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

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Nevertheless, the two realms are not always differentiated from one another, and at times they appear to be continuous; we read, for example: "He who establishes peace between man and his fellow, between husband and wife, between two cities, two nations, two families or two governments…no harm should come to him" (Mekhilta Bahodesh 12).

concept of shalomThe series of regulations ordained by the Sages "in the interest of peace" (mi‑pene darkhei shalom) were also meant to affect relations both among the Jews themselves and between the Jews and the Gentiles.

The Sages went to great lengths in their praise of peace, to the point of viewing it as a meta‑value, the summit of all other values, with the possible exception of justice.

Peace was the ultimate purpose of the whole Torah: "All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of peace" (Tanhuma Shofetim 18). It is the essence of the prophetic tiding‑‑"The prophets have planted in the mouth of all people naught so much as peace" (Bamidbar Rabah Naso 11:7)‑‑and of redemption, "God announceth to Jerusalem that they [Israel] will be redeemed only through peace" (Deuteronomy Rabah 5:15).

Shalom is the name of the Holy One, the name of Israel, and the name of the Messiah (Derekh Erez Zuta, Perek ha‑Shalom), yet the name of God may be blotted out in water for the sake of peace (Leviticus Rabah 9:9). Other sayings in the same vein are numerous.

Rating the Value of Peace

Nevertheless, alongside this sort of expression the Sages discuss the question of the relationship between peace and other competing values, of situations in which different norms might conflict with one another.

For instance, peace was opposed to justice: Rabbi Joshua ben Korha taught that "where there is strict justice there is no peace, and where there is peace there is no strict justice," and he consequently instructed the judge to "act as an arbiter," that is, to rule for compromise, which is justice tempered with peace (see Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 1:5; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 6b; the opposing view is "let justice pierce the mountain," that is, justice at all costs).

On another level, peace was contrasted with truth: It was said in the name of Rabbi Eleazar ben Simeon that "one may deviate from the truth for the sake of peace" (BT Yevamot 65b); in an even stronger formulation, it was said, "All falsehood is forbidden, but it is permissible to utter a falsehood for the purpose of making peace between a man and his fellow" (Derekh Erez Zuta, loc. cit.).

In all of these instances, even where peace is given priority and tips the balance, it is viewed as an individual, partial value that must compete with other values.

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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.