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There not a great deal to say here as again Jews were not empowered to commit violence, so only attitudes can be commented on. He also points out that the rabbis were uncomfortable with elements of Jewish law that appeared to discriminate against non-Jews and so developed progressive responses pp77 such as that of 14th century Rabbi Meiri who innovatively ruled that earlier injunctions applied only to idolaters. However Eisen doesn't connect this, or Maimonides proposal that prior to going to war an invitation to peace must be made, to similar positions in Islam, which would illustrate how different communities were able to listen to each other during that era.

The 5th chapter briefly looks at Kabalism. There are examples in the writings of these mystics of negative attitudes, not enough to deter a derivative Christian Kabbalistic movement, but as the Kabbalists themselves tended not to engage the material world, there is little to say about the movement towards the issues of peace and violence. Zionism is the final topic and represents the return of Judaism to the historical stage of nations. If Israel cannot use force then it may be the only nation that would be so restricted. There's a good and informative summary of the positions and influence of rabbis Avraham and Tsevi his son Kook which shows how a sector of the religious community came to embrace Zionism, a de riguer marginalization of Kahane, but there are number of avenues and opportunities that, in a rush to judgement, are missed: IMV, even given the limited space to deal with the topic, a fuller mosaic would have been more revealing and forgiving.

The concluding chapter begins with the author attempting to reconcile rabbinic thought with the Pragmatism of William James and the Consequentialism of John Dewey, both of which he admires, but there is only a partial fit - to be expected if one bringing in new furniture into multi-generational home. And though he faults the Abrahamic religions for their history of violence he also credits them for developing an ethic of peace. In Eisen's view it is the rabbinic tradition that has modified Zionism from other nationalisms and made it less violent and more responsive and introspective of an ethical relationship to the Arabs than might otherwise have occurred.

The corollary would be to ask how Muslim ethics have responded in turn. Within Jewish mythology there is the belief that within each individual there is a both a tendency for good yetzer ha-tov and a tendency for evil the yetzer ha-ra. There's a story in the Talmud that while the 2nd temple was being rebuilt, the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish assembly of judges, were concerned that the Jewish people might be led astray by the yetzer ha-ra, so they physically captured it and tied it up.

And initially all was peaceful and good, except people stopped going to work and the chickens stopped laying eggs. So they concluded that both inclinations were required for the world to function and they let the yetzer ha-ra go. For as the Good Book says, to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Different readers may make the mistake of only taking away part of Eisen's analysis - it is worthwhile to consider the whole.

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Jul 30, Robin Friedman rated it really liked it. Eisen is a specialist in medieval Jewish philosophy. Before September 11, he pursued his knowledge of this subject and tried to impart something of its fascination and importance to Peace, Violence, And Textual Ambiguity A Professor of Religion and Judaic Studies at George Washington University, Robert Eisen recounts at the beginning of his new book, "The Peace and Violence of Judaism" , published by Oxford University Press, how the events of September 11, impacted his life and career.


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Before September 11, he pursued his knowledge of this subject and tried to impart something of its fascination and importance to his young students. He tended to avoid participation in public affairs. With September 11, Eisen realized that "the problem of religious violence has become one of the most -- if not the most -- pressing issue of our time. Among other activities, Eisen used his knowledge to explore a difficult subject of applied religious ethics -- Eisen studies complex Jewish religious and philosophical texts to discuss the extend to they countenance, or reject, the use of violence.

In exploring this broad question, Eisen found he had to address an even broader one: Eisen's book is part of what he hopes will become part of a larger project among scholars of religion. He invites other scholars, particularly Christians and Muslims, to examine their own texts, to read them carefully and candidly and to determine what parts promote peace and what parts promote violence.

Representatives of religious communities are often unwilling to critique their own traditions, to see the ugliness that resides in them alongside the beauty. They are often quick to criticize other religious traditions for their failings but exhibit an inability to recognize that their own traditions are part of the problem.

Beyond a commitment to the right of self-defense in virtually all the sources, Eisen finds a great deal of ambiguity in the texts in terms of their support of violence and in terms of their understanding of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews. In five successive chapters, Eisen considers Jewish attitudes towards peace and violence in the Bible, Rabbinnic Judaism which is considered binding by Orthodox Judaism , Medieval Jewish Philosophy, the Kaballah Jewish mystical tradition , and Modern Zionism which becomes a stand-in for post-Enlightenment Jewish thought.

Eisen offers an effective mode of presentation which may not please all readers. Each chapter begins with an introduction. Following the opening comments Eisen presents two competing interpretations of the respective texts, one of which supports a conclusion that Judaism countenances the use of violence against enemies, the other of which supports a conclusion that Judaism is a religion of peace. The two positions play off against each other before Eisen offers concluding observations. Eisen recognizes that the two positions developed reflect a polarization, but he insists that they both reflect engagement with and plausible interpretations of texts.

He writes of the two positions, "they represent voices in my own head and heart that have been engaged in discussion for the past several years as I have wrestled with Jewish ethics. On one level, this study is thus quite personal. However, the viewpoints presented here are not so personal that others will be unable to relate to them. They have been constructed in large part with the help of insights of previous thinkers and scholars about texts that are often discussed in treatments of Jewish ethics. He finds that the texts are ambiguous on many levels and will support many different readings, including the two alternative positions he presents in each chapter.

The Peace and Violence of Judaism - Robert Eisen - Oxford University Press

The knowledge and love of scholarship presented in this book is impressive and eloquent. The book promotes engagement with reading and with thinking.

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The footnotes are detailed and add scholarly references or nuances that supplement the treatment in the text. Besides presenting his authorities for the differing positions on peace and violence, Eisen discusses in substantial detail the many factors creating ambiguity in religious texts. These texts were composed over a long period of time by many different hands. They reflect many threads and ideas. There is substantial semantic ambiguity in the texts, taken section by section or as a whole, much of the semantic ambiguity is encouraged by the nature of ancient Hebrew.


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Issues arise about privileging one section of text over another section in the event of inconsistencies. And important questions about the extent to which historical circumstances are to be created in interpreting texts, as well as literary considerations, also make finding definitive textual conclusions a virtually impossible task. In reading Eisen, I was reminded of the antinomies in Kant -- where the great philosopher lined up two competing arguments for differing philosophical positions in his text and concluded that reason itself could not decide between them.

Following his textual analysis, Eisen offers two concluding chapters to try to unravel their significance. These chapters are less convincing than the textual analyses, and it is unclear what effect they might have on the complex issues of the Middle East. In the conclusion proper, Eisen reiterates the hope he offered in the introduction: My plea is directed particularly at scholars in the Abrahamic communities. Publications Pages Publications Pages.

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The Peace and Violence of Judaism: Thus, any effort to connect Jewish sources intrinsically to either peace or violence is seen to be facile, partial, and subject to multiple interpretations. After each chapter, no reader is left firmly convinced of his or her original view. His longest chapter is devoted to modern Zionism, the Jewish movement that was from the start most concerned with, and ultimately most involved in, violence.

The Peace and Violence of Judaism: From the Bible to Modern Zionism

The scholarly ambience shifts from the mythic and literary [End Page ] to the real and historical; the arguments assume three-dimensionality as the emotional and intellectual stakes riseā€”is modern Zionism at its core a nationalist movement with ethical moorings, meant to ensure security for Jews, or is it a colonialist movement that secured territory and sovereignty for one group at the expense of another?

It is precisely this honestly faced ambiguity that brings the author back to his original normative thrust. Relating the modern predicament of Jews in Israel to the situation faced by the rabbis after 70 CE, Eisen suggests that the model of pragmatism and the survival instinct of the Jewish community If you would like to authenticate using a different subscribed institution that supports Shibboleth authentication or have your own login and password to Project MUSE, click 'Authenticate'.

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