A Prophetic Peace: Judaism, Religion, and Politics

A Prophetic Peace: Judaism, Religion, and Politics

A Prophetic Peace: Judaism, Religion, and Politics

A Prophetic Peace: Judaism, Religion, and Politics


Challenging deeply held convictions about Judaism, Zionism, war, and peace, Alick Isaacs's combat experience in the second Lebanon war provoked him to search for a way of reconciling the belligerence of religion with its messages of peace. In his insightful readings of the texts of Biblical prophecy and rabbinic law, Isaacs draws on the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Derrida, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Martin Buber, among others, to propose an ambitious vision of religiously inspired peace. Rejecting the notion of Jewish theology as partial to war and vengeance, this eloquent and moving work points to the ways in which Judaism can be a path to peace. A Prophetic Peace describes an educational project called Talking Peace whose aim is to bring individuals of different views together to share varying understandings of peace.


The second Lebanon war, which took place in the summer of 2006, is the event that spurred me to write this book. I participated in that war as a reserve soldier in the Israeli army. At the time, I was thirty-eight years old. the confusion that surrounded the Israeli army’s handling of the war, the lack of supplies, the discussions and debates that took place during the course of the conflict—all had a profound effect upon me. I returned from the war with a compulsion to rethink my attitudes toward Judaism, Zionism, war, and peace.

In the thick of combat I realized how complex the challenge of honestly reconciling the potential belligerence of religion with its messages of peace is. It became clear to me that dismantling the connection between violence and religion would take more than a dovishly selective reading of the Bible or the Talmud or a prayer book. But I came away from the war equally convinced that secular political philosophies were unequal to the task of winning widespread support for peace in Israel. During the war, as much as I was challenged by my thoughts about religion, I felt implicated by the ominous side of statehood. I shuddered at the potential dangers of the brand of militarism that secular liberal Zionism had introduced into the Jewish story.

When I returned from the war, I wrote a detailed account of my experiences, which was published in the interdisciplinary journal Common Knowledge. While I will not reproduce that account in its entirety here, I feel that some of the events that took place in the latter stages of the war will serve as a meaningful opening to this book. My story begins with the burning of the trees, which took place outside the southern Lebanese village of Ras-Bayada.

The Burning of the Trees

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war
against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by
wielding an axe against them; for thou mayest eat of them

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