“Does Judaism Condone Violence? Holiness and Ethics in the Jewish Tradition” by Alan L. Mittleman— Philosophically Speaking

Mittleman, Alan L. “Does Judaism Condone Violence?  Holiness and Ethics in the Jewish Tradition”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

Philosophically Speaking

Amos Lassen

Alan L. Mittleman looks at Jewish violence philosophically in “Does Judaism Condone Violence?” Our modern age has been beset by religiously inspired violence and we hear such terms as “holy war” on a regular basis in the media. We must look to see if indeed there is a relationship between holiness and violence? Can acts such as murder ever truly be considered holy? Mittleman offers a searching philosophical investigation of such questions in the Jewish tradition. Jewish texts include instances of divinely inspired violence, and the position of the Jews as God’s chosen people has been called upon to justify violent acts today. We can only wonder if these justifications are valid or whether our understanding of the holy includes an ethic that argues against violence?

Mittleman reconstructs the concept of the holy through a philosophical examination of biblical texts and finds that the holy and the good are inextricably linked, and that our experience of holiness is authenticated through its moral consequences. We develop our understanding of the holy by reflecting on God’s creation of the natural world, and our values are based on our relations with that world. Mittleman concludes that religious justifications for violence cannot be sustained.

This is a powerful counterargument to those who claim that the holy is irrational and amoral. The philosophical implications fir this extend far beyond the Jewish tradition. Mittleman invalidates contemporary Jewish attempts to justify violence in the name of religion and redirects attention to the way that holiness in Judaism is an exceptional value that includes ethics.

Mittleman gives us a critique of religious violence and a philosophical and theological account of holiness. This book is necessary reading for anyone who is biblical morality troubling or is perplexed by religious violence. The writing is clear and fresh yet sophisticated.

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