Judaism and Nuclear War

By reason of their values, their experiences and their temperament Jews have placed a major emphasis on peace. Violence and war are to be avoided even at great loss and risk. This is a basic teaching of Judaism. Those who believe and practice Judaism have thought of themselves and have been regarded by others as the people of the book, not as the wielders of the sword. Throughout almost all of the 4,000 years of their existence Jews have been devoted more to moral and intellectual concerns than to physical prowess. Their heroes have been lawgivers, prophets, scholars, scientists, such as Moses, Isaiah, Hillel and Einstein. Their Bible and the Talmud refrain from praising David and the Maccabees for their military leadership but underscore their eminence as psalmist and as upholders of religious freedom.

A large part of the explanation for this phenomenon is the high value Judaism attaches to the sanctity of life. Jews have had a tremendous zest for living. God and nature intend and provide for humans to find joy and fulfillment both in the spiritual and physical aspects of life. It follows that life must be preserved, not destroyed. War is planned demolishing of life.

At the present time acceptance of war as a means of settling disputes between nations requires the expenditure of vast funds on armaments, especially nuclear bombs and delivery systems. This diminishes the resources of substance and scientific attention necessary for the quantity and quality of life of hundreds of millions who need help with food, education, and health.

In our nuclear age the risk of any war escalating into nuclear war is very high. Our military and scientific leaders are almost unanimous in their opinion that there is no defense against nuclear attack. There would be no real winner of such a war. The losses on both sides would involve the annihilation of a large part of their populations, and most of the survivors would be in a pitiful condition.

It is understandable, therefore, that Judaism, which has always warned against war, should now oppose nuclear war as an impermissible horror. The two largest rabbinical organizations in the United States are on record that conscientious objection to war and military service is in accord with the highest ideals of Judaism.

(Written for Words of Conscience)