Geneva, Switzerland — The World Council of Churches announced today that an increasing range of meanings has pushed the word shalom (שׁלום) “to the breaking point.” The announcement follows the recommendation of a study group to include “access to a smart phone or equivalent tablet device” to the accepted legal definition of shalom.
The scope of the Hebrew word has been increased several times in recent years. In 2002 the WCC described shalom as, “a place in which there is free wireless internet for all, most especially for the marginalized, e.g., people in airports with long layovers.” A 2006 publication added that “shalom an only be found in a carbon-neutral economy.”
Scholars have long accepted that shalom means not just peace, but also the social conditions that lead to peace; at the individual, family, clan, tribal, ethnic, national, and international levels; especially with regard to the just distribution of natural resources and social services; the provisions for equal participation in society irrespective of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation, handedness, hair color, eye color, skin color, parenting style, level of education, or personality type.
Notable 20th-century expansions include the wholesale incorporation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights into the concept shalom of in 1948, and the 1969 expansion to include the satisfaction watching the one’s parents play with their grandchildren, the flavor of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and the good feeling one gets from using a Q-Tip™.
Theologians are saying that the present controversy is the greatest challenge for shalom since 1988, when a working group proposed a definition of shalom that included the ability to define the word shalom once and for all. The proposal created an infinite feedback loop, and the committee has not yet been able to report back to the main assembly.
Practical difficulties over of the scope of the Semitic noun have been apparent since at least the first century of the Common Era, when Jesus of Nazareth greeted his follows with, “Peace be with you” (Grk. Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν; prp Heb. שׁלום עליךָ), leaving an awkward silence as His followers considered the full implications of His greeting.
WCC General Secretary Olav Tveit compared the present crisis to the definition of shalom created as a condition in the 1979 Camp David Accords, which defined shalom simultaneously as the existence of a sovereign Palestinian state covering the whole of Israeli territory, and the existence of an Israeli state covering the whole of Palestinian territory.
“We can’t just update the definition whenever we all get a new device,” said Tveit. “That does not make for shalom.” Some observers link these comments to the retrospectively embarrassing periods in the 1970s and 1980s, when access to respectively an 8-track and a pager were considered to be necessary preconditions for shalom.
The representative of the Unitarian delegation demanded acceptance of the newly proposed expansion, accusing Tveit of saying, “shalom, shalom where there is no shalom.”
In a show of unity, the Council defeated a proposal to amend the definition of shalom to include a reference to the Almighty (344–1; 2 abstaining).