Warfare Although Judaism sets the highest store on *peace, it does not adopt the completely pacifist stand according to which warfare can never be justified, no matter what the circumstances. At the most, Judaism treats warfare, when it has to be engaged in, as a necessary evil but an evil none the less, or at any rate this has been the way Jewish teaching on the subject has developed. There are numerous references to the biblical heroes, including King David, engaging in warfare. But the Chronicler ( 1 Chronicles 22:8) implies that, even if his wars were justified, David's plan to build the *Temple had to be frustrated because a warrior is not a suitable person to build a House of God: 'But the word of the Lord came to me saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and thou hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto My name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight.' It is possible, indeed, that the Chronicler, reflecting on David's career, denies that all David's wars were justified. In the Rabbinic literature there is a definite tendency to down- grade David's prowess as a warrior and anachronistically to turn him into a scholar whose fights were in the battles of the Torah, as the Rabbis call debates among scholars.
The truth of the matter is that, as in other extremely complicated matters of great moral concern, there is no single, official view in Judaism on the legitimacy of warfare. The fact is that in the post-biblical period Jews did not have any opportunity to engage in warfare, since, until the establishment of the State of Israel, no Jewish State existed to which the terrible question could be addressed. Every Jewish discussion on what Christian theology calls the 'just war' could only have been purely academic. The general principle laid down in the Talmud ( Sanhedrin72a) is: 'If someone intends to kill you, get in first and kill him' (i.e. to kill another in self-defence does not constitute an act of murder). Even then the rule is stated that if you can save your life by only maiming the attacker, to kill him does constitute murder. It is obviously difficult to extrapolate from this principle (which refers to an individual would-be murderer and an individual defender of his life) rules about a whole people engaging in warfare where the issue is always far from clear-cut. For that matter, it is rarely clear-cut even with regard to individuals. Once a whole nation has resolved to make war in self-defence the result is bound to be the killing of innocents, and yet for a nation simply to sit back and let an attacking nation take over can also result in great suffering and severe loss of life. A further question is whether a preemptive strike comes under the heading of self-defence. There are all sorts of questions which arise in modern warfare that are unenvisaged in the classical sources of Judaism--the use of highly developed technical weapons, for instance, which bring about mass destruction and which can surely only be contemplated as a last resort. Moreover, the question of war and defence in the State of Israel is decided not by Rabbis, who have no voice in the matter, but, as among other nations, by generals and politicians, and the whole question of diplomacy arises, to say nothing of the authority or otherwise of the United Nations. Nevertheless, Rabbis have not been inhibited from stating what appears to them to be the attitude the Torah would have Jews adopt. With
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Publication information: Book title: A Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion. Contributors: Louis Jacobs - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 292.
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