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Rabbi and Scholar on Conflict and the Jewish Scriptures: ‘Sometimes War is the Moral Answer’

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JERUSALEM, Israel – On a geo-political level, the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas is dominating the world’s attention. But what does the Bible and Jewish teaching tell us about the war? 

Now in its third month, Israel is fighting a war for its survival against Hamas. CBN News talked with Rabbi David Gottlieb, a noted scholar and teacher on the Jewish view of war.     

“So let’s start with the basics, Rabbi Gottlieb told CBN News. “The highest, most basic value in Judaism is life. And at the same time, we have a nuanced or you could say, sophisticated approach and understand that sometimes painfully, the greatest way to protect life is war, and war necessarily means the act of killing other people.”

In the Bible, Ecclesiastes chapter 3 states, “There is an appointed time for everything, including “a time for peace and a time for war.”

“When there are Nazis or Hamas terrorists, it would be wonderful if they would all just surrender and stop killing good people of all faiths,” the rabbi explained. “But when you have ruthless enemies who want to kill good, innocent people, unfortunately, sometimes war is the moral answer. Judaism, certainly in the broad strokes, absolutely endorses war when necessary to protect morality and life.”

The Bible provides many examples of Israel going to war. 

“Really (it) goes back to Abraham, who by the way, we know was a man of peace with the open tent. And yet when did he first go to war to rescue a captive? His nephew, Lot.  So, it’s very reminiscent of what we’re doing now. And, of course, as you mentioned, King David, the same sublime soul who wrote the songs, was a warrior when he had to be.”

 

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So, when does Israel go to war?

“The values of morality, of respect for innocent life, of only killing when absolutely necessary, but one necessary – not hesitating to do so. Those are firmly sourced, both in the Bible and the rabbinic tradition. In the rabbinic tradition, there are only a very few circumscribed times when we would go to war. But the best example of that – which is the one we find ourselves in now – is a war of self-defence.”

Israel defended itself after October 7th, when Hamas murdered 1,200 citizens, injured thousands more, kidnapped hundreds, and destroyed entire communities. Now, a growing international movement accuses Israel’s military of disproportionate use of force and genocide. Rabbi Gottlieb says the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fights by a code of conduct.   

“There is a principle that guides the IDF,” Rabbi Gottlieb stated. “It’s called Torah on Necec or the purity of arms, and it is one of the most restrictive codes of conduct of any army in the world, surpassing even the United States of America in terms of its rules of engagement. 

He continued, “So, certainly we take it very seriously. And as the father of two sons and a son-in-law who were called up on October 7th, I, on the one hand, (am) very proud that I know that they will be fighting only based on the rules of absolute morality. On the other hand, I am nervous because Israel bends over so backwards to avoid whenever possible.”

This tendency can often put IDF soldiers at risk while they do what they can to warn and protect civilians in Gaza. 

“I mean, is there any other army that, weeks in advance of a mission, is sending leaflets and making thousands and thousands of phone calls, and warning people – we totally lose our strategic advantage just so that we can hopefully warn innocent civilians?, the rabbi asked. “I don’t know of any other government that does something like that, but Israel does. And we very are very much proud of this as a moral force.”

Rabbi Gottlieb sees October 7th as one of the most painful moments in modern Israeli history. It remains seared into the hearts and minds of the Jewish people and will not be forgotten. 

“This is a war that we didn’t want, that we didn’t ask for. But it’s absolutely the necessary, right, and (the) just thing to do, not only for the people of Israel, but for all people of faith and for all civilization.”

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