Sword and Plowshare in Jewish Thought

by Robert Eisen
Oxford University Press, 2011

Waskow.CoverRobert Eisen is a professor of religion and Judaic studies at George Washington University. His book seems to promise a full scholarly account of Jewish thought on peace and violence, from ancient Torah to contemporary Israel.

The book is written as a series of dialogues between two voices: one that believes Judaism accepts and affirms the use of violence, and one that believes Judaism much more strongly seeks and urges peace. Each section of the book—which is chronologically arranged—presents the arguments for one voice and then the other. To assure the reader that for most of the book he is not taking sides between these voices, Eisen begins the biblical section with the voice that promotes violence; the rabbinic section with the voice that promotes peace; and so on, back and forth, for the rest of the book. (The remaining sections are on medieval Jewish philosophy, Kabbalah, and modern Zionism.)

This pattern is useful but could be a lot more useful, were it not for two baffling failings in this review of the multimillennial literature.

The first is that nowhere in the book’s fifty pages on the Bible is there any reference to the midwives Shifra and Puah, who use nonviolent civil disobedience to resist Pharaoh’s command to kill Israelite boy babies; or to the refusal of King Saul’s own bodyguards to obey his order to kill the priests of Nov for sheltering David and his guerrilla band when they were fleeing Saul’s army; or to Daniel’s nonviolent resistance to Nebuchadnezzar; or to the passage in Deuteronomy that forbids an Israelite King from amassing “horses”—that is, the cavalry necessary for an aggressive imperial war; or to the many outcries from many prophets against the warlike behavior of Israelite and Judean kings.


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Rabbi Arthur Waskow directs The Shalom Center (theshalomcenter.org). His books include Seasons of Our Joy, Godwrestling—Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, and Freedom Journeys (co-authored with Rabbi Phyllis O. Berman). He has often been arrested in protests urging peace and eco-social justice.

Source Citation

Waskow, Arthur. 2011. Sword and Plowshare in Jewish Thought. Tikkun 26(4): 34.

tags: Books, Judaism, Rethinking Religion   
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