‘Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof’: Jewish Justice Precludes Pacifism

“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” we are instructed in Deuteronomy 16, 18-20. Translated this means, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” The repetition is for emphasis. (The biblical narrators were super hot writers.) This tells me that Jews are enjoined against pacifism.

Do you agree?

“Violence breeds only violence” is a pacifistic plum line one hears a lot. This particular New Age guff equates reasonable punishment with violence. While it can include violent methods, reasonable punishment is not the same as violence. When we follow an unprovoked act of aggression with a proportional act of retribution, and when we punish only the guilty—no collateral damage—then we are doing justice, not violence. We do justice not only for the purpose of vindicating those harmed or killed, but because justice, like liberty, is the foundation of a peaceful and orderly society. To ignore the imperative of justice is to be in revolt against the natural law; the law of reason, which precedes and transcends man-made law.

Besides, if man is said to have been created in the image of God, then refusing to defend this awesome representation of the Almighty on earth would seem somewhat sacrilegious, surely.

David B. Kopel’s deductive leap of logic sanctioning a certain war, which shall not be mentioned or discussed here, is wrong, in my opinion. However, “The Torah and Self-Defense,” in which Kopel “surveys the Torah’s teachings on the right and the duty to defend oneself and others,” is well-worth reading.


One thought on “‘Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof’: Jewish Justice Precludes Pacifism”

  1. Not being Jewish I hesitate to comment but since I do have a copy of the Torah on my mantle I will. Fools wading in, so to speak.

    My late friend George Potter and I had an intense discussion over the definition of the word “violence”. Basically at the end of a long night, with a pile of dictionaries and empty bottles, we agreed that self defense using force, even lethal force, was not violence but that the initiation of force was. Self defense did not “violate” the rights of the aggressor, since by aggressing he had waived all rights.

    By extension, I can see that justice, depending on your definition, could be determined to not be violence, merely force.

    We did not however have the opportunity to differentiate between justice and revenge.

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