No to violence in Judaism
The last years have brought with them an old-new phenomenon.
Violence in the name of religion.
Different people, from different countries and backgrounds find in violence and in brutal aggression a legitimate device to transport messages and to bequeath ideas regarding religion and faith.
But what does G-d want? Is violence, be it physical or verbal, acceptable in his eyes? Are aggression and belligerence a legitimate and logic way of acting?
So let us look together at the ancient Jewish sources, to the Old Testament and let us learn from these texts the worldview of Judaism.
The story of the Jewish people begins in ancient Egypt. Thousands of Hebrews had to work as slaves, without hope, without a ray of light or an end in sight. In the midst of this life of hardship the Old Testament describes a chance meeting of the person destined to become the leader of the Jewish people – Moses – and a pair of hardscrabble Jews.
Those two fellows started to fight with each other. We don’t know why and about what. But in the midst of the arguing and shouting Moses discerns a movement that he doesn’t like. He sees that one of the men raises his hand to hit the other.
And Moshe protests vehemently: “and he said to the wicked man: why would you hit your fellow man?” Why are you hitting him? Why would you hurt another man?
Let’s pay attention to the title the hitting Hebrew receives here. Wicked. Even though he didn’t yet hit the other man - according to many of Bible-Commentators. The will alone to hurt another man already transfers the attacker into the category of a wicked man, an evil person.
And no. The fact that their lives are full of hardship and suffering does not make the act any less severe. Even before the nation gets up on its feet, its future leader is already asking them to remember that no one is responsible for their personal suffering. It doesn’t matter how complicated life is, it doesn’t matter with what a man has to put up with in his home. There never is a justification for using physical strength. There is no justification in the world that would make violence acceptable.
Years after the people of Israel received the Old Testament, came one foreigner to one of the wise men of the Jewish religion, Rabbi Akiva, and asked him to tell him in one sentence the essence of Judaism. To give him one decisive sentence, who would summarize the idea on which the principles of the Jewish religion are based.
Rabbi Akiva answered him thus: “What is hateful to yourself don’t do to others.” The basic line, the basis to understanding the Tora and to joining the Jewish people, is deep understanding and the ever-lasting self-control. Don’t do to someone else what you wouldn’t want someone to do to you. Get used to think of the needs of someone else as if they would be your own needs and wishes. Everything that would disturb you, everything that is hateful to you - don’t do it to someone else. Never.
The words of Rabbi Akiva are based on the verse “Love your neighbor like yourself.” The goal envisioned by the Tora is that people will perform positive acts towards other people as they would do for themselves. The Tora expects from us that we succeed to administer the same love that we feel towards ourselves onto other people. But this of course is the intensive work of a lifetime. But the minimal and basic demand of every human is not to hurt another – even if you are not interested in doing good on others as you would with yourself. To make someone else suffer, to hurt the privacy or life of someone is against the Jewish philosophy. The famous Maimonides writes that all those rules are not only between Jews but also between Jews and non-Jews. Jews have a positive commandment to visit non-Jewish sick people, to organize a respectful funeral for non-Jews and to support financially poor non-Jews. As it is written in our holy Scriptures that G-d is good and merciful to all his creatures. We are all created in the image of G-d and we have to be respectful to all His creatures, without taking into consideration their thoughts and their beliefs.
The demand of the Bible relates not only to physical violence but also to verbal violence. We are not allowed to curse somebody –even if he is not present. King Solomon says that words can kill. One irresponsible statement can cause long-time damage to someone else. In the world of God there is no place for any type of violence. Strife to love everybody like you love yourself and definitely don’t hurt anybody, doesn’t matter who he is and what he stands for. Never!
Thank you very much.