Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jewish Thoughts on War and Peace

It happens that this week's parasha, Parshat Shofetim, includes some guidelines for behaviors in war. The Israelites are given certain limits, including the requirement to invite a peaceful surrender before initiating battle, and restrictions on destruction of both people and, interestingly enough, of trees. You can read the text in Deuteronomy Chapter 20 at this link: Mechon-Mamre.
I found this particularly interesting in view of a speech President Obama gave recently, in which he referred to the war in Afghanistan as a necessary war. His words:
"This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity," Obama told the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars conference -- cautioning that the insurgency would not be defeated overnight. "Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans." (from the LA Times, reporting on a speech given Monday, August 17, 2009)
This speech can serve as a trigger for discussion of what those words - "war of necessity" - mean in the context of Jewish thinking.

Big Idea:
Jewish wisdom can be a way of understanding the world around us

Essential Questions:
  1. Why does President Obama consider the war in Afghanistan a war of necessity?
  2. In what way would Jewish wisdom support or not support his description?
Learning Activities:
  1. Read Obama's speech. It is quite long, so you may want to divide it into sections for your students to read. Discuss what he said, focusing on his reasons for considering the war in Afghanistan a necessary war.
  2. Read the articles at these links below.
Compare and contrast Obama's thoughts on necessary war with those of the Jewish thinkers in the articles you read. Your students may choose to create a chart, have a debate, or express their understanding in another way. The important outcome is that they understand that they can apply Jewish thinking to the world in which they live.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a brilliant connection between Torah and the world. I am especially taken because of the release of the Pan Am terrorist yesterday. A Scotland govt. representative said that they had to balance justice with compassion. The Torah understands that TRUE compassion is not decided upon by one's independent moral compass, but by adherence to Torah. Perhaps the president is beginning to understand a bit of the Torah's timeless wisdom . . perhaps . . .