The end of heroism in Gaza?

December 26, 2008

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“Who is a hero?” asks Ben Zoma in Ethics of the Fathers (4:1).

The popular translation offers the anwer: “He who conquers his own rage.”

Throughout the centuries, this unexpected definition of heroism has been the hallmark of Jewish approaches to conflict. The Jew was to be praised for self-restraint, for patience, and – according to further rabbinic commentary – for careful management of overwhelming power.

In the light of the continued imprisonment of Gilad Shalit, the breakdown of the ‘ceasefire’ with Hamas, and the resumption of missiles falling throughout Southern Israel, the government has decided restraint is no longer heroic. Restraint, in this context, might be irresponsibility.

As the country prepares itself for an all-out military conflict with Hamas in Gaza, has the time come to throw away the old Jewish rule book? Is Jewish morality about restraint and heroism simply inapplicable to a Jewish State in the Middle East?

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