This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at email@example.com.
1. Bamidbar 25
|ו וְהִנֵּ֡ה אִישׁ֩ מִבְּנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל בָּ֗א וַיַּקְרֵ֤ב אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ אֶת־הַמִּדְיָנִ֔ית לְעֵינֵ֣י מֹשֶׁ֔ה וּלְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְהֵ֣מָּה בֹכִ֔ים פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃
ז וַיַּ֗רְא פִּֽינְחָס֙ בֶּן־אֶלְעָזָ֔ר בֶּֽן־אַהֲרֹ֖ן הַכֹּהֵ֑ן וַיָּ֙קָם֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ הָֽעֵדָ֔ה וַיִּקַּ֥ח רֹ֖מַח בְּיָדֽוֹ׃
ח וַ֠יָּבֹא אַחַ֨ר אִֽישׁ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶל־הַקֻּבָּ֗ה וַיִּדְקֹר֙ אֶת־שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם אֵ֚ת אִ֣ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאֶת־הָאִשָּׁ֖ה אֶל־קֳבָתָ֑הּ וַתֵּֽעָצַר֙ הַמַּגֵּפָ֔ה מֵעַ֖ל בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
ט וַיִּהְי֕וּ הַמֵּתִ֖ים בַּמַּגֵּפָ֑ה אַרְבָּעָ֥ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֖ים אָֽלֶף׃ (פ)
י וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
יא פִּֽינְחָ֨ס בֶּן־אֶלְעָזָ֜ר בֶּן־אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֗ן הֵשִׁ֤יב אֶת־חֲמָתִי֙ מֵעַ֣ל בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּקַנְא֥וֹ אֶת־קִנְאָתִ֖י בְּתוֹכָ֑ם וְלֹא־כִלִּ֥יתִי אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּקִנְאָתִֽי׃
יב לָכֵ֖ן אֱמֹ֑ר הִנְנִ֨י נֹתֵ֥ן ל֛וֹ אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י שָׁלֽוֹם׃
יג וְהָ֤יְתָה לּוֹ֙ וּלְזַרְע֣וֹ אַחֲרָ֔יו בְּרִ֖ית כְּהֻנַּ֣ת עוֹלָ֑ם תַּ֗חַת אֲשֶׁ֤ר קִנֵּא֙ לֵֽאלֹהָ֔יו וַיְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
|6 Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
7 When Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand,
8 he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. Then the plague against the Israelites was checked.
9 Those who died of the plague numbered twenty-four thousand.
10 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
11 “Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion.
12 Say, therefore, ‘I grant him My pact of peace.
13 It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites.’”
- What is the simplest way to explain God’s “pact of peace” with Pinchas? Lacking God’s assurance, would we naturally expect Pinchas to live a peaceful life? Why or why not?
- What does God approve of in Pinchas’s behavior? What would the world be like if everybody behaved this way? What might be a safe way to emulate this behavior?
2. Joshua 22
|יא וַיִּשְׁמְע֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֵּ֣ה בָנ֣וּ בְנֵֽי־רְאוּבֵ֣ן וּבְנֵי־גָ֡ד וַחֲצִי֩ שֵׁ֨בֶט הַֽמְנַשֶּׁ֜ה אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֗חַ אֶל־מוּל֙ אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֶל־גְּלִילוֹת֙ הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן אֶל־עֵ֖בֶר בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
יב וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֖וּ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיִּקָּ֨הֲל֜וּ כָּל־עֲדַ֤ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ שִׁלֹ֔ה לַעֲל֥וֹת עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם לַצָּבָֽא׃ (פ)
יג וַיִּשְׁלְח֨וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶל־בְּנֵי־רְאוּבֵ֧ן וְאֶל־בְּנֵי־גָ֛ד וְאֶל־חֲצִ֥י שֵֽׁבֶט־מְנַשֶּׁ֖ה אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ הַגִּלְעָ֑ד אֶת־פִּינְחָ֖ס בֶּן־אֶלְעָזָ֥ר הַכֹּהֵֽן׃
יד וַעֲשָׂרָ֤ה נְשִׂאִים֙ עִמּ֔וֹ נָשִׂ֨יא אֶחָ֜ד נָשִׂ֤יא אֶחָד֙ לְבֵ֣ית אָ֔ב לְכֹ֖ל מַטּ֣וֹת יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְאִ֨ישׁ רֹ֧אשׁ בֵּית־אֲבוֹתָ֛ם הֵ֖מָּה לְאַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
טו וַיָּבֹ֜אוּ אֶל־בְּנֵי־רְאוּבֵ֧ן וְאֶל־בְּנֵי־גָ֛ד וְאֶל־חֲצִ֥י שֵֽׁבֶט־מְנַשֶּׁ֖ה אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ הַגִּלְעָ֑ד וַיְדַבְּר֥וּ אִתָּ֖ם לֵאמֹֽר׃
טז כֹּ֣ה אָמְר֞וּ כֹּ֣ל ׀ עֲדַ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה מָֽה־הַמַּ֤עַל הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר מְעַלְתֶּם֙ בֵּאלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לָשׁ֣וּב הַיּ֔וֹם מֵאַחֲרֵ֖י יְהוָ֑ה בִּבְנֽוֹתְכֶ֤ם לָכֶם֙ מִזְבֵּ֔חַ לִמְרָדְכֶ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם בַּיהוָֽה׃
יז הַמְעַט־לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־עֲוֺ֣ן פְּע֔וֹר אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־הִטַּהַ֙רְנוּ֙ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ עַ֖ד הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וַיְהִ֥י הַנֶּ֖גֶף בַּעֲדַ֥ת יְהוָֽה׃
יח וְאַתֶּם֙ תָּשֻׁ֣בוּ הַיּ֔וֹם מֵאַחֲרֵ֖י יְהוָ֑ה וְהָיָ֗ה אַתֶּ֞ם תִּמְרְד֤וּ הַיּוֹם֙ בַּֽיהוָ֔ה וּמָחָ֕ר אֶֽל־כָּל־עֲדַ֥ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל יִקְצֹֽף…
כא וַֽיַּעֲנוּ֙ בְּנֵי־רְאוּבֵ֣ן וּבְנֵי־גָ֔ד וַחֲצִ֖י שֵׁ֣בֶט הַֽמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה וַֽיְדַבְּר֔וּ אֶת־רָאשֵׁ֖י אַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
כב אֵל֩ ׀ אֱלֹהִ֨ים ׀ יְהוָ֜ה אֵ֣ל ׀ אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ יְהוָה֙ ה֣וּא יֹדֵ֔עַ וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל ה֣וּא יֵדָ֑ע אִם־בְּמֶ֤רֶד וְאִם־בְּמַ֙עַל֙ בַּֽיהוָ֔ה אַל־תּוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נוּ הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃
|A report reached the Israelites: “The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar opposite the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, across from the Israelites.”
12 When the Israelites heard this, the whole community of the Israelites assembled at Shiloh to make war on them.
13 But [first] the Israelites sent the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh in the land of Gilead,
14 accompanied by ten chieftains, one chieftain from each ancestral house of each of the tribes of Israel; they were every one of them heads of ancestral houses of the contingents of Israel.
15 When they came to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh in the land of Gilead, they spoke to them as follows:
16 “Thus said the whole community of the LORD: What is this treachery that you have committed this day against the God of Israel, turning away from the LORD, building yourselves an altar and rebelling this day against the LORD!
17 Is the sin of Peor, which brought a plague upon the community of the LORD, such a small thing to us? We have not cleansed ourselves from it to this very day;
18 and now you would turn away from the LORD! If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow He will be angry with the whole community of Israel…
21 The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the contingents of Israel: They said,
22 “God, the LORD God! God, the LORD God! He knows, and Israel too shall know! If we acted in rebellion or in treachery against the LORD, do not vindicate us this day!
- Why is Pinchas sent in this story to treat with the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Menasseh? What makes him successful? How does this story reflect the “pact of peace” that Pinchas has from God?
- What does this story teach us about the value of having a history of violence. Can you think of comparable situations in modern times? In your own life?
3. Malachi 2
|ד וִֽידַעְתֶּ֕ם כִּ֚י שִׁלַּ֣חְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את לִֽהְי֤וֹת בְּרִיתִי֙ אֶת־לֵוִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃
ה בְּרִיתִ֣י ׀ הָיְתָ֣ה אִתּ֗וֹ הַֽחַיִּים֙ וְהַ֨שָּׁל֔וֹם וָאֶתְּנֵֽם־ל֥וֹ מוֹרָ֖א וַיִּֽירָאֵ֑נִי וּמִפְּנֵ֥י שְׁמִ֖י נִחַ֥ת הֽוּא׃
ו תּוֹרַ֤ת אֱמֶת֙ הָיְתָ֣ה בְּפִ֔יהוּ וְעַוְלָ֖ה לֹא־נִמְצָ֣א בִשְׂפָתָ֑יו בְּשָׁל֤וֹם וּבְמִישׁוֹר֙ הָלַ֣ךְ אִתִּ֔י וְרַבִּ֖ים הֵשִׁ֥יב מֵעָוֺֽן׃
ז כִּֽי־שִׂפְתֵ֤י כֹהֵן֙ יִשְׁמְרוּ־דַ֔עַת וְתוֹרָ֖ה יְבַקְשׁ֣וּ מִפִּ֑יהוּ כִּ֛י מַלְאַ֥ךְ יְהוָֽה־צְבָא֖וֹת הֽוּא׃
|4 Know, then, that I have sent this charge to you that My covenant with Levi may endure—said the LORD of Hosts.
5 I had with him a covenant of life and peace, which I gave to him, and of reverence, which he showed Me. For he stood in awe of My name.
6 Proper rulings were in his mouth, And nothing perverse was on his lips; He served Me with complete loyalty And held the many back from iniquity.
7 For the lips of a priest guard knowledge, And men seek rulings from his mouth; For he is a messenger of the LORD of Hosts.
- What evidence suggests that this text is talking about Pinchas? Is this convincing? Assuming that it is, what is conspicuously missing in this description? What does this absence suggest?
- Is this description, something that a normal person could live up to? Are they expected to? Assuming that we are, in fact, describing Pinchas, what does this suggest about acting violently?
4. Mishna, Sanhedrin 9:6
|הַגּוֹנֵב אֶת הַקַּסְוָה וְהַמְקַלֵּל בַּקּוֹסֵם וְהַבּוֹעֵל אֲרַמִּית, קַנָּאִין פּוֹגְעִין בּוֹ.||…One who sleeps with an Aramean woman—zealots may attack him.|
5. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 82a
|א”ר יוחנן הבא לימלך אין מורין לו ולא עוד אלא שאם פירש זמרי והרגו פנחס נהרג עליו נהפך זמרי והרגו לפנחס אין נהרג עליו שהרי רודף הוא||Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Concerning one who comes to consult with the court, the court does not instruct him that it is permitted to kill the Jewish man engaging in intercourse with a gentile woman.
Moreover, if Zimri son of Salu (see Numbers 25:1–9) had separated himself from the woman and only then Pinehas killed him, Pinehas would have been executed for killing him, because it is permitted for zealots to kill only while the transgressor is engaged in the act of intercourse. Furthermore, if Zimri would have turned and killed Pinehas in self-defense, he would not have been executed for killing him, as Pinehas was a pursuer. One is allowed to kill a pursuer in self-defense, provided that the pursued is not liable to be executed by the court.
- How can one be permitted to kill certain people extra-legally and yet the court would not recommend such an action if consulted and by acting that way, you actually risk incurring court penalties as well as being killed in self-defense? How does the balance of values lie here? How is this different from what we saw above?
6. Nissim of Gerona, Chidushe HaRan, Sanhedrin 82a
|מ”ט רודף הוא. פי’ אע”פ שברשות הוא עושה וגם שהוא מצווה בדבר אין האחר נהרג עליו מאחר שאין עושה ברשות ב”ד דאם בא לימלך אין מורין לו ואינו דומה לרודף שהיה רודף אחר רודף להציל שאם נהפך והרגו שודאי נהרג עליו שאותו הרודף ברשות ב”ד הוא עושה שאם בא ליטול רשות. והטעם בזה שזה שהוא רודף אחר חבירו להורגו ניתן להצילו בנפשו וכשאחר בא להורגו היה לו לעמוד בעצמו שלא ירדוף אחר זה להרגו אין לו שיהפך להרוג הבא להרגו כדי שיציל הנרדף ולמה יפטר עליו יותר משהרג את הנרדף אין לו אלא שישב ולא יעבור עבירה אבל זה שהוא בא על הכותי’ אין הקנאין פוגעין בו כדי להצילו מן העבירה שכבר נדבק בה אלא לעשות בו נקמה והבא להרגך השכם להרגו בכל שאינו מחוייב מיתת בית דין בדבר:||Why? Because he was a pursuer. In other words, even though he was doing this with permission, and he is even commanded to do it, the other would not be executed for him since he did not act with the permission of the court. For if he came to consult, they do not permit him to do this. And this is not the same as a case of a pursuer who chases after another attacker to save [the victim] in which case, if the other turned and killed them, they would certainly be executed for them because that pursuer was acting with the permission of the court…And the reason for this is that when one who is pursuing their fellow to kill them, it is permitted to save the victim by killing the pursuer, and when an outsider came to kill the pursuer, the pursuer should have stopped their attack. They do not have the option of turning to kill the person who comes to kill them in order to save the victim. For why should they be more exempt in that case than if they had actually killed their original victim? Rather, they should sit and not sin. However, someone who is having sex with a non-Jew, the zealots are not attacking them in order to save them from the sin, for they are already sinning! Rather they are attacking to punish them, and someone who comes to kill you, you can kill them first. For the punishment for this sin is not death!|
- According to the Ran, what is the difference between killing someone to stop them from killing another person versus killing a person who is sinning in some other way? Is this a practical consideration or a moral one?
- What value does this text place on acts of zealotry and religious violence? Do we identify with that position in any way?
7. Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet”, April 3, 1964, Cleveland, Ohio
|…I might stop right here to point out one thing. Whenever you’re going after something that belongs to you, anyone who’s depriving you of the right to have it is a criminal. Understand that. Whenever you are going after something that is yours, you are within your legal rights to lay claim to it. And anyone who puts forth any effort to deprive you of that which is yours, is breaking the law, is a criminal. And this was pointed out by the Supreme Court decision. It outlawed segregation.
Which means segregation is against the law. Which means a segregationist is breaking the law. A segregationist is a criminal. You can’t label him as anything other than that. And when you demonstrate against segregation, the law is on your side. The Supreme Court is on your side.
Now, who is it that opposes you in carrying out the law? The police department itself. With police dogs and clubs. Whenever you demonstrate against segregation, whether it is segregated education, segregated housing, or anything else, the law is on your side, and anyone who stands in the way is not the law any longer. They are breaking the law; they are not representatives of the law. Any time you demonstrate against segregation and a man has the audacity to put a police dog on you, kill that dog, kill him, I’m telling you, kill that dog. I say it, if they put me in jail tomorrow, kill that dog. Then you’ll put a stop to it. Now, if these white people in here don’t want to see that kind of action, get down and tell the mayor to tell the police department to pull the dogs in. That’s all you have to do. If you don’t do it, someone else will.
If you don’t take this kind of stand, your little children will grow up and look at you and think “shame.” If you don’t take an uncompromising stand, I don’t mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I’m nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you’ve made me go insane, and I’m not responsible for what I do. And that’s the way every Negro should get. Any time you know you’re within the law, within your legal rights, within your moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for what you believe in. But don’t die alone. Let your dying be reciprocal. This is what is meant by equality. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander…
- Is the position Malcolm X presents here a position of pure self-defense? How does he mix in idealism for a cause?
- What part of Malcolm X’s argument here seems practical? What part seems idealistic? What considerations does he not consider in this articulation?
8. Shemot 22
|א אם־במחתרת ימצא הגנב והכה ומת אין לו דמים||1 If the thief is seized while tunneling, and he is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in his case.|
9. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72a
|וכבר משנה. הבא במחתרת נידון על שם סופו…
גמרא. אמר רבא: מאי טעמא דמחתרת – חזקה אין אדם מעמיד עצמו על ממונו. והאי מימר אמר: אי אזילנא – קאי לאפאי ולא שביק לי, ואי קאי לאפאי – קטלינא ליה. והתורה אמרה: אם בא להורגך – השכם להורגו.
|MISHNA: A burglar who is found breaking into a house may be killed by the owner of the house with impunity (see Exodus 22:1). He too is sentenced on account of his ultimate end
GEMARA: Rava says: What is the reason for this halakha concerning a burglar who breaks into a house? He explains: There is a presumption that a person does not restrain himself when faced with losing his money, andtherefore this burglar must have said to himself: If I go in and the owner sees me, he will rise against me and not allow me to steal from him, and if he rises against me, I will kill him. And the Torah stated a principle: If someone comes to kill you, rise and kill him first.
- In what way does this Mishna echo the argument presented by Malcolm X above? In what way does it emphasize the weaknesses of his argument?
- What kind of society does the scenario described in this Mishna reflect? How will the resultant law affect that society? Would another legal tactic have a different affect? What might Malcolm X say about about the scenario and the law in this Mishna?
10. Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Beacon Press, Boston, 2010, pp. 58-65
|One of the main questions that the Negro must confront in his pursuit of freedom is that of effectiveness. What is the most effective way to achieve the desired goal? If a method is not effective, no matter how much steam it releases, it is an expression of weakness, not of strength. Now the plain, inexorable fact is that any attempt of the American Negro to overthrow his oppressor with violence will not work…
- Who is more of a realist, Dr. King or Malcolm X? How does Dr. King’s strategy deal with the weaknesses in Malcolm X’s argument? How does Malcolm X’s strategy deal with the weaknesses in Dr. King’s argument? Is there any way to cover all of the weaknesses?
- Is Dr. King correct that if one is seeking “make the world and our nation better places to live” then violence is never the answer? What does the message of Pinchas, or the Mishna suggest in this regard?
- Where in our lives do we encounter violence? When do we support it and when do we oppose it? How do the sources we’ve seen above help us to adjust our support or opposition?