Archive for the ‘History’ Category

In accepting his Nobel Prize for Peace on Thursday, December 10, 2010, US President Barack Obama defended (text of speech here from Nobel website) the morality of a military seeking to bring peace to a conflict-torn land and the theory that some wars are just:

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics, and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

He went on to talk of terrorism, the changing nature of war in the 21st century, and the implacable warmongering of al-Qaeda. Yet he returned to the nature of how to conduct war:

To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason….

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct.

It is in the approach even to participation in a just war that separates the moral from the immoral, as Donniel Hartman wrote in early 2009 during Israel’s short war in Gaza:

In a war against a terrorist regime such as Hamas, there is great moral clarity…. Having initiated years of ongoing missile attacks against the citizens of southern Israel, killing and injuring, both physically and mentally, hundreds of individuals, and making the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens untenable, it was a clear moral responsibility to defend our citizens and to attempt to create a new situation under which attacks would no longer occur. It was also necessary to act today to preempt further attacks that would only be more deadly, as Hamas continues to smuggle longer-range and more powerful missiles into Gaza. While no one is certain that the war will achieve the desired outcome, this debate has no effect on the morality of the attempt.

Yet Donniel also recognized that steps must be taken – even in the heat of battle – to prosecute that war in a moral fashion:

Asking these questions and engaging in moral self-evaluation, even in the middle of war, is not a sign of weakness. Rather, what we in Israel have learned is that our strength as a country and the fortitude of our army and soldiers are grounded in a significant way on our moral fiber and our soldiers’ recognition that they are part of a just cause and a just army.

Donniel Hartman also addressed the “proportional” force argument:

The measure of moral ambiguity that may exist in the eyes of some is grounded on the disparity of military capability between Israel and Hamas, a disparity which may question the legitimacy of the premise of self-defense. Hamas as a terrorist organization aims to terrorize, and as such has a limited ability to endanger Israel’s basic existence. While it may harm individual citizens, Hamas does not endanger the state as a whole.

It is under the cloud of this moral ambiguity that much of the criticism against Israel finds shelter. The justification of self defense dissipates when one compares Kassam rockets and mortar shells and their casualty toll with the might of the Israeli army and the consequences of its actions. Furthermore, it is also this reality which fuels the calls for proportionality in which the use of force on Israel’s side, it is claimed, must match that of the enemy it attacks. A “disproportionate” response is classified as unjust, for it is no longer contained or justified under the rubric of self-defense.

The moral difficulty, if not corruption, entailed within the above argument lies in the fact that it essentially allows terrorist organizations to terrorize with impunity, and morally handcuffs a society’s legitimate right to defend itself not merely when its existence is threatened, but when the lives of some of its citizens are in danger and many more are subjected to the effects of terror.

President Obama did not go into the nuances of “proportional response” theory in his speech, yet it is just that issue of proportionality which is haunting Israel in international forums today.

I would recommend that the President not only read Donniel Hartman’s article, but also take the time to review the lengthy piece on “Just War Theory” on the fascinating website, “The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” which says (in part): “The second principle of just conduct is that any offensive action should remain strictly proportional to the objective desired.”

This would not seem to limit the actors in a just war to a “tit for tat” response, that is, you shot one bullet at me, so I am limited to one bullet. It does suggest that using nuclear weapons for a limited goal, such as ending border interdictions and kidnappings, for example, would not be moral. But it does not seem to limit a responding party:

Proportionality…requires tempering the extent and violence of warfare to minimize destruction and casualties. It is broadly utilitarian in that it seeks to minimize overall suffering….

There’s a great deal more that can be said about this. Hillel’s famous dictum, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you, that’s the whole Torah,” is followed by a second part: “Now go and study.”

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A controversial new book, The Invention of the Jewish People, by Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sand, is now in English, after kicking up a dust storm of controversy in its original Hebrew incarnation. This is a summary of the book’s thesis, as explained in a recent review on Tablet, an online Jewish cultural magazine:

Sand… argues that the Jews were not in fact exiled from Israel, and that the bulk of modern Jewry does not descend from the ancient Israelites Rather, he claims, they are the children of converts—North African Berbers and Turkic Khazars—and have no ancestral ties to the land of Israel. Zionism is not a return home, Sand writes, it is the tragic theft of another people’s land. As such, Israel is not the political rebirth of the Jewish nation—it’s a complete fabrication.

The first issue of Shalom Hartman Institute’s Havruta magazine touched on many aspects of the matter of Jewish peoplehood – from a different perspective that accepts and aims at strengthening the concept of Jewish peoplehood. Read the articles here.

Shalom Hartman Institute’s coverage of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, also addresses these issues from a perspective that embraces Jewish peoplehood.

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Last week, we posted an article by Donniel Hartman on how the nine days from Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) through Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) mark the new “High Holidays” of Israel.

Today, we would like to draw your attention to an essay by David Hartman on the day preceding Yom Ha’atzmaut, Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers. In this personal and moving piece, “Yom Hazikaron: Remembrance before celebration,” R. David talks about his own, personal loss, as well as the national day of mourning.

According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

22,570 men and women have been killed defending the land of Israel since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighborhoods.

In the past year, since Remembrance Day 2008, 133 members of the security forces – police, IDF, Border Police, Israel Security Agency and other organizations – have been killed in the service of the state.

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Israel Knohl’s new book on his controversial interpretation and analysis of the stone monument with fragmentary Hebrew writing in ink (not engraved) on it: Messiahs and Resurrection in the Gabriel Revelation, will be published May 7, 2009, by Shalom Hartman Institute and Continuum Books.

Prof. Knohl sat down with me the other day to discuss the stone, his findings, the era in which it was written, the historical and prophetic truths embedded in it, and what its impact will and should be on today’s understanding of Judaism, Christianity, and Jesus as a historical figure.

We made three versions of the video: a tightly edited, “director’s cut”  of 10 minutes  (see above), a two-minute “trailer” version strictly about the book’s impact – here – and the full, 20-minute interview – here.

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I don’t want this one to slip away unnoticed, even though it is off the main Hartman website homepage for now: David Hartman’s new column on the rise of extremism in the Jewish world. The essay is adapted from one of his recent lectures in the Pomrenze Lecture Series: Challenges Facing Modern Jewry in Israel and the Diaspora. In that talk, the fourth in the six-lecture series, Rabbi Hartman discussed the thinking of Mordecai Kaplan, the 20th century American rabbi and philosopher who founded the Reconstructionist Movement, the first U.S.-founded Jewish movement.

Rabbi Hartman marveled at the change in the Jewish world, and how the Conservative Movement has struggled even as Orthodoxy – and its stricter and stricter off-shoots – continue to gain in popularity: “It seems that the more extreme, the more right wing, the more you have a sense of being a holy Jew.”

Rabbi Hartman laments the rise in non-rational thinking, the triumph of the devout and energetic over the thoughtful and intellectual: “The less intelligible things are these days, the more attractive they have become.”

Read his entire essay, including his sharply worded condemnation of the “irrational,” by clicking here. There is also a video version of the talk embedded with that article.

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Now available, the second issue of Havruta, a Journal of Jewish Conversation, with the theme, “Israel at 60: Judaism and Democracy in the Old-New Land,” with articles and essays by foremost scholars and a roundtable with leading thinkers.

This issue, dedicated to Israel’s 60th year of statehood,  examines questions arising from the intersection of Judaism and democracy. Indeed, in a roundtable that features top thinkers in the field, the core questions of Israel’s existence are probed in depth.

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David Hartman (Lindenbaum): How Is Prayer Possible After the Holocaust, Part 2 of 2. David Hartman of Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem, Israel, completes this fascinating lecture.

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