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Guardians vs. Destroyers

Guardians vs. Destroyers


Listening to media reports from Israel over the last few weeks, I began to wonder how a terrorist group came to be viewed as a legitimate government. When did we start treating those who blow themselves up on busses and lob rockets into kindergartens as soldiers in a legitimate army? How did the news media morph lawless terrorists into formal combatants?

The answer is, of course, that Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinian people. The implication being that once a terrorist group is empowered by the people it should be granted international recognition.

Our sages taught differently.

Rabbi Yehudah sent his disciples Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi to tour Jewish communities across the land of Israel. When the two would arrive to a city they would ask to see the city's "guardians." The citizens would invariably usher in the commanders of the city's guard, to which the rabbis would remark, "These are not the city's guardians, these are its destroyers."

Why did the rabbis insist that the city guardians destroy that which they are sworn to protect?The townspeople would then inquire, "Who are the city's guardians?" The rabbis would reply, "The scribes and the teachers, who study, teach and preserve the Torah day and night."1

We can easily understand that Torah study offers spiritual protection, but why did the rabbis insist that the city guardians destroy that which they are sworn to protect?

Lawful, But Immoral

A police force is an instrument of violence; the gun held by a policeman is no less violent than the one held by a terrorist. The only difference between them is the rule that governs them. The police force is governed by the rule of law whereas the terrorist is governed by the rule of anarchy.

But what happens when the law that governs the police derives from immoral policies? What happens when a democratically elected government unleashes a barrage of rockets against innocent civilians? What happens when commanders direct their troops to open fire against women and children or when armies force civilians to act as human shields? The very agencies charged with protecting the city, end up destroying its moral fiber.

Legality does not always equate with morality. Hitler directed his armies to enforce legal, but immoral laws and unleashed a holocaust such as the world had never seen. Brutal dictators use their armies to consolidate power, terrorize their population and rape their own country. This trait goes back to Biblical times. The laws of Sodom were legal, but cruel. When Lot invited guests into his home the people demanded that they be brought out and sodomized. This immoral practice, forever linked to the cursed city, was enforced by its judges and guardians. They were not guardians; they were destroyers.

This does not mean that all security forces are immoral. We are required by Torah to appoint guardians in our cities and at our gates; we are not permitted to disband our security forces and rely on miraculous protection. However, for a security force to secure, rather than destroy, it must be governed by laws that are consistent with absolute moral values.

Teachers who inspire and direct the guardians' conduct are the city's true source of protectionA city that turns to its scribes and teachers for guidance, secures its own protection. Because the teachers formulate policies that are predicated on Torah true values, which in turn guide the lawmakers in their legislation. These laws direct the security forces to conduct themselves in a manner that protects rather than destroys.

Teachers and scribes, who inspire and direct the guardians' conduct, are the city's true source of protection. That is why Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi described the scribes as the city protectors and the guardians – when disassociated from the teachers – as its destroyers.

If the two rabbis were alive today they might have stated it thusly: Governments that are democratically elected, but are driven by cruel and immoral policies, are sources of destruction. They might have legal legitimacy. But they cannot be recognized by the international community until they develop moral legitimacy.2


Pesichta D'Eichah Rabbah 1:2.


Sichos Kodesh of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 19 Kislev, 5729.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to The Judaism Website— He has lectured extensively on a variety of Jewish topics, and his articles have appeared in many print and online publications. For more on Rabbi Gurkow and his writings, visit
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Lazer Gurkow January 13, 2009

Footsoldiers It is easy to reccommend war strategies from a comfortable couch. However, we must leave the strategy making to the commanders on the ground.

On the underlying point you make, I know that Halacha does not agree with your thesis. Most, if not all, of the halachic authorities in our generation agree that there is no requirement to put footsoldiers in excesive danger to avoid all civilian casualties. Reply

Mog Rhod (Bill Rhodes) Novato, CA. January 12, 2009

Please Rabbi I believe terrorism is the highest cowardice, but in gradations this progresses down from air support, down to artillery and then to the common foot soldier with a gun. Yes I personally think even all guns are cowardly, regardless of sides.

Yet the State of Israel must survive, and there is an insane rhetoric of extremism on the other side...vengeful and hateful.

Yet I would recommend the rest of the job of Gaza be put more in the foot soldiers hands...regardless of individual price. And instead of artillery in an urban environment, an immediate follow up unit of either IDF or IDF rabbis bringing bread and baby formula to ordinary Palestinians.

So the picture of the footsoldier with the pistol is exemplary of the courage of which am talking about. I know this is painful for all Israelis and my Jewish friends worldwide and hope what have said is helpful. Sincere regrets if have added to anyone's anguish. Reply

Anonymous Weston, Fl January 8, 2009

It's Edom all over again This i a result of assimilation. The reason I say this is because Jews own and or work within the western media. Look up the food chain, you'll find a Jew sitting in his/her chair, oblivious and well to put it frankly, asleep. Reply

Jessica USA January 5, 2009

Very informative I loved this article and found it very enlightening. It's a real treat to read Torah ideas that apply to complex systems like government. How true. As the historical philosopher Vico wrote, the Jews possess knowledge of the one true G-d, which has allowed them to outlive the "accidents" and "horrors" of history (see This Is My God, by Herman Wouk). As long as we're grounded in Torah, no historical torrents can wash us away. Reply

Nicky H Crestview, FL, USA January 2, 2009

well written thank you for your words. I pray for a speedy end to the evil in Hamas. Reply

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