Throughout my Western Civ class the past year- which is really a "History of Christianity" class in essence- and throughout the current ongoing war with crazy Islamists, I have been struck by the following question: "How was Judaism able to escape all this mess?" Judaism, for all of its flaws, has never really been guilty of anything approaching Jihad or Crusades, never, for all of its fundamentalism, lapsed into the hard-core evilness that seems to haunt most religions. I have actually pondered the question for a couple of days now and have attempted to compile a list of every possible answer of which I can think, in no particular order.
1) The Blessing of Weakness- Judaism has never been a dominant power, never had a chance to enforce their rule with steel. There are few things more conducive to favoring the weak than being the weak, and few things more likely to discourage oppression than inability to oppress. In fact, this could in some way be the point of Galut- keeping us from the corruption of power until we have figured out basically how to be civilized, with the advantage of being able to learn from everyone else's struggles.
2) Been there, done that- My question excludes the earliest part of Jewish history, which is pretty rife with wars and killing, because I tend to think that everyone in that time was just as bad and one could hardly expect one tribe to suddenly jump to some sort of 21st century Western morality. It would have been as impossible as it would be suicidal. But it's possible that our religion got such an early start that we got over that stage before anyone knew better. I don't particularly like this answer, but I can't articulate an exact objection.
3) Stupid Question- The question itself is based on a false premise, ignoring evils that Judaism has committed or looking at only a small slice of all of history. Of course, I don't think that this is true, but then, the objection is based on my own ignorance and is thus going to be circular and so forth.
3a)Define Evil- Or else Judaism has the advantage of defining what is "evil". Perhaps Judaism has never lapsed into evil because they get to pick what evil is. I don't buy this one either. Firstly, Judaism doesn't define evil in the Western world. Christianity does, and Christianity has done plenty of things that they and others will freely label as evil. Secondly, I think that the definitions of evil that I am using- wanton murder of innocents, for example- are pretty well acknowledged among the general population. But of course, I would be fooled by my own indoctrination, so I can't evaluate this one either.
4)Inherent Advantage- It may not be PC, but there's a definite possibility that our religion turns out less evil results because it's better. I don't think that's a complete explanation, because no religion can be so wonderful as to preclude misinterpretation, because that would eliminate free will. And, objectively, I can see tons and tons of things in the Torah and later sources that would have been excellent fuel for Jihadists, from Amalek to some of the more interesting civil wars. Thank G-d, we have never really been swept up by people pushing these interpretations, but that doesn't mean that the fuel isn't there.
5) The Jews- My brother's- Jews are "a stiff-necked nation." It would be physically impossible to get them to unite around any one goal, except for self-defense. The Jewish nation, as a united whole, lasted for 80 years (with three rebellions)- hardly enough time to start any sort of crusade.
6) Flexible Interpretation- My pet theory. A talk radio host was bullying a Muslem caller into admitting that if he was convinced that his religion really did call for killing people, he would do it. I wondered out-loud whether I wouldn't have to say the same, and then came to the conclusion that "If Jews were ever really convinced that the Torah really did call for doing something that immoral, we would find another way to interpret it." Intellectually dishonest on the surface, but it may just be the soul of Judaism. The halachic system, as it was formed or as it evolved, makes us partners in creating our moral code, which gives us the liberty to use conscience as an interpretative tool. Again, it may be cheating, but then again, I look at it this way: My moral sense and legal code are both Divine. If there seems to be a contradiction, then one or the other has to be tweaked so that they can match, just as I'd try to resolve an apparent contradiction between two p'sukim. And the law is usually a lot easier to tweak.
The reason I love the last theory so much is that I think that the halachic process and its human-centricness is the most awesomely cool thing about Judaism and I would very much like it to be our saving grace as well. But I am open for other explanations, or better arguments for any of the above.