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Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition
Michael J. Broyde

Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition

Michael J. Broyde1

Rabbi Jesse the Galilean states: "How meritorious is peace? Even in time of war Jewish law requires that one initiate discussions of peace." - Leviticus Rabba, Tzav 9

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Grounds for Starting War
    1. Jewish Law's View of Secular Nations at War
    2. A Jewish Nation Starting a War
    3. Summary
  3. Battlefield Ethics
    1. Type of war
    2. Seeking Peace Prior to Starting War
    3. The Civilian, the Siege and Standard of Conduct
    4. A Note on Nuclear War and Jewish Law
    5. Summary
  4. Fighting on the Same Team: Ethics within the Army
  5. Peace Treaties
  6. Pacifism and Quietism
    1. Individual Pacifism
    2. Societal Pacifism
    3. Quietism
  7. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Judaism is a system of law and ethics whose scope of regulation is designed to cover nearly every area of human action. Unlike many other religious legal systems, the mandate of Jewish law is limited only by the scope of human activity; no area of activity is free from direction, either ethical, legal or both. Unlike many secular legal systems, Jewish law and ethics does not, however, set its boundaries at merely determining what is legal or illegal; Jewish law also regulates that which is ethical.2 Frequently Jewish law will conclude that certain activity is completely legal, but is not ethically correct.3 This article reviews Jewish law's attitude to one of areas of modern social behavior that "law" as an institution has shied away from regulating, and which "ethics" as a discipline has failed to successfully regulate: war. In this area, as in many others, the legal and the ethical are freely combined in the Jewish tradition.

This article will start with a review of the legal or ethical issues raised that can justify the starting of war (jus ad bellum). This issue is crucial for any discussion of the ethics of the battlefield itself in the Jewish tradition. As developed below, there are numerous different theories as to why and when it is morally permissible to start a war which will kill people. What theory one adopts to justify the war, and what category of "war" any particular military activity is placed in, significantly effects what type of conduct is legally or morally permissibly on the battlefield (jus in bello). This article continues by addressing various ethical issues raised by military activity as they would be chronologically encountered as hostilities advanced and then recede including a discussion of the issues raised by peace treaties and pacifism in the Jewish tradition.

This article demonstrates that the Jewish tradition has within it a moral license which permits war (and killing) which is different from the usual rules of individualized self-defense. However, the permissibility to "wage war" is quite limited in the Jewish tradition and the requirement that one always seek a just peace is part and parcel of the process that one must use to wage a legitimate war. The love of peace and the pursuit of peace, as well as the eradication of evil, all co-exist in the Jewish tradition, each in its place and to be used in its proper time.

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