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Should a Jewish State Have an Army?

Should a Jewish State Have an Army?

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Question:

Should a Jewish state have an Army? Isn't it un-Jewish to kill people? How would Judaism apply the law from the Ten Commandments, "You shall not kill" in modern Israel?

Answer:

You may be surprised to learn that nowhere in the Ten Commandments or the entire Bible does it say "You shall not kill". Understanding this is vital to a true appreciation of Biblical morality.

The original Hebrew is "Lo tirtzach", which means "Do not murder". The Hebrew word for killing is "hariga", a completely different verb. There is a world of significance in this choice of words.

Murder is the taking of innocent life, which is always forbidden. Killing is the taking of any life, which is sometimes permitted or even obligatory. The Bible commands us to kill those who have irreversibly lost their innocence. There are two categories of such people:

1) Someone who is found guilty in a court of certain crimes, such as murder or kidnapping.

2) Someone who is posing a clear and direct threat to the lives of innocents. An example would be an armed gunman who breaks into someone else's home (Exodus 22:2).

I believe this is the most consistent and compassionate moral system. Above all else, innocent life is protected, both by the commandment not to murder and the commandment to kill those who are a threat to innocent people.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Feigele Boca Raton FL March 7, 2016

Going on for thousandth of years! I tend to think that in today’s world it is imperative for every country to have an army. But, then, hasn’t been the same for thousandth of years, people fighting. They didn’t call themselves “army”, they were groups of people from different parts of the world. Today we call them “army” because they acquired more powerful arms, which results to the same killing for territory and power. It’s a mad world and unless G-d swirls his magic wand upon us, nothing will change. Reply

KarenJoyceChayaFradleKleinmanBell Riverside, CA USA via jewishriverside.com March 5, 2016

One day, may there be a change of attitude among all people. Imagine if all people in the world suddenly put down their weapons and started loving, liking and wanting the best for each other. All people. Wouldn't peace be wonderful? I know that is not possible yet, but I have hope for our grandchildren's time that all of the sides will put their weapons down and live peaceably together. I dream and pray for this to happen, even if it happens long after our generation leaves this earth to be in the bosom of Abraham. Reply

suzy handler Woodland hills, ca March 3, 2016

Yes! Look what's happening to many Catholics in foreign countries. ISIS is cutting off heads and killing them for not
worshiping in the Muslim faith. They are not protected by an army. If they started this in the U.S. what would you do? Join our army or go down defeated? Reply

Simcha M Bart for Chabad.org March 2, 2016

Though suicide is considered a grave offense in Judaism - some even likening it to murder, yet with regards to the laws of mourning and burial we apply a more lenient approach. Therefore, after the fact, we give a suicide the benefit of the doubt. We usually assume that they were not in control of their mental faculties at the time and they are not to be held responsible for their actions. Reply

Anonymous February 29, 2016

Murder vs killing You forgot the punishments for adultery and for blasphemy Reply

Jeanette Dallas Texas February 29, 2016

Is suicide murder or killing? Reply

suzy handler woodland hills, ca September 25, 2015

With ISIS out there, it is better to have an army. Other countries do. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL March 14, 2015

Nature's necessity! Animals killing to survive. Is it murder? same for humans when in need to survive by defending themselves. It is not murder, it is G-d's will by creating such a world and nature's necessity. But one should not rejoice in doing so and still ask for forgiveness. When predators are so foolish to attack they must face consequences and thus they offer their lives by taking such chances. So by defending yourself you are not taking lives that are offered to you for the taking. Reply

James Davis March 2, 2015

should a Jewish State have an army Inevitably it has to, to avoid be set upon and destroyed. My question is would there be conscription? Also killing and murder are both the taking of a life that doesn't belong to you, so it is theft either way. What is Eretz Yisrael, without moshiach and the redemption of humanity? Also I must say that even murder can be forgiven through true repentance and proper action to repair the damage done, which if you have killed you can't really do, repairing the damage that is. I believe the only reason most people support Israel, either guilt over the Shoah, or to establish a pro-Western, pro-Capitlalist bastion in the Middle East. Reply

Anonymous toronto March 2, 2015

Amalek It is a commandment to wipe out Amalek and Amalek is a diabolic face of the community. There is no repentance for them or their deeds. Killing or murder is prohibited but such a commandment need not be included , it should be understood that it is wrong. Reply

Josh Seattle, WA March 2, 2015

Jason - The commandments in question say that the King should not have too many horses, too many wives, and too much money. Part of the reason for the warning against "too many horses" was that we could come to rely too much on foreign allies and weapons, and not enough on Hashem's protection and willingness to fight for us directly.

This said, the Torah doesn't specifically prohibit the maintenance of an army. It's part of our responsibility to defend ourselves. Reply

Rafi Sadurian Canada March 2, 2015

So according to the above explanation it is ok for a Palestinian to kill a Jew, since according to the former he considers the Jewish occupier as a threat to his existence, and of course the same could be said vise-versa. A vicious circle. Reply

Margaret Australia March 2, 2015

Should Israel have a army Yep. Why should every country have a army but not Israel?
How many countries claims the Bible yet start these wars/battles?
Israel is only defending themselves. If they can't, we'd have another Holocaust Reply

Anonymous Utah March 1, 2015

My answer must be yes. Also the Jewish communities must open their eyes to the world around them. I have never been the kind of person who involved myself with politics. But when I see genocide of any people my eyes must be opened. Our Jewish home land must have an army! Will we be the next that Isis will begin to murder? We must never forget the world under the Nazi and the murder of six million. Can we sit back and forget those who survived and said never forget! Should we close our eyes to a country that wants only to murder our people? Will we invite genocide saying Isis is never able to reach the land given to us by G-d? Our communities here and all over the world must say, no more! Terrorism and anti-semitism is very much alive. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI April 26, 2013

A Jewish State SHOULD have an army! For centuries, Jews have been treated terribly, and they shouldn't continue to sit down and tolerate it! Reply

jason taylor February 9, 2013

Israel's king is however forbidden to gather chariots. Is that forbidding a standing army? Or does that not apply to a republic as opposed to a monarchy? Or(to be flippant) can that be solved by ceasing to name tanks "Merkava"?

Humor aside, the Torah does seem to discourage maintaining an army as opposed to raising one. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton, Florida May 3, 2012

Big Nuance in Words My words were misinterpreted in my comments on another subject about war casualties. I said that it was against the Torah to kill meaning to murder anyone but someone interpreted it as killing in wars was against the Torah. It is unavoidable and permitted by the Torah to kill in wars, as it is an act of self-defense or reclaiming one's land and not a murder one.
Any country should have an army so why shouldn't Israel--it is a country too! Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA via jewishriverside.com June 7, 2010

This is a timely topic, with the recent news. I didn't understand why the Gaza strip was so important to Israel until I looked it up on the internet. I was so SHOCKED. People around the world don't get it. How would ANY of the other countries like it if MILLIONS of terrorists committed to their destruction were suddenly able to control their seaports? America would CERTAINLY not let those boats into our ports. In fact, after 9-11, we STRENGTHENED security, and made a law that if any enemy airplane invaded our airspace, we'd shoot them down first and ask questions later. How hypocritical of us as a nation to insist that Israel was wrong for boarding that one boat which wouldn't submit to inspection and insisted on coming into the harbor like nothing was wrong. Any terrorist can put a "PEACE BOAT" sign on their boat. Why can't the WORLD see this? Reply

May Millar Edinburgh, Scotland November 19, 2009

Threat of Terrorism Hi friends

I am a friend and supporter of The State of Israel and the IDF. I have posted a comment before about this matter and of course, agree that the Divine Commandment "You Should Not Kill", only applies to the taking of "innocent lives" and not to the brave men and women who serve their country to protect "you and I" from "The Forces of Evil" e.g. "The Taliban" and other Muslim Extremist groups, who wish to threaten "civilised society". A few months ago the "Scottish Army" were in Waterloo Place, in Edinburgh and I talked with two of these gentlemen. They were delighted when I told them that I admired the essential work they were doing in Afghanistan. One soldier told me he had also served in Iraq and said it could take "ten years or more" to sort out the Taliban, who were always increasing in number. Afghan women are being killed and tortured by the "evil regime" and have begged The British and American Forces not to leave them. I hope they will remain there.

Shalom Reply

Chesed Yocheved Avraham Ariel, Israel October 30, 2009

soldiering in the IDF with proud To my dear faithful soldiers that serve IDF with all their heart and soul, may you be always be protected and proud of yourself. No matter what reason put you there, or you have, but one i know you do it for "the love of the our land,Yisrael, our people, our Torah and most of all, OUR SUVIVAL AS A PEOPLE" Reply

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