Following directly upon an account of the author's personal experiences as a young soldier in Gaza during the course of the first intifada in 1987, this essay is an attempt to “cash in” rabbinic statements that present the entire Torah as a path to peace. The essay suggests that the genre of rabbinic debate—rather than the specific content of rabbinic statements—can be understood as peaceful. The study of halakhic literature, which is generally understood either as designed to clarify and quantify explicit legal demands or as a setting for pluralistic and progressive legal debate, is reevaluated with the purpose of limiting the potential of religious law to justify acts of violence. This reevaluation is founded upon an implicit critique of the “liberal” strategies that have sought to control the dangerous potential of religious law. The author proposes an irenic understanding of the halakha built upon partial and limited evaluations of the law's truth-claims. It argues that rabbinic debating generates multiple understandings for every detail of the law that entangle and conceal any ultimate sense of the law from view. The result is a legal system that is modest about its conclusions—and content to implement them partially—hypocritically. The religious value of such a system is that the truth claims of the law are thus modeled upon—and duplicate—the paradoxical opaqueness of prophetic revelation. Ultimately, this essay argues that this conception of the halakha is inherently tentative and hence peaceful.
Alick Isaacs; The Humility of Hypocrisy: On the Irenic Illiberalism of Jewish Law. Common Knowledge 1 April 2009; 15 (2): 229–268. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2008-065
Download citation file: