Rabbi Elliot Dorff Presents Paper on Jewish Approach to War and Peace

Rabbi DorffRabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., AJU Rector and Sol & Anne Dorff Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy, is a nationally acclaimed authority on ethics. Therefore, when he presents a paper, it receives international attention.

Most recently at an international conference on Jewish, Christian, and Muslim concepts of war, held in Israel and sponsored by the Philosophy department of Tel Aviv University, Rabbi Dorff presented a paper on Methods of Articulating a Jewish Approach to War and Peace.

Both Dorff and participating colleague, Michael Walzer of Princeton University, have written about a wide variety of political theory, moral philosophy, and ethics. At this conference, they both began with the same premise, namely that whatever sources exist on war and peace following the First Temple Period were written when Jews did not rule themselves and therefore, had no say in which wars to wage and how. They are therefore theoretical and not based on actual military experience. That, of course, is dramatically not the case in the modern State of Israel, where Jews really do need to articulate a Jewish ethic about war and peace in the midst of making decisions about what to do and not just what to think. Walzer suggested that we do that by formulating some Jewish version of the Christian “just-war” theory.

Rabbi Dorff suggested instead that we articulate a new Jewish ethic about war and peace by using "depth theology." His thesis states that to articulate an authentic Jewish ethic of war for modern times, one must look at both Jewish traditional and modern sources. We must take seriously, for example, what the State of Israel has drawn from the Jewish tradition in defending itself. This includes documents like the Code of Ethics of the Israel Defense Forces and actual policies and practices of the State of Israel in waging war. We must also consider the ultimate Jewish understandings of God and humans, including the degree to which they may be prone to war, the role of war in their character and activities, and on the other hand, their penchant and hope for peace.

In his paper, Rabbi Dorff makes reference to passages from religious texts that address the following: God as a God of war and a God of peace, both the altruistic and self-serving inclinations of human beings, our responsibility to take care of ourselves and to avoid injuring or killing others, the right of self defense, laws of war and peace for the Jewish community, references to peace in Jewish Messianic conceptions and in prayers. Also included in his resources are the words that come at the end of the Kaddish and Birkat Hmazon (Grace after Meals): “May He who brings peace to His universe bring peace to us and to all the people Israel. And let us say: Amen.”

Both of these papers will appear in a future issue of Philosophia, an international journal of philosophy edited by Asa Kasher of Tel Aviv University's Philosophy Department (and the author of the Code of Ethics for the Israel Defense Forces).