Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Massacre of the Midianites

[Holy warriors? Or not?]

In Number 31:1-2, God tells Moses “And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites; afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.'” In the remainder of the chapter, 12,000 Israelite soldiers attack the Midianites and kill everyone except for 32,000 virgins who were taken as slaves.

Some people have the impression based on this that Judaism condones the murder of gentile prisoners of war. In reality, however, this is not the case. For example, when King David conquered Syria, he merely placed garrisons there; no genocide took place. Likewise, later, during the period of the Maccabbean revolt, there is no record of any massacre of civilians. The Midianites were an exceptional case explicitly designated by God; they were not a general precedence.

In addition to this, following the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jews have renounced all armed struggle. Modern Zionism has been a primarily secular movement, founded by the atheist Theodor Herzl and opposed by most prominent Talmudic scholars.

For the past 1,800 years, the majority of Orthodox rabbis have preached de facto pacifism while waiting patiently for the Messiah. In fact, rabbinical students in Israel are ridiculed as draft dodgers while in the United States and other countries with no draft, merely a handful of Orthodox Jews serve in the military as chaplains.

In regards to violence, Orthodox Jews are closer in practice to the pacifist Amish than we are to the Islamic jihadis, even though we may all wear beards and believe in God.

18 comments:

bankman said...

therefore......orthodox judaism is the one true religion!

you finally brought me over to the dark side

jewish philosopher said...

Since you mention that, I've got a post for that!

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-of-judaism.html

Mark said...

Let us stipulate the following:

1. The Orthodox Jews, like the Amish, are mostly pacifists.

2. The Jews generally tend to be more pacifists than the society at large.

Ok.

One can study the phenomenon and see to what this population owes its lack of violence.

But one thing is for sure; the Torah does not encourage pacifism. On the contrary, the Torah, together with the book of Joshua, the Kings, Smauel etc., are brimming with blood thirsty gore.

Over and over again, Joshua conquers civilization and kills every man woman and child. Even the animals are not spared! Once or twice, when the Jews showed mercy, got got all huffy and threw tantrums.

Samson, the Jewish hero, kills thousands of people in numerous rages bordering on insanity.

So, agreed that Jews tend to be non-violent. But find other reasons for their civility than the Torah.

jewish philosopher said...

"But find other reasons for their civility than the Torah."

It's probably something in the potato kugel. Or maybe because we don't watch the violent TV shows.

Seriously, it all depends on when and where. When God commanded Jews to kill, they killed, when He said to stop, they stopped. As I pointed out in the post, since Roman times, Jews have believed that God wants us to wait patiently and peacefully for the coming of the Messiah.

DrJ said...

I think that part of the pacifism may have resulted from the development of Rabbinic Judaism, as JP notes. Judaism evolved from a Temple cult and agriculturally based faith, to one of prayer and learning, which is portable.

IMHO, another bigger factor is the the relative powerlessness which has been our lot since dispersion-- it doesn't take a great strategist to realize that when you are small in number, have no natural allies, and everybody naturally hates you-- that its not a good idea to start up with others, and to keep as a low a profile as possible. This is what is known as the "galus mentality".

Israel has changed that, to some degree, but as has JP correctly pointed out, this is a relatively new and secular phenomenon. In recent years the flag of ultra-nationalism has been taken up by the some religious folks, as a pseudo-messianic idea. Even though I am in the center-right politically , in my opinion the religious have done a disservice to Judaism, as they have basically taken a political opinion/movement and transformed it to have religious significance. The ultimate proof is that the religious didn't "discover" that Zionism is a mitzvah until the late 70s, until which time the religious community was ambivalent, at best, towards Zionism. To this day, even in modern orthodox American shuls, making aliyah is a relatively marginal phenomenon, and most rabbinic leaders don't encourage it. In my younger idealistic years this bothered me but now I understand it. Zionism is most definitely not solving "the Jewish problem".

Having said that I believe that the Jews need and deserve a homeland, and have the right to defend it. But maybe we should have accepted Uganda...

Anonymous said...

The Torah says explicitely that the Israelites were not to molest the Midianites. It also says that the Israelites were not allowed to even harbor negative thoughts about Egyptians. That hardly sounds like the Torah is advocating genocide. The Torah commanded the Israelites to exterminate specific nations because of atrocities they commited. And Samson was engaged in a defensive war against the Philistine aggressors.

onionsoupmix said...

yeah, all those peaceful OJs who spray bleach on women for wearing the wrong color clothes. They are doing ratzon hashem. Just like the Amish.

jewish philosopher said...

"it doesn't take a great strategist to realize that when you are small in number, have no natural allies, and everybody naturally hates you-- that its not a good idea to start up with others, and to keep as a low a profile as possible"

Actually, minorities often use violence to try to gain some measure of power, as Zionism is doing. It doesn't work too well, but it is a common strategy.

"in my opinion the religious have done a disservice to Judaism, as they have basically taken a political opinion/movement and transformed it to have religious significance"

It's basically like evolution. Weaker Orthodox Jews have adopted a secular idea because it's fashionable. Religious Zionism was founded in 1902 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Zionism#History_and_organizations

"Having said that I believe that the Jews need and deserve a homeland, and have the right to defend it. But maybe we should have accepted Uganda..."

A successful colonial project involves exterminating the natives. That was OK in the 19th century, in the 20th century not so much.

"all those peaceful OJs who spray bleach on women for wearing the wrong color clothes"

How many Orthodox Jews have been convicted of doing that? About zero?

onionsoupmix said...

Zero? Do you live in a cave? At least google the topic before spouting off.

jewish philosopher said...

Zero. I googled, you didn't.

DrJ said...

Jews living in Galut behave like good, pacifist "civilized" Jews, whereas we Israelis are aggressive, assertive, and not afraid of our shadows.

jewish philosopher said...

Resulting unfortunately in constant hostile resolutions by the United Nations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_Nations_resolutions_concerning_Israel

Without American support, how long would Israel last?

Shalmo said...

"But one thing is for sure; the Torah does not encourage pacifism. On the contrary, the Torah, together with the book of Joshua, the Kings, Smauel etc., are brimming with blood thirsty gore.

Over and over again, Joshua conquers civilization and kills every man woman and child. Even the animals are not spared! Once or twice, when the Jews showed mercy, got got all huffy and threw tantrums.

Samson, the Jewish hero, kills thousands of people in numerous rages bordering on insanity.

So, agreed that Jews tend to be non-violent. But find other reasons for their civility than the Torah."

Excellent observation.

There is no holy book on this planet with more violence than the Torah.

And while Israelis take lesson from the slaughter of Amalekites, canaanites and so on in the Torah, in their current genocide against Palestinians; let it be known that there are indeed others who use the Torah for violence. The Crusaders and the Inquisition for example took to heart these biblical genocides and used them to justify slaughters that will never be forgotten. So destruction caused by the Torah isn't just limited to Jews....in a word "WOW"

"The ultimate proof is that the religious didn't "discover" that Zionism is a mitzvah until the late 70s, until which time the religious community was ambivalent, at best, towards Zionism. To this day, even in modern orthodox American shuls, making aliyah is a relatively marginal phenomenon, and most rabbinic leaders don't encourage it. In my younger idealistic years this bothered me but now I understand it. Zionism is most definitely not solving "the Jewish problem"."

LOL. True but sad and pitiful at the same time

"Having said that I believe that the Jews need and deserve a homeland, and have the right to defend it. But maybe we should have accepted Uganda..."

DrJ your words speak wisdom

If Jews would have stuck with Uganda, well the world would be a better place today. Israel will vanish in our lifetimes, no doubt about that. But too much blood will come out of it.

There should be a peaceful method to remove the Jewish population from Israel. Perhaps they can relocate to the US, where a sizable population of Jews already is thriving. Or perhaps they can still turn Uganda, or better yet, some other desolate land without an indigenous population into a homeland for Jewry. Then maybe we can restore Palestine to the Palestinians and end all wrongs done to the arabs.

onionsoupmix said...

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3681367,00.html

Google a bit harder next time. And no, I don't care that he's only accused and not convicted.

jewish philosopher said...

Shalmo, there is no book filled with more love than the Torah - a love of God, of others and of ourselves. God's love for us is boundless and He wants us to support and help each other, as creatures made in His image.

Some people choose violence inappropriately and they will suffer the consequences. Hatred attracts hatred, in this life and the in the afterlife.

jewish philosopher said...

Onion, I wonder who this guy Buzaglo is. Is he even really an Orthodox Jew? The name is used in Israel to mean "poor, anonymous person" is Israeli folklore.

http://www.forward.com/articles/8127/

Anyway, one nutcase in community of millions isn't that terrible a problem.

Anonymous said...

"Shalmo, there is no book filled with more love than the Torah"

Which Torah are you reading!? Mine prescribes the death penalty for witches, adulterers, rebellious children, Amalkaites, kidnappers, homosexuals, bestiality, blasphemers, sabbath violators, idolaters, etc. This list goes on but I'm getting tired. Have a great shabbos!

jewish philosopher said...

Let's call it tough love.