Essay on Judaism and Universal Human Rights

Compose a well-developed essay examining conflicts over the ideas of human rights and human responsibilities within Judaism today. 

The information that needs to be in the Essay is included in the document labeled Information. It needs at least 3 pages. 

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Religion 110 Information required to compose a good essay on Judaism

Your assignment is as follows:

Compose a well-developed essay examining conflicts over the ideas of human rights and human responsibilities within Judaism today.

In order to do this you first must understand that Judaism, as with most world religions, has a secular and a more fundamentalist side. The fundamentalist side of Judaism is referred to as ultra-orthodox. (See page 82 in your book.) As with other fundamentalist religious mindsets, ultra-orthodoxy draws upon a pre-modern theological world view.

Secular Judaism is discussed on page 121 in your book. Historically, secular Jews have played a tremendous role in human rights movements including the American Civil Rights Movement and the American Labor Movement.

Once you understand the question of secularism vs. ultra-orthodoxy you want to understand the role of the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism in bringing human rights to the forefront of Jewish thought. (The Holocaust is covered in your book, starting on page 128.) Awareness of the Holocaust brings with it an awareness of the need for all people to respect universal human rights.

The Holocaust brought Zionism into popular awareness as people of good conscience in civil society saw the necessity for a Jewish sovereign nation to allow the Jews to defend themselves against widespread anti-Semitism. For our purposes here, Zionism is defined as follows:

Zionism is the belief that there must be a Jewish sovereign nation in the Biblical Land of Israel.

As with all aspects of religion, Zionism can be interpreted as either religious or secular. Secular Zionism simply maintains that there needs to be a Jewish state in order that the Jewish people can defend themselves against ongoing hostility and historic anti-Semitism. On the religious side, religious Zionism assumes that God somehow favors Israel above all other nations. This concept is based on a pre-modern world view that equates the modern Jewish state with the ancient nation of Israel. For religious Zionists, ancient Israel and modern Israel are the same entity in the eyes of God.

The distinction between religious and secular Zionism is critical to an accurate understanding of current Jewish views on human rights and human responsibilities because religious Zionists to not tend to emphasize the human rights of the Palestinian population in Israel. Look, for example, at the humanitarian crisis within Gaza City. For ultra-orthodox, religious-Zionist Jews, Palestinian (Muslim) Arabs may be removed by force and by violence from the Holy Land. According to this world view, the Land (Eretz Israel) belongs to the Jews because God gave it to the Jews. This point of view requires both a literal and a pre-modern interpretation of scripture. This sort of thinking inclines away from universal declarations of human rights and leans more toward a concept of human responsibility. It is the responsibility of Palestinians to not resist Zionist incursions and to move peacefully away from their land. The results of these ways of thinking, especially when combined with Jihadist Islamic thought, (Hamas and Hezbollah) incline toward repeated acts of terrible violence.

To review, secular Judaism tends to view human rights and human responsibilities differently from ultra-orthodox, fundamentalist Judaism. Both views are deeply conditioned in response to the events of the Holocaust. The secular group inclines toward activism in the areas of peace, justice, and human rights. These folks have a long history of leadership in both the American Civil Rights Movement and in the American Labor Movement, as well as promoting an international agenda for human rights. The fundamentalist/ultraorthodox tend to be more aggressively defensive of Jewish interests, especially in regard to the Land of Israel. Their view will incline more toward fighting for security within the Land of Israel with less interest in possible violations of the rights of Palestinians. This fits into an emphasis on human responsibilities above human rights.

Edgecombe Community College GEO 111

Stephen Herring, Instructor

April 1, 2015

Key Vocabulary for Study of the Middle East

Chapter 7 covers the Middle East, also known as Southwest Asia/North Africa

To understand this region you need to begin with the first round of colonial expansion under Arab influences following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. There was a division right after his death between the Arabs and the Persians over who would be the leader of Islam. This division led to the split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This split has many complex religious and cultural overtones, but it has been historically exacerbated by ethnic and economic tensions throughout the region between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Persians. Sunni Islam is largely influenced by ethnic Arabs and Shiite Islam is largely influenced by ethnic Persians. This is an oversimplification because many Shiite or Sunni Muslims are neither Arabs nor Persians, but this way of framing the conflict helps us to see the influences of Arab colonialism throughout the area.

Following the era of Arab colonialism we come into the period of European colonialism, a time when many of the present day nation states of the region had their borders drawn without regard to pre-existing tribal or ethnic allegiances. Look, for example, at Greater Kurdistan, a well- defined ethnic region which came to be subsumed within Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.

The next item required for an understanding of the Middle East is the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the slaughter of over six million Jewish men, women, and children under the Nazi leadership of Germany during the Second World War. The Holocaust was the direct result of accumulating attitudes of anti-Semitism in the Christian West. There had been centuries of pogroms and outbursts of anti-Semitic violence throughout Europe prior to the Holocaust. The Holocaust brought about the realization that there needed to be a Jewish sovereign state, a Jewish homeland in the Biblical land of Israel. All religious considerations aside, this was initially a purely practical, secular observation, that there had to be an organized Jewish state in order that the Jews might defend themselves effectively against the threats of widespread anti-Semitism. This concept came to be known as Secular Zionism.

Various definitions are available for Zionism, but for our purposes it will be defined as the belief that there must be a Jewish sovereign nation in the Biblical land of Israel. Today within the modern state of Israel and elsewhere we have both secular and religious Zionists.

After the Holocaust Jewish people migrated back to Israel from all over the world. They claimed and settled the land of Israel. The problem with this was that there were already people living there who called the place Palestine. The Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and property as Israel expended through the 1950’s. The Palestinian refugees moved into neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. See

for a good description of the process of the Palestinian diaspora. These refugees often experienced extreme hardship resulting in their becoming disaffected and ultimately hostile to what they see as Western colonial interests. From the Palestinian perspective, their forced resettlement was an example of colonialism in action. From the Israeli perspective it was part of the Zionist dream of building a secure Jewish state.

To recap, understanding the reality of the Holocaust helps us to understand the concept of Zionism. Understanding Zionism helps us to frame the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. Understanding the Israeli /Palestinian dispute is the key to understanding the Middle East prior to the Arab Spring.

It is important for students to understand that, no matter how passionately they investigate the Middle East, they will only understand half of the puzzle if they take sides in these struggles. Both sides in this dispute have valid points of view and valid concerns. The most effective intervention in this dispute was accomplished during the administration of President Jimmy Carter from 1976 to 1980. This intervention is known as the Camp David Accords, often referred to simply as “Camp David.”

Another huge set of issues putting pressure on Middle Eastern nations comes under the heading of issues related to oil production and global energy demand. Many (not all) middle eastern countries have large deposits of oil. In 1960 a group of oil producing countries organized as O.P.E.C. (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.) The history of OPEC includes the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, and subsequent energy crisis within the United States. Much of the United States foreign policy toward the Middle East has been influenced by our strategic dependence on foreign oil.

The legacies of Arab colonialism together with the corruption caused by oil wealth, together with the side-taking produced by the Cold War gave us a group of authoritarian governments within the Middle East. Over time these governments became increasingly inflexible, unresponsive to the needs of their people, and corrupt. This epidemic of bad leadership set the stage for the Arab Spring. Demographics were another factor contributing to the Arab Spring. Many of these nations have between a quarter and a half of their general populations under the age of 15. These are populations full of youth. Youthful populations have widely embraced social networking, using portable electronic devices to communicate rapidly with large groups of people. Facebook and Twitter provide prime examples.

In late 2010 a young Tunisian fruit vendor named Muhammad Bouazizi committed suicide in public by setting himself on fire.

(See his Wiki page at:


He did this in response to years of brutal abuse and humiliation at the hands of a corrupt police force under the direction of a corrupt authoritarian government. This would not have been an unusual event were it not for widespread social networking among the youth of Tunisia causing the event to “go viral.” This in turn led to a wave of transformation and social change known as the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring resulted in the ouster of government leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Violent protests also occurred in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria.

Bahrain provides a great example of many of the issues discussed here because their social tension comes from the conflict between a Sunni Arab minority who manages everything in line with an Arab colonialist legacy and a Shia majority of working class people who feel their civil rights are being ignored by their colonial overlords. Bahrain is an example of an Emirate, a nation led by an emir. An emir comes from an old tribal family holding wealth and power according to the legacy of colonialism. The Emirates can also be corrupt as the ruling family tends to meet its own needs and the needs of their friends before taking care of the ordinary people.

Syria is in the middle of the most violent conflict coming out of the Arab Spring. The authoritarian ruler of Syria recently resorted to the use of chemical weapons in an effort to hold on to power. It was this type of brutality that gave rise to the chaos from which ISIS emerged. It remains to be seen how the chaos in Syria will work itself out. The Syrian civil war has in turn caused increased pressure on Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq.

The situation in Egypt remains unstable as the democratically elected Islamist government of the Muslim Brotherhood was recently overthrown by the military in response to the minority of Egyptians who want a more secular form of government.

Libya remains a mess following the September 11 2012 Benghazi attack which resulted in the death of the American ambassador. The collapse of Libya has allowed an open door for migrants to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Italy, resulting in both a mass influx of needy people into southern Europe and the deaths of thousands of people in poorly equipped boats. There have also been many examples of both human trafficking and smuggling of migrants complicating an already intense humanitarian crisis.

The bottom line here is that large populations of disaffected youth need to be listened to and they need to have their needs met. Otherwise some these disaffected populations might organize and arm themselves and become violent criminal organizations, or “terrorists.” You can see examples by looking at the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas, The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda, and, of course, ISIS. Many scholars of the Middle East see these groups as the results of uneven development, economic disparity, and corrupt authoritarian governments.

Edgecombe Community College

REL 110 OL1

Update on human rights and ideas of salvation.

What we are going to be looking at between now and the end of the semester is the whole question of human rights.  This is about the push for universal human rights as embraced by a secular civil society vs. a more conditional religious approach which would see human rights from the perspective that people who belong to a certain faith have different rights.  

In Judaism, in Christianity, and in Islam there are groups of people pulling in opposite directions.  Some advocate for the ideals of a secular, humanistic civil society where everyone is treated equally.  Others advocate for a more specifically religious social narrative where a person’s status, and thus their rights, are determined more by the narrative of faith.  The more religious social narrative inclines more toward religious fundamentalism.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all possess narratives of salvation and damnation.  That is to say, they all have doctrines which deal with salvation, with who exactly gets to live with God in the after-life.  They also have doctrines of damnation, or who gets excluded from the heavenly fellowship after death.  We might see these as narratives of divine inclusion and divine exclusion.  These competing narratives merge into considerations of human rights because, if we really believe a certain person is going to hell, why should we work to assure their rights while they are here on earth?  This has led to tremendous religious persecution in the past.

The problem all three religions have is that there are people in each faith who strongly believe that their own personal doctrine of salvation is the only one that works. Likewise, all three faiths have scriptures which call for respect and hospitality to be shown to those who are “sojourners”, or people of a different, or outsider faith. Unfortunately, in many situations these are not the scriptures which get promoted. Instead, people tend to gravitate toward doctrines which promote a more limited and specific idea of exactly who enjoys the favor of the Almighty.



Approximate Year Founded




Main Idea

Place of Worship

Name for a Person of this faith



1200 BCE










60 CE

Paul and John

New Testament


Faith in Salvation




620 CE




Obedience submission

to the will of Allah




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