No Jihad In Judaism: A Reminder That Hamas Is Fighting A Religious War By Itself
The Middle East is ablaze. Many have blamed this "endless war" on the seemingly eternal fight between Islam and Judaism, which are both religions without an intermediary to God. But there are key differences both within and between the two faiths.
This is war. Muslims and Jews at each other's throats. Once again.
That's the story we are told:
On one side, the Palestinian militant organization Hamas, convinced that it is waging the inexorable jihad, the Holy War of Islaim — in one fell swoop or in several steps.
On the other side, Israel, it may come as a surprise: among the soldiers, there is a far lower degree of religious fervor — even though they are fighting for the Jewish state.
What explains this divide?
In our Western societies, which are so far removed from religion, the message is almost always the same: “Religion is to blame for the war, that eternal war between Islam and Judaism.”
From this, one would have to conclude that religious Jews, like their devout Muslim counterparts, should be focused on one thing — especially since it is legitimized by "higher powers": running around with the proverbial knife in their mouth and, depending on the case, finding a member of either the Jewish or Muslim community to murder.
Such unholy simplicity!
But there is one thing we should bear in mind: For pious people of any religion, every existing thing on Earth and in the universe is to be considered “God’s work." As a result, any human alteration of “God’s work” is seen as a sacrilege and blasphemy. This religious concept is difficult to understand, even utterly incomprehensible to non-religious people.
Study, don't interfere
Still, to be able to assess the reflections and reflexes, actions and reactions of people who follow a creed, it is essential to understand what truly motivates them. Which does not mean approving or condemning. And this brings us specifically to the role of religion in the current war between the Islamist Hamas and Israel.
Even casual TV viewers will easily recognize that barely any soldiers in Israel's Defense Forces (IDF) wear a yarmulke, sport sidelocks or a long beard; all external expressions of the internal, religious belief of observant males of the Jewish faith. Why? Precisely because Orthodox Jews do not wish to interfere in “God’s work." According to their belief system, the crucial thing is to serve God. This can and must be done primarily through the study of the Torah and Talmud, the holy scriptures.
Jewish-Israeli orthodoxy is very well aware of the threat to collective survival. However, they firmly trust in God's help. They understands that all existence as dialectical. Meaning that one individual's death follows one individual's life, but the survival of “Am Yisrael” (the People of Israel, or Judaism) is eternal. Ultimately, they are convinced that they don't actually have to take up arms.
"À la carte" religion
Since they are not completely blind to reality, they accept the fact that non-religious Jewish Israelis may see things very differently. Not because they are enthusiastic about waging war, no, but because they understand it can be a bitter necessity. Thus amending the old Orthodox belief and thought pattern, by saying that yes, everything that exists is God's work, but acknowledging that here and there, people may be permitted to hasten the work of salvation.
Any interpretation of God's words is highly dependent on the spirit of the time, and of the interpreters.
And that is where we find similarities, in this vision of the faith, between strict followers of Islam and Judaism. For the two religions, every negotiation between the believer and God takes place without the need for an intermediary. Everyone can, so to speak, make their own religious “laws” à la carte, rather than have to interpret them.
This is also, in a way, one of the reasons why no true clerical structure has emerged, which could sometimes be truly helpful. Even the most hardened critics of the papacy will admit that the Catholic hierarchy can have its perks.
The imams or mullahs on the Islamic side do not have any semblance of important decision-making power, nor do the rabbis or chief rabbis on the Jewish side. It is precisely this circumstance that makes any interpretation of God's words highly dependent on the spirit of the time, and of the interpreters.
The Old City of Jerusalem, on Oct. 10, 2023
© Nir Alon/ZUMA
Hawks of tradition
According to this à la carte theology, the pattern of thought and action of Hamas and Iran looks like this: All existence is from and through Allah, God. However, for Allah one must wage jihad, the Holy War. This is the crucial difference between the Jewish and Muslim approaches: In Islam, as with every interpretation of the law, there is an alternative, i.e. two possibilities.
Option one is offensive and literal, option two is defensive and asks about the spirit of the law, not just the word. In Judaism and Israel alike there are would-be "hawks" of tradition, but the concept of holy war is missing from Judaism. (Of course, Judaism does know the concept and the experience of martyrdom, but that is purely defensive.)
In a word, the offensive version sees the holy war literally as a war. Of course, this is supposed to mean: only in response to enemy actions. But looking back at human history, every attacker tends to claim — naturally — that they "didn't shoot first." The defensive version of jihad is understood as “the greatest possible effort” to protect Islam, to be carried out primarily spiritually and through peaceful means.
Everyone can now clearly see which interpretation Hamas follows. This worldview and way of acting is a part of Islam, but it is not “the” Islam. As long as Hamas' deviant variety of Islam sees itself as the one Islam, presents itself as such and inspires Muslims worldwide, it will remain flawed, both vis-à-vis itself and compared with other religions. The question is, will Islam's defensive variant ever prevail?
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