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SEEKING PEACE PRIOR TO STARTING WAR ACCORDING TO JEWISH LAW

10/27/2023 12:22:38 PM

Oct27

The Bible clearly sets out the obligation to seek peace as a prelude to any military activity; absent the seeking of peace, the use of force in a war violates Jewish law. It is apparent that while one need not engage in negotiations over the legitimacy of one's goals, one must explain what one is seeking through this military action and what military goals are (and are not) sought. Before this seeking of peace, battle is prohibited. Rabbi Yossi Hagalili is quoted as stating "How meritorious is peace? Even in a time of war one must initiate all activities with a request for peace" This procedural requirement is quite significant: it prevents the escalation of hostilities and allows both sides to rationally plan the cost of war and the virtues of peace.

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), in his commentary on the Bible, indicates that the obligation to seek peace prior to firing the first shot is limited to Authorized wars. However, in Obligatory or Compulsory wars there is no obligation to seek a peaceful solution. Indeed, such a position can be found in the Sifri, one of oldest of the midrashic source books of Jewish law. Maimonides, in his classic code of Jewish law states:

One does not wage war with anyone in the world until one seeks peace with him. It is true both of authorized and obligatory wars, as it says [in the Bible] "when you approach a city to wage war, you must first call out for peace." If they respond positively and accept the seven Noachide commandments, one may not kill any of them and they shall pay tribute...

It is clear, however, according to both schools of thought, that in Authorized wars one must initially seek a negotiated settlement of the cause of the war (although, it is crucial to add, Jewish law does not require that each side compromise its claim, to reach a peaceful solution). Additional to this obligation is the need that the goal of the war be communicated to one's opponents. One must detail to one enemy the basic goals of the war, and what one seeks as a victory in this conflict. This allows one's opponents to evaluate the costs of the war and to seek a rationale peace. Peace must be genuinely sought before war may begin.

There is a fundamental secondary dispute present in this obligation. Maimonides requires that the peaceful surrender terms offered must include an acknowledgement of an agreement to follow the seven laws of Noah, which (Jewish law asserts) govern all members of the world and form the basic groundwork for moral behavior; part and parcel of the peace must be the imposition of ethical values on the defeated society. Nachmanides does not list that requirement as being necessary for the "peaceful" cessation of hostilities. He indicates that it is the military goals alone which determine whether peace terms are acceptable. According to Nachmanides, Jewish law would compel the "victor" to accept peace terms which include all the victors' demands except the imposition of ethical values in the defeated society; Maimonides would reject that rule and permit war in those circumstances purely to impose ethical value in a non-ethical society.

Israel tried every viable avenue!

A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time for war and a time for peace. – Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)

Sun, April 14 2024 6 Nisan 5784