Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Ethics of War in Judaism

Subject: The Ethics of War in Judaism

Judaism And Warfare

By: Steven Plaut

Date: Wednesday, January 21 2009

Dear Dr. H:

You write about how Judaism is devoted to the pursuit of peace. You bring
assorted citations from the Bible and Psalms about how nice peace can be.
You emphasize that Judaism grants peace priority over competing goals. You
find biblical quote after biblical quote about how good peace is.

You then conclude that Israel is behaving in a manner that contradicts
Jewish tradition when it wars against Hamas barbarism and Gaza terror.
Israel must pursue "negotiations" with Hamas, you insist, citing the
biblical desire for peace as the over-riding consideration.

That is all very nice. But you will no doubt be shocked to learn that
Judaism cannot be reduced to the pursuit of peace. It certainly does not
demand the pursuit of peace when that pursuit produces war.

You of course overlook the fact that one of the most common causes of war is
the foolish pursuit of peace in circumstances that do not allow peace to

Anyone truly impressed by biblical calls for peace should be the first to
reject the pursuit of peace through appeasement and capitulation - which
actually produces war.

You prefer the posturing for peace that produces war to the actual pursuit
of true peace.

Your little group of selected citations from the Bible about how nice peace
is reminds me of the missionaries in my old childhood neighborhood who
learned a dozen or so citations from the Tanach that they thought would
prove persuasive to Jews, but were largely unaware of anything else in what
they called the Old Testament.

Most important, you ignore altogether what Jewish sources really say about
fighting anti-Semitism, terrorism, and aggression.

You ignore Abraham's military response to the kidnapping of Lot. Abraham did
not enter negotiations with the kidnappers.

You ignore the rejection of peace education as a way to reform Sodom and

You ignore the anti-terror policy of Simon and Levi when Dina was kidnapped.

You ignore the refusal of the Torah to sanction negotiations and coexistence
with Amalek.

You ignore the anti-terror policy of Pinchas.

You ignore the instructions to Joshua about how to handle those opposing
Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

You ignore the anti-terror policy of the Prophet Samuel and the condemnation
of compassion toward prisoners of King Saul.

You ignore the anti-terror policies of Yael and Deborah.

You ignore the fact that Elijah and the Bible even praise the evil King Ahab
for warring against aggressors.

You ignore the refusal of Gideon, Ehud, and others to seek peaceful
accommodation with aggressors and terrorists.

You ignore the fact that the Torah prohibits the granting of sovereignty to
any non-Jewish power in the Land of Israel.

You ignore the anti-terror campaigns of Saul and David.

You ignore Samson's indifference to collateral damage.

You ignore the call by the Prophet Joel (4:9-10): "... Beat your plowshares
into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears. "

You ignore the comments in Ecclesiastes about a time of war.

You ignore the way Mordechai dealt with anti-Semites at the end of the Book
of Esther.

You ignore the way the Maccabees dealt with Jewish anti-Semites and
collaborators with the enemy.

You ignore the fact that all real Jewish sources unambiguously favor capital

You ignore the admonition of what to do to those we know are about to attack

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook said, "When they come to attack us, we have to
persuade them with tanks."

You ignore the fact that in Judaism annihilating evil is an integral part of
creating peace and justice.

You ignore the fact that according to most rabbinic authorities,
non-combatants who knowingly remain in a place where a battle is about to
take place lose their right of protection.

You ignore the fact that pursuit of peace in the Bible has nothing to do
with pacifism.

You ignore what Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg had to say about deals with the
enemy to get hostages released.

You ignore that Torah proclamations about the value of human life are
accompanied by demands that murderers be executed as a way to sanctify human

You ignore the fact that Jews not only pray for Jerusalem three times a day,
they also pray for the destruction of Jewish anti-Semites three times a day.

You ignore the fact that most of the preaching about how nice peace is in
the Bible actually refers to peace among Jews. As for Jews who pursue peace
by collaborating with anti-Semites, study the policies of Pinchas and the
Maccabees alluded to above.

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