Thursday, July 12, 2007

Millennial Challenge: Lessons from Scriptures and Torah on Violance and Terror

Global Strategic Enterprises, Inc for Peace and Prosperity-;

Dear Patriotic Global Citizens and Children of Abraham:

Re: Do The Scriptures have a say on teror on PTSD? Read this:

As global terror is becoming the order of the day, it is critical to see what the scriptures and spiritual writings and especially the Torah, the Bible and the Quran say about violence and post-traumatic stress disorder which many of us experience day by day- watching events unfold infornt of our screens be it on PCs or TVs and Newspapers and IPhones,and other modern digital electronic communication.

Here is a very interesting e-mail I received from Rabbi Arther Waskow entitled a Prophetic Voice in Jewish, Multi-Religious American and Global Life for your review. For those of you who want to communicate directly with the Rabbi or via our blog you can use the contact address below.

Here is Rabbi Arthur's piece of Peace on Earth now!

From: Rabbi Arthur Waskow (
Sent:Wed 7/11/07 10:01 AM

A Prophetic Voice in Jewish, Multireligious, and American Life



"Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it." - Pirke Avot.

Dear Friends,

In the Torah portion that is traditionally read this week in Jewish communities, there are two passages that deal with the dangers of overhanging violence.

One of these requires soldiers to undergo "purification" after battle, and the other provides special forms of refuge for those who commit accidental, unintentional manslaughter.

I want to explore what this may say about how we deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and with other hang-overs from violence today.

The Hebrew Bible deals often, and with what seems to be ambivalence, with the eruption of violence in many forms.

There are moments, for example, in which the Bible blazons forth remarkable tales of nonviolent resistance to governmental violence: Midwives refusing Pharaoh's command to kill babies (Exod. 1: 15-22), King Saul's own bodyguards refusing to obey his direct order to kill a group of priests who had given food to the underground guerrilla band led by David (I Samuel Chapters 21-22).

There are also stories that celebrate efforts to avert war by diplomatic means -- as when Abraham offers Lot first choice of grazing areas to avoid collision as their flocks expand (Gen 13: 7-11), and when Abraham and Avimelekh negotiate over a well and seal the deal with an oath (sheva) symbolized by seven (sheva) ewe-lambs (Gen. 21: 22-34).

Yet there are more stories, and longer ones, that report wars, justify wars, even celebrate wars. Many of these are what many Christians and Jews now angrily call "jihad" - pouring contempt on those Muslims (a minority of Islam) who carry out "holy war."

Many Jews and Christians would prefer to forget these stories of "holy war" that are at the base of our own holy texts. And to forget certain acts as well - from the Crusades to the wars of Northern Ireland, the terrorist murders by the physician Baruch / Aror Goldstein, the recent proclamation by a certain group of rabbis that it is legitimate to kill the children of the "enemy."

In other words, our own societies and cultures are as deeply conflicted over war, violence, and nonviolence as were those of our ancient forebears. That leaves the question - is there anything for us to learn from these sacred texts? Are we supposed to learn that even genocide is acceptable? Or - since almost all of us are certain that the God we worship does not support that kind of hyper violence, how do we deal with the text?

So it is with special interest that I read the passages in this week's Torah readings that require soldiers to undergo "purification" after battle, and that provide refuge for those who commit accidental, unintentional manslaughter.

For me, these passages do not justify the warlike or genocidal passages around them - I will come back to how I understand these passages - but they do point the way forward for some aspects of our own society.

In Numbers 31:19, Moses, having commanded what is essentially a genocidal slaughter of the Midianites, also commands that the Israelite soldiers then stay outside the camp for seven days and purify themselves (probably by ritual immersion in water) on the third and seventh days.

Their soldierly obsession with death - the deaths of their own comrades and the deaths of their opponents - has made them unfit for taking part in a sacred community, even though their war is defined as sacred.

In our own generation, we have learned a great deal more than we knew before about the effects of war on the surviving soldiers. About wounded souls - what we label "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

For example -- If breaking your heart is one way of opening it, then take the risk of reading Penny Coleman's book Flashback (Beacon). She reports in vivid language her painful research into the truths of those who have returned with wounded souls from the wars of the last 150 years. And between each chapter there are a few pages from an interview with one or another woman whose Vietnam-veteran husband, beset with the nightmares that do not end in daytime, has killed himself.

Already, the rates of PTSD from Iraq have doubled the rates from Vietnam -- and are almost certain to climb. For post-traumatic stress often took five to eight years after service in Vietnam to manifest, whereas the rates are already higher for veterans of the Iraq War -- after a maximum of four and a half years of service, and usually less.

As part of the politicized effort to treat Iraq like a diversion, not a terrible disaster, these cases have till very recently been ignored or hidden by the government and the press. (So has the high rate of disastrous wounding - brain damage and the losses of arms, legs, eyes, and genitals.)

What to do with these soul-damaged soldiers? There is some evidence that for some, the usual sorts of psychotherapy may not work. For many, the therapy of recovering the past may stimulate more flashbacks.

Treatment of the body and mind may not be enough, if it is the soul that is damaged. But our social system is not set up to recognize the existence of souls, let alone treat their woundedness. That is almost as true about our religious communities as it is about the Veterans Administration.

The Bible, however, knows that there is something unholy about carrying on a "holy war." It prescribes some steps to take to restore wounded souls. Perhaps the specific steps it requires were at an early level of "spiritual technology," just as its careful medical treatment of skin disease was ignorant of bacteria and viruses. Perhaps we need to do a great deal more.

But perhaps the Bible points the way. Its requirement of ritual immersion in a body of water -- what today Jews call the mikveh and some Christians call baptism - points toward the need for a whole rebirthing of the wounded person.

Today immersion is seen by some religious communities as an important step in entry into a new and different religious reality - a new way of conceiving one's relationship with God. It deals not necessarily with the healing of damaged souls but with the transformation of the souls of seekers, those in spiritual search.

The utterly physical act of return to the womb, the origin of every mammal's life, and to the Ocean, origin of all life, when infused with sacred intention and surrounded by the words and hopes of the community, works this miracle of transformation.

I hold as holy in itself the Constitution's prohibition on governmental establishment of religion. Yet I wonder whether there could be some way to encourage our religious and spiritual communities to assist in the rebirthing of these soul-damaged soldiers.

In the case of unintentional manslaughter - violence that is almost the exact opposite of holy war because it is not intended or sanctioned by anyone, not even the killer, whereas "holy war" is understood to be commanded by God and the communal leadership -there is also a special effort to heal the violator. To avoid the dangers of family revenge and a blood feud, he is sent to a specially defined city of refuge. To be safe from family vengeance, he must stay there until the death of the High Priest. At that point, he is free to go where he likes, free from fear of revenge. (Numbers 35: 9-15)..

By present-day "Modern" standards, this is pretty strange.

First of all, the killer is separated from his usual home town, but not in anything like what we would call a prison: just another town.

Secondly, the length of his separation is not decided by his own process of self-assessment or tshuvah ("turning"" or repentance) nor by the time it takes the family of the person he has accidentally killed to remake their lives. It is determined by a seemingly extraneous event ?the death of the High Priest, which might take place in thirty minutes or in thirty years.

Somehow the whole society must go through a spiritual transformation for both the killer and the suffering family to get beyond the wound.

Perhaps the nearest equivalent today is South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After the deep political and spiritual transformation from apartheid to democracy, the process was created for forgiveness of even the most terrible of deliberate crimes, on condition that the perpetrators publicly confessed the truth.

Let us ask ourselves these questions - individually and collectively, as a society:

How would we want to heal the souls of a whole society and of our own selves, after suffering or perpetrating violence?

It is necessary to end the Iraq war by bringing our own soldiers "safely" and swiftly home - but is it enough?

Would it even be enough for the US to pay generously for an international /transnational, governmental / nongovernmental alliance to help the Iraqis achieve their own peaceful self-determination -- generously not only in the sense of money but in the sense of keeping our tainted hands out of the decision-making process?

Would it even be enough for us to cure ourselves of the oiloholic addiction and idolatry that was one of the major factors leading to the war? Since addiction and idolatry are spiritual failings, would that make up the society-wide spiritual transformation that we need?

The Fast on October 8 to move America from conquest to community, from violence to reverence, the October-Fast that many religious leaders and organizations have now called for, is a step toward spiritual transformation.

But only the first step. What else?

Finally, I promised to say something about my own view of violence in our sacred texts. It would take too long to unfold my thoughts in full. So I will sketch them like a telegram, and for fuller explanation point to an essay of mine on our Website at

The telegram:

First of all, I see our texts as records of family arguments among all sorts of people who are seeking God. It is the conversation, not every specific outlook, that to me is sacred.

I choose to identify with and strengthen the strands of the conversation that speak of God to me, by living that way (and doing even better, if I can) in my own world.

I am not surprised when others choose other texts and other models in the world today, but I walk my path; I do not follow theirs just because they can quote Scripture. I do engage in the conversation, even the argument, just as whoever wrote the story of the Midwives resisting Pharaoh and whoever wrote the story of Moses commanding genocide joined the argument.

Secondly: I also believe in a God Who grows, Who becomes, and in a God-hearing community that grows and evolves as well. The first two great eras of Jewish history looked quite differently on war; the third era, our own , is struggling toward its own approach.

The biblical model was the use of war to protect and advance the decent, holy society. The Rabbinic model (and early Christianity, until the deal with Constantine) was to avoid violence while preserving the decent, holy society through nonviolence resistance - often passive resistance. The model included giving up the effort to change the rest of the world.

For Jews, it worked for almost 1800 years. But the Holocaust created a crisis. One response - the State of Israel - has resorted to war once again. Another - the Soviet Jewry movement - used nonviolent resistance. Some, like Rabbis for Human Rights, are even using nonviolence against some violent actions of the Israeli government.

My question: is it possible today to mobilize active, assertive nonviolence and -- with allies who share our values -- work to change the world?

I welcome your thoughts, and I hope you will share these thoughts and questions in your congregations, with your friends and co-workers.

With blessings for shalom, salaam, peace -

Arthur (with thanks to Rabbis Shefa Gold and Shaya Isenberg for conversations on these questions -- including some disagreements for the sake of Heaven)

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