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Talmud for today?

[ 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.

    5 Responses to “Talmud for today?”

    1. Grurray Says:

      The four ministering angels sound like they correspond to the four cardinal archangels- Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.
      Uriel might be the one representing truth. His name being perhaps somewhat related.
      In the book of Enoch 20:2 he is sent to guard the abyss where the fallen angels are imprisoned:
      “Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is over the world and over Tartarus”.
      Psalm 85:10-11 reads, “Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed. 11 Truth has sprung out of the earth; and righteousness has looked down from heaven.”
      So this might be saying that Uriel guards hell and Michael guards heaven.
      In that sense, truth isn’t discarded but disposed with other-wordly matters. Righteousness holds down the fort while we await truth so spring up from the depths.

    2. DeepDark Says:

      Any country that wields policy influenced by religious teachings is an international security issue. Telling how such individuals/groups appeal to the word of God in order to obfuscate, or downright change the truth.

    3. Grurray Says:

      The problem with rejecting those religious teachings is that they form the basis of the natural laws that our nation was founded on. We’ve been overtly and obscurely forming policy based on them for centuries. Maybe the rise of Western Civilization and its dominance of the globe has been a security issue for some, but I would say overall I prefer it to the alternative.

    4. morgan Says:

      Grurray, right on the money!

    5. Grurray Says:

      Thanks Morgan. My Talmudic knowledge is woefully inadequate, but I do know a thing or two about the Tanakh. When it was translated into English in the 17th century, philosophers like John Locke developed their political theories based on it and kick started the Enlightenment.
      Regarding Imad Mughniyah, it was just reported that the death of his cousin Mustafa Badreddine was an inside job
      Part of the Iran nuclear deal, perhaps? I wonder what deals may have been involved with Mughniyah’s demise?? An old Jewish saying (I think) goes, ‘no tree will ever get cut down except by its own kind’.
      When I read about the Jewish deception campaign, it makes me think of Shia’s Taqiya, but also what they used to refer to back in the day on the Lower East Side as ‘Shandeh for the Goyim’. In other words, keep a low profile if you know what’s good for you, if you know what I mean. In this context, maybe there is some connection to the outrage with Trump’s style and fake news surrounding him.

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