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Today, humankind stands at a crossroads. In the past decades, technological advancements have transformed societies, giving us extraordinary capabilities. Our achievements, however, prove to be a double-edges sword, for the genius that enables is to enhance the quality and length of life has also put into our hands the means with which to destroy ourselves.
How will we respond to the ultimate and absolute responsibility of preserving humanity? How will countries balance their need for self-defense and their desire for power? Where will societies turn for guidance as they grapple with the questions of survival? In Confronting Omnicide: Jewish Reflections on Weapons of Mass Destruction¸ Rabbi Daniel Landes has collected essays, by fifteen prominent Jewish thinkers and leaders, that address these issues.
The authors of these essays represent a broad spectrum of religious and political ideologies and include Reuven Kimelman, Irving Greenberg, Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, Pinchas H. Peli, and Maurice Friedman. They share the basic assumptions that the threat of global destruction through nuclear and chemical warfare is a real possibility against which humans have no “fail-safe” mechanism; that we must search for solutions while avoiding apathetic fatalism and false optimism; and that the Jewish people have a special responsibility, because of their history and their culture, to respond to this crisis.
Drawing on a rich variety of Jewish literary sources, including the Bible, rabbinic literature, and Jewish law and thought, the contributors to Confronting Omnicide explore different facets of the nuclear threat. For example, does Jewish law distinguish between civilians and combatants in the struggle to defeat an enemy, and if so, how does this affect military decisions? In Jewish law, owning wild dogs is prohibited as a violation of the biblical verse, “Thou shalt not bring blood upon thy house,” because of the seeming inevitability of the dog attacking the innocent. Is the very possession of a nuclear and chemical arsenal wrong, then, if its existence enables us to bring blood upon the collective house of humankind? Jewish tradition has classically required a just order before agreeing to peace with an enemy. But is that a realistic requirement in an age when peace is merely the absence of overt hostilities?
Many of these essays also examine the Holocaust and the parallels and distinctions that can be made between it and absolute destruction. The paradox of power, the threat of its concentration and the vulnerability of its absence, is also discussed in this volume.
Confronting Omnicide does “advocate specific strategic and political positions,” Rabbi Landes states. “It rather attempts to create a vocabulary and language for confronting the difficult decisions that will need to be made by both policy makers and an informed citizenry.” Its perspectives provide insightful guidance and encourage the development of a sense of individual and communal responsibility as we navigate our perilous journey into the twenty-first century.

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