MICHAEL WALZER'S CHAPTER presents a comprehensive picture of the status of war, its limitations, and its manner of conduct, as reflected in central trends of the Jewish tradition. The chapter clearly explains the implications of the unique situation that has generated most of the relevant rabbinic literature, namely, a situation of exile (galut), in the absence of a sovereign Jewish state, in which Jewish communities had no political or military impact on international society. But Walzer's discussion also reveals possibilities immanent in the classical religious sources, even if what these sources have to say on the subject is partial and fragmented, for developing a contemporary Jewish ethic of war.
The sources in question, however, are in the nature of things quite diverse. They have been composed by representatives of many schools, both of halakah and of Jewish thought, spanning the centuries from ancient times to the modern period and the contemporary state of Israel. Any generalization regarding these sources would therefore be open to criticism and unable to encompass all the manifold alternatives developed over the generations. This is all the more true when one is dealing with so crucial an issue as that posed in Walzer's discussion: just and unjust wars.
According to Walzer, Jewish religious tradition has not developed a concept of prohibited war. It distinguishes, indeed, between an “obligatory war” and an “optional war,” imposing many restrictions upon the latter, but “it has only two categories [of war] where three seem necessary.… The missing third category is the banned or forbidden war.” True, Walzer points out, Samuel David Luzzatto in the eighteenth century proposed such a view, but he did not have “many followers within the halakic community.” Walzer concludes by suggesting the need to formulate a clear halakic distinction between permitted and prohibited wars, between legitimate and illegitimate warfare.