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The Ethics of Waging

By Rabbi Joshua Flug

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I. Introduction- This shiur outline will discuss the ethics of waging war with a special focus
on the State of Israel, its history and its current situation.
a. The ethics of war have been debated for many centuries. According to the Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy there are three basic theories on the ethics of war:
i. Pacifism doesn't believe that war is ever justified.
ii. Realism doesn't believe that one can assign a set of ethics to war.
iii. The Just War Theory believes that under certain circumstances, it is ethical to
wage war. The precise conditions are further debated by ethicists and, in
theory, play a role in public policy of various democratic countries. The Just
War Theory addresses the ethics of initiating a war (jus ad bellum), fighting a
war (jus in bello) and the ethics of terminating a war (jus post bellum).
1. One of the contemporary advocates of the Just War Theory is Michael
Walzner. Walzner has an article on the The Four Wars of
Israel/Palestine, which may not resonate with everyone regarding his
analysis of the situation, but it provides a perspective on his overall
2. It is important to note that from a Jewish perspective any Divine
directive to fight a war, whether from a verse in the Torah or from an
authentic prophet, would have to be considered ethical, even if it
doesn't fit the criteria set by halacha for a just war.
b. There are a few more articles of interest:
i. Rabbi Michael Broyde on Just Wars and Halacha
ii. R. Yosef Zevin has a lengthy discussion about war in L'Or HaHalacha.
iii. R. Shaul Yisrael, Amud HaYemini ch. 14 and 16 has two articles that discuss
these issues.
c. There are a number of other shiur outline with overlapping issues:
i. Land for Peace
ii. Prisoner Exchange
iii. Torturing a Terrorist to Procure Information
iv. Life and Death Decisions (the rodef section)
II. Milchemes Chovah, Milchemes Mitzvah and Milchemes Reshus
a. The Torah lists a number of people who are exempt from fighting in war. {}
b. The Mishna notes that these exemptions don't always apply and uses three terms in
describing different types of wars: {}
i. Rabanan distinguish between ‫ מלחמות רשות‬and ‫מלחמות מצוה‬. The exemptions
apply to ‫ מלחמת רשות‬and not to ‫מלחמת מצוה‬.
ii. R. Yehuda distinguishes between ‫ מלחמות חובה‬and ‫מלחמות מצוה‬. The
exemptions apply to ‫ מלחמות מצוה‬and not to ‫מלחמות חובה‬.
c. The Bavli notes two opinions regarding the dispute between Rabanan and R. Yehuda:
i. R. Yochanan is of the opinion that their dispute is a matter of semantics. They
are using different terminology to describe the same thing.
ii. Rava is of the opinion that they are actually arguing about a specific case of
preventing an attack of the enemy. Rabanan consider it a reshus and R.
Yehuda considers it a mitzvah. The practical difference is whether we apply
‫עוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה‬.
d. The Yerushalmi also quotes R. Yochanan's opinion that there is no practical
difference, but also quotes the opinion of R. Chisda that there is a practical difference
regarding the case where the Jewish People are attacked. R. Yehuda considers it a
‫ חובה‬and Rabanan consider it a ‫רשות‬. {}
e. There may be other practical differences between ‫ מלחמת מצוה‬and ‫מלחמת רשות‬:
i. Rambam (1138-1204) states that ‫ מלחמות מצוה‬must take priority over ‫מלחמות‬
‫רשות‬. {}
ii. Rambam also states that ‫ מלחמות מצוה‬do not require authorization by beis din
and ‫ מלחמות רשות‬require authorization. {}
1. There is a further discussion regarding ‫ מלחמות רשות‬and whether they
require the ‫אורים ותומים‬. Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvos mentions the
requirement of a kohen hagadol to wage war. {}
a. Ramban (1194-1270) writes that one must consult the ‫אורים‬
‫ ותומים‬for all types of war. {}
b. R. Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) writes that it is absolutely
critical to consult the ‫ אורים ותומים‬any time someone's life is put
at risk. The only exception is when it is to save one's own
country such as the war against Antiochus. {}
iii. Rambam writes that ‫ עזרת ישראל מיד צר‬is considered ‫מלחמת מצוה‬. {} This
ruling raises a number of questions:
1. Is Rambam following the opinion of R. Yehuda or Rabanan?
2. What is Rambam's source for such a concept?
3. What are the exact criteria for ‫?עזרת ישראל מיד צר‬
4. In order to answer these questions, we must first explore the laws of
rodef as well as the rules of war regarding other nations.
III. The Rules of Rodef and its Application to War
a. The concept of rodef appears in the Mishna {}
i. The Gemara states that in ordinary situations it is prohibited to kill one person
to save the life of another. In fact, this is one of the three cardinal
transgressions in which one must give up his own life and may not kill
someone else to save his own life. {}
ii. R. Chaim Soloveitchik (1853-1918) notes that the one exception to this rule is
a rodef. If one person is pursuing someone else and is trying to kill him, it is
permissible to kill the rodef. {} R. Moshe Sokolofsky (d. 1931, a talmid of R.
Chaim Soloveitchik) explains that there are two reason why this is
permissible: {}
1. In order to save the victim
2. Because this is one of the aveiros that one may disable the violator
before he violates the aveirah.
b. The Gemara quotes a Beraisa that states an important rule regarding rodef: If one has
the ability to neutralize the rodef with minimal force and one uses more force than
necessary, it is considered a capital crime. {}
i. R. Yitzchak ben Sheshes (Rivash 1326-1408) writes that there is a distinction
between the person who is being pursued and a third party saving the victim
regarding hasra'ah. {}
ii. R. Yehuda Rosanes (1657-1727, Mishneh L'Melech) following Rivash's
distinction writes that it is possible that the requirement to use minimal force
when taking out the rodef doesn't apply to the victim. He is permitted to kill
the rodef, even when there is an option to neutralize him without killing him.
The requirement only applies to a third party saving the victim from the rodef.
c. If the rodef model was used as the justification for a war of self defense, the rules of
fighting the war would be limited by the rules of rodef. The defending country would
ostensibly be required to use the least amount of force necessary to defend itself. It is
only according to Mishneh L'Melech that the defending country can use more force
than necessary to drive away the attackers.
i. Practically speaking, R. Broyde notes that use of the rodef model would place
the following limits on war:
1. One would never be permitted to kill an innocent civilian to save one's
own civilians.
2. One would not be able to compel someone to fight in the war.
3. One would not be able to kill the pursuer as a form of punishment.
4. One would not be able to use more force than necessary.
ii. Even according to Mishneh L'Melech, a third party (foreign country) that is
brought in to assist the victims would be bound by these restrictions.
IV. What are the rules of war among non-Jewish countries?
a. The Gemara states that a king who kills less than one sixth of his people through his
wars is not punished. {}
i. Tosafos write that we are dealing with optional wars, i.e. wars of conquest. {}
ii. R. Naftali Z.Y. Berlin (The Netziv 1816-1893) writes that it is completely
permissible for a non-Jewish king to wage wars, even if it means that his own
people will die as a result. Netziv writes that that this is certainly true
regarding non-Jews, but it is even true of Jewish kings. {}
b. The Gemara states that when one country captures another, it is a legal acquisition of
the defeated country. {}
i. R. Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) writes that this may only imply the legal status
of the war but not the morality of the war. It may be prohibited to wage wars
of conquest, but if they were done, they belong to the country that wins. {}
V. Understanding Rambam's ‫עזרת ישראל מיד צר‬
a. R. Avraham de Boton (Lechem Mishneh, c.1560-1605) writes that Rambam follows
the opinion of Rabanan. This is formulated by Rambam stating that ‫כדי להרחיב גבול‬
‫ ישראל ולהרבות בגדולתו ושמעו‬is considered ‫מלחמת רשות‬. Lechem Mishneh writes that
this is what the Gemara meant by ‫למעוטי עובדי כוכבים דלא ליתי עלייהו‬. {}
i. R. David Frankel (c. 1704-1762) follows a similar approach. He writes that
there are two types of wars of protection. If they are widening their border
without any specific threat, it is considered ‫מלחמת רשות‬. If they are defending
a specific threat, it is a ‫מלחמת מצוה‬. {}
ii. R. Frankel does mention the rodef idea in explaining ‫עזרת ישראל מיד צר‬.
However, it seems to be more of an expansive form of the rodef model when
it applies to a whole country.
b. R. Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (Chazon Ish 1878-1953) writes that Rambam's use of
the term ‫ שבא עליהם‬may imply that it is not considered a ‫ מלחמת מצוה‬until the enemy
actually attacks. A pre-emptive attack would be considered ‫ מלחמת רשות‬even if there
is a threat. {}
c. R. Hershel Schachter writes that defending one's country applies to all countries even
according to Chasam Sofer (i.e. it is ‫)מלחמת מצוה‬. This is true even if there is no issue
of pikuach nefesh (or rodef). If one country claims that they want to take over
another country, the defending country is entitled to go to war to defeat that claim. {}
VI. Relating Back to the State of Israel
a. The Six Day War was a pre-emptive attack to prevent a specific threat.
b. The Palestinian goal of wiping out the Jewish People would be grounds for war,
either following the rodef model or as ‫עזרת ישראל מיד צר‬.
c. When the aggressor is launching missiles into your country, it would be considered
‫שבא עליהם‬, even according to Chazon Ish's interpretation.
‫‪ .5‬רמב"ם הל' מלכים ה‪:‬א‬ ‫‪ .1‬דברים כ‪:‬ה‪-‬ח‬

‫‪ .6‬רמב"ם הל' מלכים ה‪:‬ב‬

‫‪ .2‬מש' סוטה מד‪:‬‬

‫‪ .7‬ספר המצוות שורש י"ד‬

‫‪ .8‬רמב"ן השמטות למצוות לא תעשה‬

‫ויש לי ענין מצוה מסתפק עלי והוא שיראה‬
‫לי שמצוה על המלך או על השופט ומי‬
‫שהעם ברשותו להוציאם לצבא במצחמת‬ ‫‪ .3‬סוטה מד‪:‬‬
‫רשות או מצוה להיות שואל באורים ותומים‬
‫ועל פיהם יתנהג בענין‪ ,‬והוא אמרו יתעלה‬
‫ולפני אלעזר הכהן יעמוד ושאל לו במשפט‬
‫האורים לפני ה' על פיו יצאו ועל פיו יבאו‬
‫הוא וכל בני ישראל אתו וכל העדה ‪...‬‬
‫והנה הרב בעצמו כתב בהקדמתו ומצות‬
‫שהמלחמות ‪ ...‬וזו‬ ‫כלשון הזה‪ ,‬וידוע‬
‫באמת מצוה לא עצה בלבד והיא לדורות‪.‬‬

‫‪ .9‬אגרות משה חו"מ ב‪:‬עח‬

‫‪ .4‬ירושלמי סוטה ח‪:‬י‬

‫מש' סנהדרין עג‪.‬‬ ‫‪.10‬‬

‫סנהדרין עד‪.‬‬ ‫‪.14‬‬ ‫סנהדרין עד‪.‬‬ ‫‪.11‬‬

‫חידושי רבינו חיים הלוי הל' רוצח‪:‬א‪:‬ט‬ ‫‪.12‬‬

‫ריב"ש ס' רלח‬ ‫‪.15‬‬

‫‪ .16‬משנה למלך הל' חובל ומזיק ח‪:‬יא‬

‫דהא דאמר דאם יכולין להציל באחד‬
‫מאבריו של רודף שאין הורגין אותו שדין‬
‫זה לא נאמר אלא באיש אחר הבא להציל‬
‫אבל הנרדף אינו מדקדק בזה‪.‬‬

‫שבועות לה‪:‬‬ ‫‪.17‬‬ ‫אמרי משה ל‪:‬ט הגה‬ ‫‪.13‬‬

‫תוס' שבועות לה‪:‬‬ ‫‪.18‬‬

‫העמק דבר בראשית ט‪:‬ה‬ ‫‪.19‬‬

‫חולין ס‪:‬‬ ‫‪.20‬‬

‫בעקבי הצאן לד‪:‬ב‬ ‫‪.25‬‬ ‫שו"ת חתם סופר יו"ד ס' יט‬ ‫‪.21‬‬

‫לחם משנה הל' מלכים ה‪:‬א‬ ‫‪.22‬‬

‫שירי קרבן סוטה ח‪:‬י‬ ‫‪.23‬‬

‫חזון איש או"ח קיד‪:‬ב‬ ‫‪.24‬‬