Monday, January 28, 2013

Waging War, Jewish Style and Dealing with Suicide and PTSD

Nadene Goldfoot
The United States is having a problem of its soldiers coming home and committing suicide.  Why seems to be the conflict that is irreconcilable after being taught  the Biblical commandment "Thous shalt not kill," thinks Ttimothy Kudo.  They come home from the war front where killing is not only accepted but "is a metric of success."  It is an incongruity that has devastating effects.  After more then 10 years of war, the USA military has lost more active-duty members last year to suicide than to enemy fire.  

Judaism accepts the fact that there will be wars in which young men age 20 and up might have to fight and kill people under these circumstances.   Morality had to be upheld before, after and during wartime but it is not a blanket statement that one should never under any circumstances such as war have to kill.   Thus came about 613 laws which covered just about everything man should know to be moral.   "It is true that the pursuit of peace is one of the highest Jewish values. It is also true that Judaism abhors wars. However, Judaism does not forbid war. Some wars are legitimate, according to Judaism." from the Jewish Way to Wage War.

I am reminded of reading in the Torah  in Numbers 30:2-36:13 Matot-Masei;  about rules that were laid down for soldiers returning from battle.  They were to go through a process of cleansing to let them readjust from the experiences they had been through. so that they could more easily enter back into society.

Numbers 31:  The Israelites  had tangled with the Midianites and there was a battle.  Afterwards, Moses said that they were told to stay outside their camp for 7 days,  Everyone who killed someone or even touched a corpse had to purify himself.   on the 3rd day and on the 7th day.  That went for any captives they might have had with them.  Every piece of clothing, everything made of hide or that came from goats and everything made of wood had to be purified.  Then they had to kosher anything they had made of gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead; things that had come in contact with fire in order to be made had to pass through fire and also purified with water.  Clothing had to washed in water on the 7th day and become purified.  After all they they were allowed back in the camp.

"When we are that close to death, it is as if our individual universes return to that tohu v’vohu (chaos) that existed before the world was created. Just as it took seven days for creation, the parasha asserts that a week is necessary to re-create one who has experienced the trauma of the combat soldier."

I think that this cooling off period of 7 days with their comrades allowed them to calm down and feel that they were cleansed of the killing they had committed.  The group doing this together helped.  They felt cleansed.  

"In his book, “War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” psychotherapist Edward Tick speaks of the universal trauma of war. Tick writes that traditionally war was a rite of passage into adulthood, required of nearly all young men. The difference between ancient wars and those fought today is that in antiquity, the potential destructiveness of military service was not nearly as great as in today’s high-tech battleground. Tick writes that “the more destructive war has become, the more one of its original functions as a rite of passage [is] compromised ... a major factor in the prevalence of PTSD among vets today.” from ritual of Return by Rabbi Anne Brener.  

Resource:Oregonian newspaper, 1/28/13 page A8 Editorial, Military suicides, The Stump.

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