillel tells us: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace.”

But Judaism is not a pacifist religion. It recognises that there are times when it is necessary to go to war. There may be no other way to stop an aggressor and prevent a greater evil. The difficulty is knowing when is a time for war. As we watch Afghanistan being taken over by the Taliban, we cannot help but ask questions about our own intervention there.

These will be complicated questions, which cannot be answered here. What we need to do now is focus on the victims.

There is a lot of fear, especially for the women in Afghanistan. The Taliban have in the past denied them education and the right to work and seen them as property.

We fear, too, for men: those who have worked with the British and American forces and those who do not adhere to the Taliban’s narrow understanding of Islamic law.

There are things we can do. We can support charities that help those fleeing. We can press our government to accept now as refugees all those who have helped the British in Afghanistan, and to contribute to international efforts to support refugees and find homes for them.

Our Torah recognised the necessity for war, but also recognised that war wreaked destruction and death. Let us take to heart Hillel’s injunction to love peace and pursue it, but as long as wars continue may we also reach out to help the victims in whatever way we can.

  •   Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi serves Birmingham Progressive Synagogue

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