Is the Jewish culture derived from the Canaanite culture

One of the earliest systematic attempts to define just war within the framework of Western culture goes back to the Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo (345-430). (...) Augustine's system was later further developed by the Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274).

In his opinion, the following prerequisites are necessary in order to be able to call a war just: There is a legitimate ruler; there is a legitimate reason for war; the warring party's intent is just; war is the last resort to correct an injustice; there must be the prospect of an eventual peace after the end of hostilities, and the use of military force must be proportionate to the aggression. (...)

Before we look at the Jewish sources on warfare, it must be emphasized that the Jewish people in the Diaspora did not have an army and were therefore unable to influence their situation as a people and religious community through armed conflicts. Rather, it was more in the position of the victim of violence. The rabbinical interpretations and their understanding of the biblical scriptures therefore had only theoretical significance until the establishment of the State of Israel.

In the Torah, on the other hand, there are numerous descriptions of violent conflicts, in particular the Canaanite wars of conquest and the conflict with the mythical people of Amalek (Exodus 17:14). While biblical Judaism cannot be called pacifist, there is, as it were, a tendency to use violence only in a "controlled" manner. In addition to legislative authority, warfare was the raison d'être of the Jewish ruler: "That we too should be like all the peoples and that our king should judge us and go ahead and wage our wars" (1 Samuel 8:20). However, the king's actions were also subject to various laws and only authorized to use state power under precisely defined circumstances.

The Torah differentiates between the commanded war (Milchemet Mitzvah) and the permitted war (Milchemet Reschut). These wars differ both in the criteria leading to the conflict and in the conduct of the war itself.

Commanded War Probably the most important Jewish scholar Maimonides distinguishes between three cases of Commanded War: 1. First, the wars against the seven peoples of Canaan, commanded by God to conquer the Promised Land, 2. the defensive war against an aggressor, and 3. the war against the people the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:19). The biblical Jewish ruler was able to make the decision to wage a commanded war himself and did not need the approval of the Sanhedrin to do so. He alone determined the point in time when acts of war broke out. This extensive autonomy of the king goes back to the divine command to conquer and colonize the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 9: 1). During such a war there was general conscription (Maimonides Mishne Tora. Melachim Umilchamot 5: 1–2) from the age of 20 (Numbers 1,3).

The war against the peoples of Canaan was unlimited and merciless in its execution. The uncompromising nature of this conflict is justified by the lack of morality of the peoples living in the country (Deuteronomy 9: 5) and their negative influence on the Israelite tribes: “So that they do not teach you to do like all their atrocities that they do for theirs Gods done and you sin against the Eternal your God ”(Deuteronomy 20:18). It should be noted that as early as the first century CE the scholar Yehoshua ben Hananiah declared that the "seven peoples" can no longer be identified as such (Mishnah Jadajim 4: 4). The conflict with the "seven peoples of Canaan" was a singular case in history and is therefore only of importance for reasons of cultural and historical interest. At no time did it influence the Jewish understanding of warfare. (...)

On the other hand, the use of force as self-defense and to protect innocent people is not only permitted, but required. Judaism emphasizes the right of the individual to avert a violent attack by all means, even if the aggressor is killed in the process. This principle goes back to the biblical example of the burglar who is killed by the householder (Exodus 22: 1). This right to avert aggression by violent means is found repeatedly in Jewish sources. (...)

The right to self-defense and to integrity is comprehensive. In the case of immediate mortal danger, it is expressly permitted to take up arms even on Shabbat (Eruwin 45a). Maimonides expands this commandment and teaches that it is forbidden to wait for the outcome of the Shabbat (Maimonides: Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 3:23). In the Talmudic tradition, however, there are limits to the use of force and self-defense. The host who opposes the burglar is therefore not allowed to kill him if it is clear that the thief does not intend to use lethal force. (...)

Permitted war Only after the successful completion of the commanded war was the Israelite ruler permitted to wage a permitted war "to expand the borders of the country" (Maimonides: Mishne Tora. Melachim Umilchamot 5,1). However, the king was only authorized to wage war after obtaining the approval of the Great Sanhedrin (71 judges). In addition, the king had to obtain the consent of the high priest, or the oracle "Urim Wetummim" had to be consulted. (...)

During Permitted Wars, there are express exceptions to general conscription. The Torah makes it clear that those who are newlyweds, who have built a new house, and those who have grown a new vineyard are exempt from military service (Deuteronomy 20: 5–7). In addition, timid and fearful men were allowed to stay out of the fighting (Deuteronomy 20: 8).

Before acts of war can break out, an offer of peace with possible tribute obligations must be made to the enemy (Deuteronomy 20, 10-11). Furthermore, the conquered people had to undertake to fulfill the Seven Noachidic Commandments (Maimonides: Mishne Tora. Melachim Umilchamot 6,1). According to Maimonides ’understanding, the obligation of the peace offer applied to both wars that were bid and wars that were allowed. A military attack is only permitted after such an offer has been refused.

The book of Joshua repeatedly mentions such offers of peace and emphasizes that with one exception all peoples refused the offer of peace and had to be defeated in battle (Joshua 11:19). Should the population refuse the offer, then in the case of a permitted war it is only allowed to kill the male population, but not women and children, who are treated as spoils of war. This restriction does not exist during a war of war against the seven native peoples or against Amalek (Deuteronomy 20: 13-16; Deuteronomy 25:19).

The Jewish tradition also regulates the behavior of the warring parties after the outbreak of fighting in order to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population. Care must be taken, for example, that a besieged city is only enclosed on three sides in order to allow the population a chance to escape (Maimonides: Mishne Tora. Melachim Umilchamot 6,7). During hostilities it is still forbidden to fell fruit-bearing trees (Deuteronomy 20:19) or to cut them off from the water supply. From this it is deduced that vandalism and willful destruction are generally prohibited. Furthermore, there are biblical examples of treating the defeated opponent with grace.

Prisoners Judaism also deals extensively with the problem of releasing prisoners of war. In general, no distinction is made between civilians and uniformed soldiers. In the Talmud (Baba Batra 8b) Pidjon Schwujim, the release of prisoners, is described as "a particularly good work", since imprisonment is worse than hunger and death. Maimonides emphasizes that there is no greater mitzvah than redeeming prisoners (Mishneh Torah). (...) Despite this emphasis, the liberation of prisoners is also subject to the principle of proportionality: "Do not release any prisoners beyond their worth as a preventive institution" (Mishnah Gittin 4, 6) to prevent the kidnapping of Jews for the purpose of Not promoting financial extortion.

This proportionality discussion became relevant again in October 2011 when the Israeli government released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held in captivity for over five years, both proponents and opponents of this agreement relying on Jewish sources. This prisoner exchange was not the first disproportionate agreement with terrorist organizations to rescue an Israeli soldier.

Due to the significant negative impact on the psyche of the population and the conscripts, the Israeli army issued the so-called Hannibal Order, which calls on every Israeli soldier to do everything possible to prevent an imminent kidnapping of a soldier; this expressly includes the killing of the soldier.

The author is a military rabbi in the US Army. His text (here slightly abbreviated) appeared in »Teach me, Eternal, Your Way. Ethics in Judaism «. Published by the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Swiss Association of Israelites, Hentrich & Hentrich, Berlin 2015, 328 pages, € 24.90.