War, Peace and Judaism 1

  • Grades: 9-12
  • Lesson Plan

The first lesson in a four-lesson unit. Students look at war and peace from the perspective of Biblical history and Jewish ethics by studying traditional Jewish texts. Students will be challenged to consider how Judaism synthesizes war and peace.

Lesson objectives

The student will be able to:
1. Describe the conflict discussed in class in general.
2. Identify the groups involved in the conflict and their different interests.
3. Define the term ethics.


The student will be able to:
1. Analyze a current news story from an ethical point of view.


The student will appreciate:
1. The numerous values/issues that are at play in a conflict.


Merriam-Webster’s online Dictionary:
1. The discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2 a: a set of moral principles or values b: a theory or system of moral valuesc: the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group d: a guiding philosophy

Concise Oxford Dictionary:
1 The science of morals in human conduct;
2 a: Moral principles; rules of conduct. b a set of these

Resources & Equipment needed

Photocopies of the worksheets and source sheets


1. Using a news media (e.g. TV, web site, newspaper, radio etc.) present a current event story involving war or political conflict of some kind. You can choose to focus on the recent struggle in Afghanistan (as we did), the war in Iraq or any other conflict.

2. Hand out a copy of the article you have chosen. The following article found on the CNN web site may help you discuss the Taliban conflict with your class: http://fyi.cnn.com/2001/fyi/news/10/08/strikes/index.html . The article reports the beginning of the second round of attacks on Taliban forces, the first during daylight hours. The article includes background to the current conflict in Afghanistan. It explains the motives behind the American military actions in Afghanistan and outlines other activities the Americans are undertaking in the region, such as humanitarian aid. The article is meant to remind students of the reasons behind the conflict and allow them a chance to re-evaluate their thoughts on the issues involved. Ask the students to read the article, paying particular attention to any possible ethical issues mentioned.

3. Lead a classroom discussion on the article. Ultimately, the aim of this discussion is to facilitate the students to evaluate the ethical issues surrounding the conflict. Therefore, you and your students should have a working definition of the term “ethics”. The definitions provided in the __ section may help. It may help to write these definitions on the board for reference. Ask the students: Who is involved in the conflict? What are the sides fighting for and what ideologies (if any) are motivating them?

4. Ask the students: What do they think the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of this conflict are and who is perpetrating them? This question will no doubt generate some debate. It is important that there is some debate and that different voices are heard. Although no doubt everyone will agree that the terrorist acts of September 11th were “wrong” it is healthy for there to be some debate about the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Some opinions to look out for:

America has the “right” of self-defense and therefore to initiate a conflict in Afghanistan. · The Taliban has the “right” to self-defense and therefore to refuse to surrender.

It is “right” to wage war on terrorism.

It is “wrong” to kill innocent Afghan civilians.

It is “wrong” for America to become involved in a conflict outside of its own territory.

It is “right”/“wrong” for America/the allies to replace the Taliban government and put a replacement one in power

It is “right”/“wrong” for America to risk its own citizens or the citizens of Afghanistan for a war of ideology/self-defense

It is “right”/“wrong” for America to embark on a war of revenge for the September terrorist attacks

5. Ask the class if there has ever been a legitimate and moral war? If so, is this an example? There may be students who consider themselves pacifists and therefore suggest there is no such thing as a legitimate conflict, and if there are none in your class, it may be worthwhile explaining that such an opinion exists. It is more likely that students will state opinions such as wars of self-defense are legitimate, war against terrorism and evil regimes are acceptable. It is also possible that some students will suggest that the Afghanistan war was one of ideologies, or revenge, and these were not good enough reasons to sacrifice innocent civilians etc.

6. Write the following list of values/issues on the board and ask the students to evaluate the place that they do or do not have in this conflict. Value of life; Political ideologies; Killing innocents in order to destroy a regime that threatens the death of many more innocent people; Right of self-defense; Morality of conscription; Conscientious objectors; The role of God and religion in war and politics; The value of peace and when it should be compromised; Peace Nationalism

7. Note: The value of life can be found at all levels of the conflict in Afghanistan, from the lives that were lost on September 11th to the lives of the American servicemen fighting this conflict, to the lives of the Afghan civilians, as well as the lives of the Taliban and Al Qua’eda fighters. The students have to decide whether values of life is an overriding value that delegitimizes this conflict, or whether the Taliban/Al Qua’eda have forgone their right to life, and the other values involved such as right to self-defense, or political ideologies are more important than the risk to the lives of American servicemen and Afghan civilians. The same debate can be had with the value of peace, and each group’s right to live in peace, and right to shatter someone else’s peace. Further to this debate the students can consider the right to self-defense. Does America have the right to self-defense at the cost of other lives, and does the Taliban/Al Qua’eda also have the right to self-defense?

8. Note: The role of God in conflict is a sensitive issue to explore. Both sides feel that they have God on their side, and many students may feel uncomfortable with using God to justify a conflict. Students should be able to see that both sides are using similar values to fight this conflict, such as God, morality and justice. Ask the students: Are there fundamental differences between the way the sides use these values?

9. Ask the students which of these are values contained in the Torah/Judaism, and what they think Judaism would say about this conflict. The students should see that, in some form or another, many of the values/issues in the list are contained in the Torah and Judaism.

10. Ask the students to share their initial thoughts on the approaches of Judaism on war and peace. Is Judaism a pacifist religion or a religion of war? If possible, ask them to support their arguments with proof from their knowledge of Judaism and Jewish texts (hopefully some will mention battles and war that takes place in Tanakh, as well as sources that speak of peace as a value). Explain that this unit will address this issue.