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Talmud for today?

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — two brief surface readings in Talmud, with a request for deeper understanding ]

As someone brought up with more of a focus on the Beatitudes than the Torah (I know, a huge question with many potential shades of answer opens up when I say that), I was not familiar with this Talmudic aphorism until the drone strikes that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and shortly thereafter his son Abdulrahman brought it to my attention:

Ha-Ba le-Horgekha Hashkem le-Horgo is a teaching of increasing popularity among Israelis. Taken from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72:1, its most precise translation is: ‘If someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him first.’

I imagine it also has relevance to the (presumed) Israeli targeted killing of (eg) Imad Mughniyah..


Yesterday I came across a second such Talmudic phrase, based on Genesis 50:

The sages derived a principle from this text. Mutar le-shanot mipnei ha-shalom: “It is permitted to tell an untruth (literally, “to change” the facts) for the sake of peace.” A white lie is permitted in Jewish law.

This aphorism may be of interest to bear in mind in the context of Israeli peace negotiations — but more directly (and literally) “it is permitted to change the facts” carries a sidelong resemblance to the concepts of alt-facts & faux news currently infesting our politicians and media…


  • Jewish Quarterly, Kill him first
  • Rabbi Sacks, When is it Permitted to Tell a Lie?
  • ^^

    Knowing the Talmud to be deeper and richer than my own understanding by many orders of magnitude, I’d like to invite commentary on these or other aspects of Talmudic thought that may play, directly or indirectly, into national security issues.

    William Owens’ widow and father

    Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a meditation on grief, politics and the raid in Yemen ]

    That long moment with SEAL William “Ryan” Owens‘ widow, Carryn Owens, was the central human moment of President Trump‘s speech to the Joint session of the United States Congress today.


    My emotions were varied and braided. The widow’s grief was obvious, and I felt and grieved for her, as I’m sure we all did.

    At the same time, the President featuring it in his speech seemed manipulative and, in the worst sense, political:

    As I say, my emotions were varied and braided.


    Nor let us forget the father’s grief, which expressed itself in an angry, anguished question —

    — nor, finally, the grief of the Awlaki family at the loss in that same raid of Nawar Anwar Al-Awlaki, Sheikh Anwar Awlaki‘s 8-year-old daughter — an American girl among the civilian casualties.

    I grieve again.

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