Essay excerpt by Walter S. Wurzburger,
edited by Eliezer L. Jacobs and Shalom Carmy
Darkhei Shalom1 (on account of the ways of peace) represents a maxim which is frequently invoked in Talmudic literature as justification for a variety of rabbinic ordinances designed to supplement or modify biblical legislation. The range of subjects where the application of this rule has exerted a pronounced impact is rather extensive. But for fairly obvious reasons, it was primarily in areas where the utilization of this principle has affected relationships to the non-Jewish world that the analysis of its meaning and significance has evoked the greatest interest.
The basic question that must be faced is whether the enactments prompted by concern for darkhei shalom should be regarded as expediency measures dictated by the enlightened self-interest of the Jewish community or whether we are dealing in these cases with a supreme ethical principle which transcends purely pragmatic considerations.
Historically, divergent views have been presented on this question. On the one hand, Christian writers, bent as they are on demonstrating the alleged superiority of Christian universalism over Jewish particularism, tend to relegate darkhei shalom to the level of a purely prudential device aiming at facilitating coexistence with the non-Jewish world.
In what appears to be an overreaction precipitated by apologetic fervor, an array of prominent scholars such as Professors Hoffman, Lazarus, and
Lauterbach categorically reject any suggestion that darkhei shalom was intended solely as a device to protect the stability and security of the Jewish community. The ordinances promulgated to advance the “ways of peace,” they argue, were inspired not by purely pragmatic considerations of enlightened self-interest, but rather by lofty ethical principles.
One of the most crucial arguments advanced in support of the thesis that the “ways of peace” represent an overriding ethical principle, and do not merely reflect considerations of expediency, is based upon a Talmudic passage.2
The Babylonian Talmud states that the entire Torah reflects “the ways of peace,” as it is written, “Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.”3It has been argued, that if, “the ways of peace” represent an all pervasive distinguishing feature of the entire Torah, how could such a prominent characteristic be relegated to the purely pragmatic level. What is overlooked in this argument is Continue reading “Chapter 3 from Covenantal Imperatives: Essays by Walter S. Wurzburger on Jewish Law, Thought and Community“