April 23, 2012
Holy War in Judaism is the first book to consider how the concept of holy war disappeared from Jewish thought for almost 2000 years, only to reemerge with renewed vigor in modern times. Holy war, sanctioned or even commanded by God, is a common and recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible, but Rabbinic Judaism largely avoided discussion of holy war in the Talmud and related literatures for the simple reason that it became extremely dangerous and self-destructive. The revival of the holy war idea occurred with the rise of Zionism, the Holocaust, and the need for organized Jewish engagement in military actions. There was great need for all Jews to engage in combat for the survival of the infant state of Israel, but the Talmudic rabbis had virtually eliminated divine authorization for religious Jews to fight in Jewish armies. In this book Reuven Firestone identifies, analyzes, and explains the historical, conceptual, and intellectual processes that revived holy war ideas in modern Judaism. The book serves as a case study of the way in which one ancient religious concept, once deemed irrelevant or even dangerous, was successfully revived in order to fill a pressing contemporary need. It also helps to clarify the current political and religious situation in Israel and the Middle East.