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"Is War Hell?"

08/22/2018 01:30:10 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

Matanya Robinson was the son of dear friends of a colleague of mine.  Matanya died at the age of 21 in April of 2002 while his IDF unit was going door-to-door in Jenin searching for terrorists.  One of the reasons Matanya died was because of the IDF policy to risk the lives of its own soldiers in searching for terrorists rather than merely bombing a building that might be housing terrorists.  This policy is meant to eliminate the risk of taking the lives of innocent people when searching for known terrorists.  It is, in fact, the most moral way to deal with a terrible situation.  there is no doubt that we, the People Israel, regard every life as precious.  That is why we mourn for the loss of those Egyptian lives that took place as we were taken out slavery by the "hand" of HaShem.  Because terrorists who have already committed horrible murders must be held accountable for their actions, the IDF goes "the extra mile" to try to ensure that innocent civilians are protected.  But what is the origin of this policy?  We find it in this week's parashah, Parashat Ki Teitzei.


Parashat Ki Teitzei begins with the law that speaks of the case of the soldier who goes out to war, captures a beautiful woman, and takes her home to be his wife.  Our Torah commands this soldier to shave this woman's head, let her finger nails grow long, and allow her to remain in his home crying for the entire month following the death of her parents who have perished in the war.  Please remember that at this time in the history of our people as well as those of all the other ancient Middle Eastern countries, the laws of war included the elimination of entire populations who were conquered, this being carried out by the conquering army.  To be sure, prisoners were taken, and, as was often the case, these included women who were taken by members of the conquering army to become wives.  While it may be hard to understand, our Torah was actually legislating something that was unheard of in ancient warfare: showing compassion to captives.  How, you may ask, is this woman who has been taken captive being shown compassion by shaving her head, letting her fingernails grow long, and sitting there crying for a month?


We look to Maimonides (Rambam) who states that this time period of a "hands-off" approach regarding the woman captive allowed her time to decide if she wanted to become a part of the People Israel.  According to Rambam, she was under no circumstances to be forced to convert to Judaism (something that Nachmanides [Ramban] stated was supposed to happen).  Her captor could attempt to convince her to do so, but at the end of the 30-day waiting period, it became the woman's decision to either convert or not convert.  Obviously she had to convert in order for the soldier who captured her to take her as his wife.  But if she did not wish to covert, she then had to be set free.  She could not be treated as or sold as a slave.  Our Torah forced the soldier who captured this woman to treat her in such a way that he had to view her as a person and treat her accordingly.


To be sure, the law of the captive woman as stated in our Torah does not present an ideal situation.  But neither does war.  At times, war becomes a violent, horrible, but necessary part of life.  Because we are the People Israel, we can be proud of our long tradition of conducting ourselves in a moral manner when faced with the horrors of war.  And we can certainly be proud of the way the IDF conducts itself in this day and age.


Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781