Thursday, August 12, 2010

Anguish, Amichai and Warfare

This week’s portion, Shoftim, contains the basis for the value system behind Jewish warfare. Judaism is not pacifist – hardly – but it does very much believe in war as a last resort and as viable only when it is moral. Am excellent and comprehensive summary of the halachic position can be found here, at the site of Jlaw. It’s entitled "Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition," by Michael J. Broyde. Also see this article for related information on this subject.

Maimonides included several laws of warfare in his listing of the 613 commandments in the Torah, and he placed them “last but not least.” To see them, scroll down to the bottom of

It’s a complicated topic, one that I have spoken about frequently. We need to understand it, but understanding, alas, will not help us to overcome the helplessness we all feel in a world where the ethics of warfare have become so murky.

The great poet Yehuda Amichai probably expresses that frustration better than anyone. See his poem, "I Want to Die in My Own Bed," as one example, as well as "Temporary Poem of My Time". Check out the home page of this site. It’s very moving.

Amichai ironically died just days before the second intifada erupted. Despite his death, his quintessentially human voice became the “voice of Jacob” as the fires raged, however, even in translation.

Perhaps his most oft-cited poem with regard to warfare is “The Diameter of the Bomb.”

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle of pain and time,
two hospitals are scattered and one graveyard.
But the young woman who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death at the distant shores
of a country far across the sea includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans that reaches up to the throne of God and beyond,
making a circle with no end
and no God.

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