Project Genesis

The Land of Israel

Jewish Wars

War and Murder

Question: Torah has valued human life above all and under every circumstances we should try to save human as it is said to save one human being is like to save entire entire mankind. On the other hand, the laws of war of Deuteronomy says that when we go to war with faraway nations we are to give people chance to surrender and if they won’t we are to kill all the men in it. So how can we justify killing all the men just like that when we consider human life above all ? In self defense its proper to kill but for territorial expansion why should we shed blood? I am sure that G-D too wouldn’t allow us to shed innocent blood.

Answer: Thanks for asking this important question. The first thing that needs to be said is that we think of all wars as equal. That is not true. We cannot equate a war that G-d commanded us to fight and a war that we choose to fight. If you learn the Torah’s perspective on warfare you will see that warfare in Torah law is totally different from warfare in the non-Jewish world. That is not possible to understand unless you go very in depth into the Torah’s perspective. To help you do that, here is a link that will describe the concept in great detail. I give this information over in a class format and I find that if you study it well it will give you a great overview of “Jewish warfare.”

Next, let me just say that we are not talking about the modern concept of “holy wars” where people think that they know the will of G-d. The Torah’s concept of war is that G-d commands the Jews to do certain things because in His wisdom this is what needs to happen to bring balance to the world. There is a commandment in the Torah to completely destroy the nation of Amalek. This nation, according to the Torah, is evil through and through. There is no way that anyone from that nation can survive and the world be a safe place. King Saul almost destroyed this nation once but left the king alive for one night. He was wrong and he lost his kingship over that. The results of that night were that the king had relations with a woman, the child grew up and his ancestor ended up being the evil Haman and, according to many Hitler was also a descendant of Amalek.

Be Well, Rabbi Litt

1 Follow-up »

  1. When is it required by the Kohen to consult G-D & use Urrim and Thummim in order to go to war ? I mean only if the nation is doing idol worship then also are we required to go to war against that nations or only if the nation is full of murderers , idol worshippers, immoral people etc. Today there are many nations like china, india and south asian countries where people do idol worship but still they follow some of the Noachide Laws if not all of them.So can this law be applied on these nations ?

    We do not have a temple or Sanhedrin High Court today. Therefore, we do not judge individuals or nations in the same way that we used to. If an individual or nation is idolatrous, then there are some laws that we have to abide by with regards to them, but we cannot go and destroy them. Today, we do not have the ability to judge the way that we used to.

    Secondly how should Israel wage a war against its enemies ? Should civilians be targeted ? I know in self defense we can target anybody but as Jews shouldn’t we take care that innocent blood is not shed not even in war ?

    In terms of the modern state of Israel – the country is no different than America in terms of making judgments on who to go to war with. The difference is that there the army is protecting Jews and here we are protecting a mostly non-Jewish nation. We have to protect the land because Jews are living on it. If it came to having to choose between millions of Jewish lives and giving up the land I think that we would have to give up the land, as only Hashem controls when we are in charge of the land of Israel. Nontheless, the land is holy to us and is worth defending, but only because of the Jews who are there. There will come a time when the Jewish people will be living there, practicing Jewish law, and the temple will once again stand. At that time, the urim v’tumim will be used, the kohanim will function once again, Torah law will reign, and it will be a different story all together. Until then, we defend our brothers and sisters living in our homeland as any country would. In terms of civilians, I do not believe that it is Israel’s responsibility to deal with mad men who put rocket launchers meters away from children’s hospitals and civilian centers. If these animals cared for their people they would launch military action from military zones or secluded areas. Hiding in orphanages, hospitals, villages, and places like that is not heroism, it is just stupid. The Iraqis do the same thing. Anyone who would do such a thing is subhuman to begin with. The civilian casualties are unfortunate, but we are involved in wiping out terror. The Israelis are fighting an important war and we must not lose sight of the big picture.

    As the laws in deuteronomy says that kill all the men so does that means the ones who decide to fight or does it mean all of them ? What if the king of that nation decides not to accept peace but the people are willing for peace ? So should we spare their lives once when we enter the city ?

    Jewish law mandates (as you read) that soldiers have to be giving the chance to flee the battlefield. We do not attack civilians on purpose. I think that this is pretty clear.

    Is it allowed to go to war against tyrants like Saddam Hussein in order to liberate the people of that nation ?

    It is an obligation to destroy evil in the world. That is what “shalom” means. Shalom comes from the word “shalem,” complete. True peace is action that leads to the completion of everything ethical in the world. Shalom means taking action to complete the world and actively make it a peaceful place. It does not mean the absence of war.

    Be Well,
    Rabbi Litt

    Comment by ATR — July 31, 2006 @ 11:31 am

We respond to every follow-up question submitted, but only publish selected ones. In order to be considered for publication, questions must be on-topic, polite, and address ideas rather than personalities.


Powered by WordPress