Along with truth and justice, peace is among the most hallowed Jewish values.

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In contrast with this dichotomous approach, however, we also find another approach that attempts to harmonize the separate values and make them complement one another: "By three things the world is preserved, by justice, by truth, and by peace, and these three are one: if justice has been accomplished, so has truth, and so has peace" (JT Ta'anit 4:2). Here, not only is peace made among men, but also the competing values are reconciled.

The Obligations of Peace: A Special Category

Drawing upon a fine distinction between the terms used in several scriptural expressions, one rabbinic saying proposed an interesting differentiation between two types of obligation.

The first type is that which arises from a given situation, that is, man's obligation to respond in a particular way to a given set of circumstances. The second type, on the other hand, demands that one create situations and shape them in such a way as to bring the obligation upon himself. The first group includes all of the commandments, the second the pursuit of peace alone:

"Great is peace, for of all the commandments it is written: 'if [emphases added] thou see,' 'if thou meet' (Exodus 23:4, 5), 'if [there] chance' (Deuteronomy 22:6); that is, if the occasion for this commandment should arise, you must do it, and if not, you need not do it. In relation to peace, however, [it is written]: 'seek peace, and pursue it'‑‑seek it in your own place, and pursue it even to another place as well." (Leviticus Rabah 9:9)

It may be asked, to be sure, whether peace alone should be included in the second group. Nevertheless, the distinction itself draws our attention, and the need to clarify it conceptually and to determine its outlines is an open invitation to the philosopher.

God as Peacemaker

Finally, several sayings concerning the power of peace go beyond the social‑ethical realm to enter the domain of the cosmic: The Holy One makes peace between the supernal and the lower worlds, among the denizens of the supernal world, between the sun and the moon, and so on (Leviticus Rabah, loc. cit.; Deuteronomy Rabah 5:12; and see Job 25:2).

Most of these passages in fact acclaim yet more ardently the pursuit of peace among men, in an a fortiori formulation: "And if the heavenly beings, who are free from envy, hatred and rivalry, are in need of peace, how much more are the lower beings, who are subject to hatred, rivalry, and envy" (Deuteronomy Rabah, loc. cit.).

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Dr. Aviezer Ravitzky

Dr. Aviezer Ravitzky is the Saul Rosenblum Chair of Jewish Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Jewish Thought at Hebrew University. He is the author of Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism and History and Faith: Studies in Jewish Philosophy.