The Jewish Way: Killing in God's Name?

Destruction of a Kindergarten in Beer Sheva by a Gaza rocket: by Avi Ohayon via Wikimedia CC Fundamentalism, as I said, is a modern creation. Historically, debate over the truth is basic to Judaism. Religious texts are ambiguous and contradictory; they evade a single authoritative reading. Rabbinic tradition rejects reading the Biblical text without the chorus of arguing interpreters who came afterward. Interpretations necessarily stress one part of the text and read others in its light.

If there is a common denominator in rabbinic ethics, it's that God created human beings in the divine image, from one set of parents, and that all human life is therefore sacred. The strongest single statement that the Torah makes about the attitude one should take toward one's enemy is what Jacob says of his brother and foe (for all enemies are also brothers or sisters): "To see your face is like seeing the face of God."

The other rabbis who answered Moment's question differed in nuance and implied political stance, but they all appear to have started from that common ethical stance. To be honest, some of their comments would have read as platitudes were it not for the bitter contrast of "kill men, women and children." Friedman reminded us that before rushing to condemn the fundamentalist distortions of other religions, we should see that our own is not immune. Unintentionally, he reminds us that we must defend the soul of Judaism.

This article was first published at Moment Magazine, a Patheos Partner, and is reprinted with permission.

Gershom Gorenberg is the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect. He blogs at

6/15/2010 4:00:00 AM