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The Modern Wars of the Jews:
Great Moments & Debates

In this course, we will explore some of the pivotal moments of 20th-century history in which Jewish history and Jewish destiny were shaped by war. How did Jewish leaders—thinkers and soldiers, rabbis and generals—begin to tackle the novel political opportunities and moral challenges of warfare? We will focus on some of the key ethical and strategic dilemmas of war—including questions of patriotism and dual loyalty, revolutionary movements and actions, and the ethics of killing non-combatants. We’ll study major figures like Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, and Menachem Begin, while debating concepts like an “eye for an eye” and “holy war.” The course will also look at challenging case studies—including Jewish participation on both sides during World War I, the Etzel attacks against Arabs in 1939, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and Israel’s remarkable War of Independence.

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