Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Swords, Guns and Judaism

The Mishnah (Shabbos 6:4) states that a man may not go out in the street on Shabbos, where there is no eruv, wearing a sword or other such weapon. Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, arguing that such weapons are adornments, and may thus be worn in the same way that jewelry is worn. The sages are of the view that weapons, rather than being enhancements to a person, are “gennai” (a difficult word to translate; perhaps “shameful” or “detractions”), citing the verse "They shall beat their swords into plowshares..." (Yeshayah 2:4).

In the Gemara, the sages ask Rabbi Eliezer why, if weapons are adornments, they shall no longer be used in the Messianic Era. In one version, he responds that they are simply unnecessary at that time; in another version, he responds that weapons will indeed still be necessary in the Messianic Era.

The Gemara further states that Rabbi Eliezer’s own view is based on the verse, "Gird your sword upon your thigh, O hero, in your splendor and glory" (Psalms 45:4). A question is raised that this was traditionally understood to be a metaphor for Torah study, to which it is answered that a verse’s literal meaning is never entirely negated.

Curiously, the Gemara does not explain how the view of the Sages is to be reconciled with this verse. Still, the fact remains that according the majority view of the Sages, weapons are only tragic tools of necessity; never something in which to find glory. They even explained that the reason why iron tools could not be used in the construction of the Temple was that iron is used to construct tools of war.

Even in Scripture, recording the battle-filled days of Biblical times, there are no famous, celebrated individual weapons or types of weapons. There is no Excalibur, Anduril, or lightsaber-equivalent. The only famous weapons in Scripture, and indeed all Jewish history, are a slingshot and the jawbone of an ass! And the legacy throughout Jewish history, as expressed by the Sages, is that weapons are items that are regrettable. This presents a sharp contrast to various other cultures, in which weapons are tools of glory, to be manufactured in decorative forms, to be worn at ceremonial events, and to be fired at celebrations.

36 comments:

  1. Once when I was an eid for yichud, and we had brought plastic swords to use while ceremonially standing guard (as was common among our cohort in those days), the rav who was mesader kiddushin scolded us and made us pack them away. "Even pretend weapons have no place at a Jewish simcha!" he exclaimed.

    And he was absolutely right.

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  2. Does any religion glorify weaponry? Unless I'm mistaken the glorification of warfare in Middle Eastern culture stems mostly from Arab tradition not Muslim tradition...

    Again, I may be wrong, but I'm sure once could find pacifistic statements in Christian and Muslim literature too and could attribute belligerence to more secular elements in those cultures...

    But even if we were to say that Judaism is *exceptional* in its pacifism I would not find this too surprising since we Jews have not had too many historical opportunities to fight and win wars and have historically been an OPPRESSED people. It would therefore come as no surprise that we would not glorify warfare, since we did not have too many opportunities to engage in it and had our last big victory all the way back in Hasmonean times...

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  3. > Even in Scripture, recording the battle-filled days of Biblical times, there are no famous, celebrated individual weapons or types of weapons. There is no Excalibur, Anduril, or lightsaber-equivalent.

    Your examples don’t come from scriptures either. Are named, glorified weapons common in other religions’ scriptures? None spring to mind.

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  4. Plenty of references to "swords" in scripture however.

    וַיְגָרֶשׁ, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן-עֵדֶן אֶת-הַכְּרֻבִים, וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת, לִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים

    ...כָּרַת עִמָּנוּ בְּרִית--בְּחֹרֵב

    וְעַל-חַרְבְּךָ תִחְיֶה

    etc.

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  5. Related to your point about weapons and the messianic era is the Sefer Hachinnuch's assertion that arei miklat will still be needed during yemot hamashiach, which I found very striking (we'll still have accidental deaths in the messianic era?)

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  6. G*3,

    "Your examples don’t come from scriptures either. Are named, glorified weapons common in other religions’ scriptures? None spring to mind."

    Here's a list to get you started:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_magical_weapons

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  7. One more -

    יֵשׁ בּוֹטֶה, כְּמַדְקְרוֹת חָרֶב
    (Mishlei 12:18) and many other references to words/the toungue as being sharp/dangerous.

    Also, besides for words in general, note the use of Shem haMeforash as a weapon.

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  8. "we'll still have accidental deaths in the messianic era?) "

    You found *that* striking? Not blood vengeance in the messianic era?

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  9. "The only famous weapons in Scripture, and indeed all Jewish history, are a slingshot and the jawbone of an ass! "

    Well, I thought that Ehud's jab into Eglon's flesh was pretty memorable, perhaps too vivid.

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  10. "Unless I'm mistaken the glorification of warfare in Middle Eastern culture stems mostly from Arab tradition not Muslim tradition..."

    That's hardly mutually exclusive...
    Some of the most important relics of their prophet are his swords. There is a whole mystical system of their categorization.

    http://www.usna.edu/Users/humss/bwheeler/swords/swords_index.html

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  11. The closest thing I can think of is Goliath's sword. 1 Samuel 21:9-10
    ט וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד לַאֲחִימֶלֶךְ וְאִין יֶשׁ-פֹּה תַחַת-יָדְךָ חֲנִית אוֹ-חָרֶב כִּי גַם-חַרְבִּי וְגַם-כֵּלַי לֹא-לָקַחְתִּי בְיָדִי כִּי-הָיָה דְבַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ נָחוּץ. י וַיֹּאמֶר הַכֹּהֵן חֶרֶב גָּלְיָת הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי אֲשֶׁר-הִכִּיתָ בְּעֵמֶק הָאֵלָה הִנֵּה-הִיא לוּטָה בַשִּׂמְלָה אַחֲרֵי הָאֵפוֹד אִם-אֹתָהּ תִּקַּח-לְךָ קָח כִּי אֵין אַחֶרֶת זוּלָתָהּ בָּזֶה וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֵין כָּמוֹהָ תְּנֶנָּה לִּי.

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  12. I was perusing your site and came upon this post. For better or for worse, here are my thoughts.

    Historically, Jews were a peaceful agrarian nation. But that doesn’t mean they were a weak, compromising race. On the contrary, they were fierce fighters. Our forefather Avraham was a highly successful general. So was Moshe. In fact, Moshe never lost a battle, not even one. His disciple Yehoshua lost only one insignificant battle.

    The tribe of Binyamin were expert archers.

    Shamgar, Yirubaal, Barak, Yiftach etc. They were all effective military leaders.

    Shimshon was a mighty warrior. The Philistines were afraid of him twenty years after he died!

    Despite their great humility, King Saul, his son Yonasan, and Kind Saul’s successor Dovid were all men of war. Ditto for all their attendants. Dovid counted out dozens of his “men of might” who were able to battle a lion on a snowy day (unsure footing) in an enclosed pit.

    Slingshots were not Dovid’s weapon of choice. He was an expert swordsman and a fierce warrior. In fact, the reason Nov the city of Kohanim was destroyed was because one of our national treasures, Goliath’s sword, was relinquished to Dovid by the presiding kohen gadol.

    Saul always suspected Dovid of plotting to usurp the monarchy but the straw which broke the camel’s back was the fact that the women praised Dovid’s prowess in war more than Saul’s.

    Pesukim in Shmuel and Tehilim indicate that Dovid (and his men of might) had almost supernatural powers. He was able to leap over a fortified wall in full gear – i.e. sword, shield and armor – without breaking stride. He was able to engage hundreds of warriors in battle and win! He was able to fight off lions and bears seemingly with his bare hands! According to the commentaries, the lion incident was a situation where three lions, not one, accosted Dovid! And he prevailed.

    When Saul was killed by the Philistines, Dovid’s opening remarks at his eulogy were “l’lamed li’vnei yehuda keshes”… to teach our sons how to shoot a bow and arrow!

    I have much more to say on this topic.

    I noticed that you did not draw any conclusions from your statements. I will follow your lead.

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  13. For the record, as a story, perhaps the slingshot or ass jawbone are more memorable. In other words, their memory lived on in posterity.

    However, as a matter of an actual weapon that was famous in its time, probably the #1 example in TaNaCh was indeed a sword - Goliath's sword that Young David took from him and used to sever his head.

    Many months later, when David needed a weapon, he took it it from Nov the city of priests where it was being held in safekeeping.

    It is clear that this was a celebrated weapon that was looked after and held in regard.

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  14. וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ.

    Pinchas used a spear in vivid story that's at least as significant as Dovid's slingshot, it just has not been made into a movie yet...

    From the Haggadah (too lazy to look up it's source in Nach)
    וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה - זוֹ הַחֶרֶב, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ, נְטוּיָה עַל יְרוּשָלַיִם.

    We may not have any "fabled" weapons, but we have plenty of references to swords, falling on your own sword, G-d's metaphorical sword, etc.

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  15. Regarding weapons mentioned in religious sources - here's an even better list:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mythological_objects

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  16. Shilton HaSechel said...

    "But even if we were to say that Judaism is *exceptional* in its pacifism I would not find this too surprising since we Jews have not had too many historical opportunities to fight and win wars and have historically been an OPPRESSED people. It would therefore come as no surprise that we would not glorify warfare, since we did not have too many opportunities to engage in it and had our last big victory all the way back in Hasmonean times..."

    Too easy an answer. Oppressed peoples have been violent too and further the Talmud displays a consistency in attitude towards war despite it containing material from days when Jews were sovereign and when they weren't.Further even in the Tanach the Jews were the people the enemies would want to surrender to.

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  17. You wrote, "And the legacy throughout Jewish history...is that weapons are items that are regrettable."

    This may well be because we didn't have a country for 2,000 years. The real question is what Jews thought before the churban.

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  18. > But even if we were to say that Judaism is *exceptional* in its pacifism I would not find this too surprising since we Jews have not had too many historical opportunities to fight and win wars and have historically been an OPPRESSED people. It would therefore come as no surprise that we would not glorify warfare, since we did not have too many opportunities to engage in it and had our last big victory all the way back in Hasmonean times...

    SEPTEMBER 13, 2011 4:49 PM

    I agree. In fact, I think this history of persecution is one of causes of a certain Jewish pacifism, such as chareidim not serving in the army, and Satmar's insistence on not "rebelling against the nations". It is interesting that chareidim generally don't learn Nach, in which fighting and war are prevalent, even glorified, while Mizrachis, who serve in the army, learn Nach. I don't think it's a coincidence.

    Another interesting thing is that despite Jews' pacifist tendencies, the thinker behind the most powerful weapon in history--the atom bomb--was a Jew (Albert Einstein), as well as the man who developed the hydrogen bomb (Edwin Teller).

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  19. In 1Shmuel13:19-22, we find that the Hebrews were not allowed to have metal smiths due to the fear by the Philistine rulers that the Hebrews would make weapons. The Hebrews had to go to to the Philistine metal smiths to even get their tools sharpened and fixed.

    An "iron"y about this is that a few chapters later, Goliath calls out Shaul's army looking for someone to engage in combat with him. Goliath is so weighed down by his metal weapons & shields that he can barely move and his assistant-boy has to help dress him as even his small movements profoundly immobilized. So, it appears that Goliath is seeking hand-to-hand combat against troops with no ability to engage in that type of battle. Instead, in this game of rock/paper/scissors, David comes at Goliath as a skirmisher. He's got a weapon that is used at a distance and mobility with which Goliath is incapable of engaging. [BTW, Goliath's sword then has an interesting history after which I always assumed Excaliber was based.]

    According to this article in Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Age] the Hittites were early [perhaps first] metal smiths. The Hittites, according to many sources, are the direct ancestors to the Philistines [or at least one major ancestor group]. The Hittites had a practice of not allowing their colonies to have metal smiths for precisely the same reason given in Shmuel...effectively disarming their potential enemies of an advantageous quality of weaponry.

    At the same time, we give historical precedence to the work of Betzalel as well as to whoever made the Nechoshet.

    Shelomo hired out his non-overlay metal work to a half-Hebrew who learned his trade from his non-Hebrew father[who was from Tyre]. The metal work of Hiram-Avi was tremendous in scope [with the amazingly large and complex display-holder for Yamm, as well as the columns of Boaz and Yachin.

    And, I would assume that at least from the time of Shelomo...with his good relations with Hiram [if not with David's conquest of the Philistines} the Hebrews/Israelites were capable of making metal weapons.

    I'm thinking that this is the reason that one portion of Tenach would not have anything to say about weapons....as there was nothing special. A weapon was, basically, whatever you could grab.

    I admit I am making some assumptions as I do not have any intimate knowledge of what archeology has brought to light.

    Gary Goldwater

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  20. How about Kohelet 12:

    דברי חכמים כדרבנות

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  21. Ehud ben Gera's double-edged (not sickle-shaped) sword is described in detail and plays an important role in his story.

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  22. Chizki, thanks. Most of the weapons listed are fictional or legendary, though. There are only a couple that have a religious connection, the personal weapons of Norse and Celtic gods.

    > They even explained that the reason why iron tools could not be used in the construction of the Temple was that iron is used to construct tools of war.

    The first Beis HaMikdash was built at the very beginning of the Iron Age. Iron came into widespread use in the ANE around the same time it was built, and there would have been many bronze weapons still is use. Why is bronze not similarly forbidden?

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  23. Well, there's also David's lamentation for Shaul and Y'honatan:

    מִדַּם חֲלָלִים מֵחֵלֶב גִּבּוֹרִים קֶשֶׁת יְהוֹנָתָן לֹא נָשׂוֹג אָחוֹר וְחֶרֶב שָׁאוּל לֹא תָשׁוּב רֵיקָם.

    leading me to the conclusion that these were fabled weapons in their day.

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  24. From Cracked.com:

    "Runners up for this spot on the list [Winner: Shimshon and the jawbone] included Josheb-Basshebeth, who according to 2 Samuel 23:8, '... raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter.' Obviously he lost points for killing fewer men and for using an actual weapon to do it, which almost seems like cheating at this point.

    "There was also Anath in Judges 3:31, who 'struck down six hundred philistines with an oxgoad.' An oxgoad is a sharp stick you used to poke oxen. That started the Israeli tradition of killing large numbers of their enemies with farmyard tools, which continued through Samson and onto modern times, where the Six Day War of 1967 was won by a crippled Israeli peasant wielding a watering can."

    (http://www.cracked.com/article_15699_the-9-most-badass-bible-verses_p3.html)

    But yes, you are forgetting some obvious examples, like Goliath's sword- and Ehud's.

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  25. Many pagan religions have glorified weapons and war. The honor paid to the sword in classical Japanese culture comes to mind, as does the panoply of swords, etc. with their own names in Scandinavian legends as does the Arthur cycle and so on.
    As steel began to be worked, fine weapons also represented the greatest example of the technical skill of the smith and were an investment of time, labor and skill that were beyond the means of all but the wealthy to pay for. Not only that, but in the hand crafting of a top quality steel blade, success is by no means a guarantee.
    In many cultures, an artifact made from expensive materials and into which its maker poured his life's mastery has been personified. Not to mention the Freudian resonances of weapons.

    JRR Tolkien, whose work G*3 alluded to by mentioning a personified and legendary weapon from his fiction, also had this to say:

    War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.

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  26. Ezra said...
    > Another interesting thing is that despite Jews' pacifist tendencies, the thinker behind the most powerful weapon in history--the atom bomb--was a Jew (Albert Einstein)

    Einstein had very little to do with the bomb. His contribution to the project was a letter saying that it would be a good idea to pursue it. But the man in charge of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was a Yekke.

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  27. Not to mention Leo Szilard and John von Neumann

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  28. Rabbi Slifkin, I'm not sure I understand your discussion here. If one believes that the Torah is God given, then there is no question -- it's actually a simple argument. God gave us the Torah. The Torah tells us to wipe out the nation of Amalek. End of story. The reason why terrorists have no moral basis is that the Koran (which they use to justify the killing of non-Muslims) was not given MiSinai. Am I missing something here? Or there is some issue with the idea of Torah MiSinai?

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  29. Swords, Guns, Jaw Bones, etc... are tools of self preservation.

    Jews must defend themselves al pi, Torah and Halacha.

    The idea of carrying weapons for defense or war is not a matter of glorifying them in Judaism however they must be properly maintained, kept clean, polished, sharpened, etc...

    I think the various ideas presented in the Talmud are idealistic in nature which is fine for discussion but doesn't in fact reflect the real world as we have known it.

    We must strive for peace with all men but carry a big gun.

    Rabbi Simon

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  30. "The view of the sages that weapons are regrettable."

    I side with rabbi eliezer that weapons are a man's adornment. Simple as that.

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  31. Hi,

    I'd just like to reply to Gary Goldwater, who said "An "iron"y about this is that a few chapters later, Goliath calls out Shaul's army looking for someone to engage in combat with him. Goliath is so weighed down by his metal weapons & shields that he can barely move and his assistant-boy has to help dress him as even his small movements profoundly immobilized."

    I would like to tell you and anybody reading this that the armour worn at the time would in fact be very easy to move in, fight in and importantly for the warrior kill in.

    The fact that Goliath required a helping hand to put on his armour means nothing when it coms to fighting in it. I regularly wear armour of the sort used in the late medieval period, and it can be a pain to put on by myself and is also quite heavy. One person giving me a helping hand can cut the time needed to put it on by two thirds.

    This is why it was a (minor) miracle that David won.

    I ask you to remember that Goliath was a trained, hardy, veteran warrior, who would be used to his armour, could run in it, could go up ladders in it, and do this all very, very well.

    The usual outcome of a fight between one person in armour, and one without is very quick. The armoured fighter wades in and wins, and the unarmoured fighter is taken to a graveyard.
    --------------------

    My own opinion of whether we should own weapons is that we have a duty to be able to protect ourselves and our families and those who cannot do so for themselves. Further, unless circumstances prohibit, we should have the appropriate training and practice to be able to do this in the best and most efficient way possible.

    Yehudah

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  32. What about Ehud's dagger and its use in assassination?

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  33. G*3 writes:

    Your examples don’t come from scriptures either. Are named, glorified weapons common in other religions’ scriptures? None spring to mind.

    Greek and Roman religion are chock-full of them. Likewise Shinto, The Ramayana, the Vedas, the Mahabarta, Mesopatamian and Chinese texts as well as Germanic religion.

    About the only famous Muslim weapon I can think of is Zul-fakr, the sword of Ali. There are two swords currently in museums with claim to the title, and there's a very good chance one of them is the real thing.

    In Christianity Yeshua ben Miriam admonishes one of his followers for using a sword.

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  34. > Not to mention Leo Szilard and John von Neumann

    And we should mention one of the most legendary Jews in US military history, the Father of the Nuclear Navy, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover. A famous bit of testimony he once gave before Congress actually sums up the (or at least a) Jewish attitude toward warfare pretty well:

    "I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation. Then you might ask me why do I have nuclear powered ships. That is a necessary evil. I would sink them all. I am not proud of the part I played in it. I did it because it was necessary for the safety of this country. That's why I am such a great exponent of stopping this whole nonsense of war. Unfortunately limits — attempts to limit war have always failed. The lesson of history is when a war starts every nation will ultimately use whatever weapon it has available."

    And a quote from a few months later:

    "I do not have regrets. I believe I helped preserve the peace for this country. Why should I regret that? What I accomplished was approved by Congress — which represents our people. All of you live in safety from domestic enemies because of security from the police. Likewise, you live in safety from foreign enemies because our military keeps them from attacking us. Nuclear technology was already under development in other countries. My assigned responsibility was to develop our nuclear navy. I managed to accomplish this."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_of_the_Nuclear_Navy#Willingness_to_.22sink_them_all.22

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