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What Judaism Says About Drones

Jewish tradition is weighted definitively against pacifism. But does that mean drone warfare is kosher?

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Israeli soldiers get ready to launch the Skylark drone during a drill on Jan. 16, 2012, near Bat Shlomo, Israel. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Are drones an ethical tool of war? In the past 10 years, as Israel and the United States have increasingly relied on unmanned aerial vehicles to kill enemy combatants, that question has become extremely pressing for policymakers, politicians, and just war theorists.

Advocates of drones contend that the remote-controlled vehicles are merely a delivery mechanism for conventional weapons: They do not kill, maim, or injure in ways or numbers that can be invidiously distinguished from cruise missiles, bombers, or artillery. On the contrary, they often add a level of verification and precision unmatched by other types of tools. And they enable proactive defense in ways that were previously impossible. Critics contend that drones make war prohibitively easy.

What, if anything, does Judaism have to add to this debate? Anyone who tells you that Jewish law has a definitive stance on the use of aerial drones—or any other public issue—is selling you something. This isn’t simply because Jewish tradition is complex and multi-vocal. It’s because Jewish law is often technically irrelevant to non-Jews, who are not bound by the majority of its dictates. Thus, even if Jewish sources told us something about the obligations of Jewish drone pilots, or even about how the state of Israel should or should not deploy drones, they would not necessarily make the same demands on policymakers in the United States or the European Union. A useful Jewish perspective on drones, then, is a philosophical argument that incorporates the concepts, tensions, and arguments of halakha (Jewish law) in an effort to inform the general debate.

***

Before we get to the details, we need to establish a fundamental premise: While Judaism never celebrates war, the overwhelming weight of Jewish tradition is against pacifism, for both Jews and non-Jews. For example, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik argues in his commentary to Maimonides’ Laws of Murder that there is a universal human obligation to use deadly force when necessary to protect potential murder victims. Likewise, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, head of the famed Yeshiva of Volzohin, writes in his commentary to Genesis 9:5 that the Torah demands punishment for the shedding of the blood of a human being only “from the hand of his brother-man”—but not for killing in wartime, when men are legitimately not brothers.

Some oppose drone warfare because it allows someone from side A to kill someone from side B without any risk that side B will kill him first. To the best of my knowledge, however, Judaism has never recognized unsportsmanlike conduct as a violation of military ethics. In westerns, it is often considered unethical to shoot an unarmed man, even if you and everyone else in the room knows that the man is not unarmed by choice, and that he will do his best to kill you the moment he lays hands on a viable weapon. Judaism by contrast contends that “One who comes to kill you, anticipate and kill him first” (Talmud Sanhedrin 72a). Maimonides writes (Laws of Theft 9:7) that one may kill someone whom one has a reasonable expectation will try to kill you “using any deadly means that will be effective.” There is no intrinsic Jewish reason to avoid using guns against knives, or tanks against cavalry, so long as the knives or cavalry pose a genuine threat to one’s life.

What of the argument that drone warfare violates international law? Prominent Jewish legal thinkers, such as the great 20th-century religious Zionist jurist Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, have argued that Judaism mandates obedience to international law in warfare and other matters. So, it might follow that Jewish law forbids drone warfare as well. However, even if one concedes the principle that international law carries significant Jewish weight—and in a different context I might dispute that principle sharply—that weight would apply only to settled international law. Drones are new enough that no settled international law exists regarding their use.

Thus, so long as a plausible argument exists for the legality of drone warfare, Jewish law would avoid ruling on it so as to avoid an excessive entanglement of religion with politics. Since Jewish law will eventually recognize whichever position the international system adopts, deciding it now will correctly be understood as preemptively imposing a secular predisposition without Jewish basis. This can only diminish respect for halakhic authority, especially as the decision may soon be summarily reversed when the secular authorities reach a consensus on the issue.

I don’t find these objections to drone warfare compelling.

***

But I do believe that serious Jewish and ethical objections to drone warfare arise out of three other questions:

1) When one side of a war develops a qualitative technological advantage, must it ethically consider what will happen on future battlefields when the technology spreads? Or is it rather entitled to win its own war and leave the future to be negotiated?

Judaism generally sees ethics as a device by which the strong constrain themselves. As Pirkei Avot teaches, “Who is powerful? The one who conquers his evil inclination.” As such, I think there is room for a Jewish argument that imposes ethical responsibility for the consequences of drone warfare beyond the immediate military horizon.

Drones have the potential to allow totalitarian governments an unprecedented capacity to observe the actions of their subjects, and they likely will also give them the capacity to kill their political opponents with less risk of politically dangerous collateral damage. These are the same capacities that make drones attractive to the United States. Should the destructive potential of widespread drone use militate against our development and use of them? A Jewish approach to drones would take responsibility for not only our own deployments, but also for the ways in which our precedent will reverberate.

2) To what extent should one object to particular weapons because they provide the potential and temptation to abuse, even if they have highly legitimate uses?

Rabbinic law is largely composed of seyagim, legal “fences” erected to prevent individuals or communities from setting foot on slippery slopes. Thus, chicken may not be cooked with milk lest one come to cook beef with milk; one may not read by candlelight on Shabbat, in case one might come to adjust the flame; and one should avoid romantic precursors with forbidden sexual partners. Along these lines, a strong Jewish argument can be made for proactively regulating weapons to prevent potential abuses.

Such an argument unfolds as follows: Drone warfare has enabled the United States and Israel to carry out preemptive attacks outside their borders against persons allegedly threatening their security, at very low risk to their own personnel. The Obama Administration has used them to kill an American citizen abroad who recruited suicide bombers, even though that citizen had not engaged in violence himself and had never been tried by a U.S. court. It is likely that, were drones unavailable, a simple cost-benefit analysis would have prevented many of those attacks. But drones dramatically change that equation, and one might conclude that no leader could withstand the pressure to use them in deeply problematic circumstances. As such, the only way to prevent such alluring abuse would be to impose strict regulations on drone use, carefully circumscribing how they can be deployed.

3) Do drones make the prospect of perpetual, if undeclared, war more likely, and is this objectionable?

Over the past 50 years, the concept of “declaring war” has generally declined, but this decline has been particularly marked in the United States, for political reasons. Since the U.S. Constitution reserves to Congress the right to declare war, the weakening of that concept has led to an increase in executive authority, such that executives can fight decade-long police actions without a declaration. Drones offer the capacity to accomplish military objectives without committing troops to foreign soil, and therefore likely without need for explicit congressional approval. If one opposes this trend, drones are a troubling development.

This is indeed a vexing issue. However, it is not one that can be resolved by resorting to Jewish texts. In fact, there is little or no direct Jewish precedent for the idea that the status of war is created verbally, by the declaration of one or more sides, rather than simply by circumstances. From the Jewish vantage point, what matters is not a formal announcement, but whether or not there is an ongoing violent conflict between significant political entities. In other words, Jewish law has little stake in whether war is officially declared.

Nor is there extensive Jewish discussion of whether it is best to distinguish sharply between war and peace—as the United States previously has—rather than see the two as existing on a continuum. Each of these models has its pros and cons. A binary war/peace system has the advantage of barring violence in the absence of any formal declaration of war. But it runs the risk of encouraging significant escalation beyond immediate political or security goals once war is declared and all bets are off. By contrast, a more flexible model of war and peace decreases the risk of such escalation at the cost of constant lower levels of violence. Drones make the latter model more likely, at least until the drones are explicitly and formally regulated by international law. But from a Jewish perspective, whether this is advisable is a purely political question outside the scope of traditional sources.

***

To sum up, I see no Jewish reason to object intrinsically to warfare by remotely piloted vehicle any more than one would object to warfare by tank or naval destroyer. However, I see reasonable arguments for believing that the availability of drones makes certain forms of problematic policy choices more likely and that, in the absence of proactive regulation, drone warfare will have more pernicious consequences as the technology becomes more widely available.

I don’t think there are particularly Jewish ways to discuss the likelihood of those consequences; those are practical questions to be addressed by experts, not rabbis. But it seems to me that Judaism can contribute to the conversation by insisting that the conversation include long-term and indirect as well as short-term and direct effects. As Rabbi Shimon says in Pirkei Avot 2:9: “Which is the straight path to which human beings should cleave? The one that considers consequences.”

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ginzy1 says:

For the record (and this is before I’ve read the article) the drones portrayed in the accompanying photo are short-range surveillance drones that are physically incapable of carrying any sort of weapon. They are meant to be carried (disassembled) in a soldier’s backpack in forward infantry units that provide a battlefield picture for officers & soldiers on the ground.

hg

ginzy1 says:

Now that I’ve read the article…

It’s very nice to sit safely ensconced in one’s Boston study and pontificate on how Israel should conduct it’s ongoing, never ending anti-terrorism warfare.

I am sure that before he placed a finger on the keyboard Rabbi Klapper carefully learned all the military issues by volunteering for combat units in the IDF, undergoing 9 months of basic and advanced training required of all combat soldiers, gained some actual experience on the ground in and near Gaza, spoke to the officers who plan the attacks, spoke to the combat lawyers (yes, the IDF employs squads of lawyers to pass on these sorts of attacks) who have experience in deciding whether or not the drone operator pulls the trigger, and spoke to the soldiers involved.

And I am sure he must have spoken to the parents of combat soldiers who were exposed to that much less risk because of the drones (full disclosure — I have two sons and one son-in-law who serve in IDF combat units).

And I am sure he also spoke to the scads of civilians in Sderot, Ashqelon, Beersheva and other communities around the Gaza envelope who endured a few less rockets because some Hamas rocketeers or their commanders or their suppliers (news flash: Qassam & Katyusha & Fajar rockets do not grow on trees, even in Gaza) were bumped off by a drone strike.

It must be nice to be able to be self-righteous on the backs of other people’s lives.

Rabbi Klapper seems to have forgotten a very important principle of p’sak — A Rav should gain a complete understanding of the metzi’ut, the reality on the ground BEFORE issuing a halachic opinion. Rabbi Klapper was ordained at YU. As part of their studies in Yoreh Dei’ah, YU requires (at least they used to) their rabbinical students to spend some time in a slaughterhouse to see how kosher slaughtering and inspection is done in practice. And this for rabbis who may never again see the edge of a shochet’s knife, let alone issue a ps’ak on a piece of cow. Why is warfare different?

One of the interesting and unique phenomenon in Israel since the earliest days of the state is the development of Hilchot Tzava, i.e., military halacha. Over the last two decades there has been an explosion (pun intended) of various kinds of scholarly works addressing and discussing and arguing about the myriad of practical halachic issues presented by the modern army (a.k.a., the IDF especially religious soldiers). At least 15 such sefarim exist.

The most interesting of the poskim who address these issues are those who have developed hands-on expertise by their own experience “on the ground” in specific combat units. This one knows infantry situations, that one is an expert on armored warfare, a third knows naval stuff (ok, this one is not on the ground), another was a fighter pilot, etc. etc. Many were officers. One such possek was the commanding officer of an elite paratrooper reconnaissance unit. Did Rabbi Klapper consult any of them? Does he even know they exist?

Indeed one yeshiva even has a post-army kollel to research issues of military halacha in depth. Why post-army? Take a guess.

The IDF Chaplaincy corps has now focused its efforts on recruiting rabbis (both careerists and reservists) who served as combat soldiers before becoming rabbis. The reason should be obvious. If you don’t play the game, you shouldn’t make the rules.

Many years ago, the late, great US Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Jackson astutely observed that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Well, neither is international law. Even on the use of drones.

hg

J’lem / Efrata

    excellent comment. thank you.

    David says:

    I know you say you read the article, but given that NOWHERE in it
    does R’ Klapper issue a psak, or claim halakha mandates that Israel
    stops using drones, or even talk about Israel much at all, I have
    trouble believing you did so very carefully. In fact, R’ Klapper explicitly says he is not making a halakhically binding argument in the third paragraph.

    It’s a shame you didn’t address the actual contents of the article, because it seems you know a lot about these issues and would have much to contribute to a civil discussion of them.

      ginzy1 says:

      I know he wasn’t offering a psak but he (or the tablet editors) were giving the impression that he was offering a “Jewish law” (a.k.a. halacha) perspective on the topic. And by listing a sample of some of the fundamental issues he failed to address, I did address the contents of the article, if only in the breach.

      I don’t claim to be a possek by any stretch and I don’t even have semicha. But to make even a quasi-halachic statement on a military question without even mentioning these issues, let alone addressing them borders on halachic malpractice. If Tablet wants to publish some legitimate halachic analyses of military issues (definitely a worthy subject) it would behoove them to find a true expert on the topic who at least can identify the real issues beyond what is currently fashionable in PCness.

      hg

      ginzy1 says:

      Second sentence: “In the past 10 years, as Israel and the United
      States have increasingly relied on unmanned aerial vehicles to kill
      enemy combatants.” (emphasis added)

      Third paragraph, third sentence “…or even about how the state of Israel should or should not deploy drones,..” (emphasis added)

      Second paragraph in response to second question: “Drone warfare has enabled the United States and Israel to carry out preemptive attacks…:” (emphasis added)

      And of course the photo that graces the article shows Israeli soldiers working with drones (albeit surveillance drones).

      I guess you didn’t read the article all that carefully.

      hg

IMHO, it is a moral imperative for any commander to do whatever is needed to reduce casualties on his own side. Drones have proven to be a valuable tool in reducing friendly losses and increasing those of the enemy. And frankly, while I regret any innocent lives lost, enemies who proudly boast of killing civilians, especially children, are NOT on the moral high ground.

    Yechiel Gordon says:

    So, based on this principle, you would have supported this statement, articulated in your own terms, had it been made in the 1930’s: “It is a moral imperative for me, Werner Best, as a commander, to employ Zyklon B in order to reduce casualties on my own side. Zyklon B has proven to be a valuable tool — along with gas warfare — in reducing friendly losses and increasing those of the enemy.”

      Habbgun says:

      Yeah, really great example. Chemical warfare had been outlawed by mutual treaty after WW I and this was used as a means of killing civilians. Does trying to link Israel and the U.S. as being on the slippery slope to Nazi styled Fascism every end?

PhillipNagle says:

The enemy in both the case of Israel and the US has attacked the US using onconventional means such as suicide bombers and has never stopped plotting to do more damage to Israel and the US. For either the US or Israel to eliminate an effective weapon would be unfair to its citizens.

Daniel says:

Two issues: 1) I disagree with the conclusion that Judiasm does not support pacifism. It certainly supports defensive war, but in the absence of a king, sandhedrin, and the urim v’tummim (all required for a milchemet reshut), it does not support offensive war. 2) Your essay is an interesting foray into Jewish ethics, identifying principles on the basis of which the law should be founded, but it does not identify positive Jewish law as it stands. That will only emerge as a consensus develops among the poskim. But kudos for raising interesting ethical points.

Doctor Bucephalus says:

“Since Jewish law will eventually recognize whichever position the international system adopts, deciding it now will correctly be understood as preemptively imposing a secular predisposition without Jewish basis. This can only diminish respect for halakhic authority, especially as the decision may soon be summarily reversed when the secular authorities reach a consensus on the issue.”

As important as it is to recognize the autonomy of halachic thinking and inquiry, there’s a point I wanted to make over this position you casually dismiss as not compelling. If this position were the standard by which contemporary halachah operated on geo-political issues, there would be no Gush Emunim, the movement which usurped my Zionism, turned it into something altogether different, and altered our weltanschaungs to the point that of course we believe halachah should have opinions on modern warfare independently, regardless of what the world thinks. To wit, I offer Rav Tzvi Yehudah: “ועל אפם של מחרפי מערכות אלוקים חיים תגידו בפה מלא לפני כל העולם כלו כי יש לכם חלק באלוקי ישראל”

Yechiel Gordon says:

If one cares at all about US or international law, then the fact that drones are unmanned is essentially irrelevant, of course. What matters is the fact that the US is using drones to assassinate people — primarily civilians — without trial.

The use of drone assassination weaponry thus far constitutes obvious criminality — war crimes and crimes against humanity according to the Geneva Conventions and all relevant post-WWII international law, inspired by the crimes of the Nazis.

Of course, the pseudo war against terror provides the justification for anyone who chooses to give immunity to his favored nation for actions that would be considered horrendous beyond belief were they carried out by an official enemy

Jerry Waxman says:

Some of the comments here seem to be missing the ethics for the halacha. For the record, I was a soldier in the IDF in the first Lebanon war and the first intifada, and I have lived in Sderot, and I have sat in yeshivas and kollels of great scholars. I am neither an expert on warfare nor halacha. I found Rav Klapper’s article interesting and well thought out, and offering a perspective we don’t see much in this magazine. Rather than questioning (attacking) Rav Klapper’s personal experience or authority, isn’t it more beneficial to give thought to what he has written? As he mentioned, even if there was a halacha concerning the use of technology in this way, it wouldn’t make a difference to the nations that are not bound by Jewish law. The most pressing question is one of ethics. As a former resident of Sderot, it has occurred to me, “What if the fools in Gaza got ahold of this technology?” And what of the rise in expressions of anti-semitism worldwide? The PLO of yore would have a heyday with drones, targeting Jewish Communities worldwide.

Anyway, thank you to Rav Klapper for a thoughtful article.

Nola Baar says:

Used ro kill “enemy combatants.” Hardly.

As detailed studies show, most of those murdered are civilians.

http://livingunderdrones.org/report/

Obama has defined as an enemy combatant any male in the area who is between the ages of 14 and 56, and “signature strikes” target anyone in the area as fair game.

Ther are plans for 30,000 drones to fly over the US. Will the supportors of drones sing a different tune when they start killing more and more Americans?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/21/coming-drone-attack-america

the drone, like the knife, the gun, or the car bomb, is just the tool of killing. if the killing is justified in war, the tool is not the issue

ajweberman says:

Who cares what Halacha says. It is as outdated as Shar’ia law. Rabbi Clap likes to split hairs and rationalize his cowardice. All’s fair in love and war. Survival is the first law of nature. Many Jews fail to realize this.

Habbgun says:

I think that this discussion of drones misses the point that they fail to make any real difference unless connected to an already established force. It is not like they are a chemical or nuclear weapon being used by an isolated terrorist. It is merely another modern means of warfare. It must be remembered that Pharoah did not need these weapons to enslave entire peoples. It is the desires of evil people that are the problem. The means given to people to defend themselves are not the problem.

Rabbi Philip J Bentley says:

Rabbi Klapper’s reading that Judaism is heavily weighted against pacifism reflects your own bias and very likely ignorance about pacifism.

I first identified myself as a pacifist in the late sixties, but that was a realization based on what I had believed since my early teens. I was Chair of the Jewish Peace Fellowship for a decade, have published several articles on the subject, and taught the ethics of war and peace in Judaism at the RRC.

Pacifism is not Jewish only if you define it according to its most extreme version. Jewish pacifism is based on our teachers and sources and says that violence is only a last resort except in the case of immediate threat to life. Even Gandhi said this in response to that tired old question about “what if they attacked your grandmother?”
Klapper indicates at the very start of his essay that Judaism is multi-vocal and then immediately denies a place within tradition for Jews who are pacifists. This is your own prejudice, a common one, speaking and not our tradition.

The fact that he justifies the use of drones reflects a selective reading of the sources and his own prejudice towards approval of warfare. Jewish law has a lot to say about the consequences of the use of weapons, but Klapper sets that aside. I note in comments already posted that others have noticed this failing as well.

Rabbi Philip J Bentley

Honorary President, Jewish Peace Fellowship

http://www.jewishpeacefellowship.org

    Habbgun says:

    I would rate your ability to say what Jewish Law is higher if you weren’t reform and reconstructionist (I grew up Reform so I know its inherent limitations). I am sorry that pacifism is not a universal mode of thinking making the pacifist’s job much easier but real world challenges makes Jewish Law much more interesting.
    Too many of these so-called pacifists are hawks for the other side. You are probably not but given the realities of false pacifism you must be more nuanced in your beliefs. You also must realize there is no “place” for Jewish pacifists. As defense is a shared need your place at the table is what you bring to the table that the rest of us can accept given that it is our own lives and families at stake.

      Rabbi Philip J Bentley says:

      There is something wrong with assuming that a rabbi must be relatively ignorant because she or he is Reform or Reconstructionist. That’s a prejudice. My pacifism is nuanced by half a century of study and activism. What non-pacifists do not understand most of all about pacifists is that we recognize the evil in the world, but believe the best way of defeating it is not through violence. Violence always begets more violence. The idea that you get peace or democracy or good at gunpoint is a fantasy and a delusion. This is proven endlessly by historical experience. It is harder to make peace through nonviolent campaigning but the results are better.

        Habbgun says:

        You way of making peace sacrifices plenty of innocent people hoping the enemy comes around to your way of thinking and that too is proven by historical precedence. Ghandi chose his method because he was dealing with the British who were not a vicious enemy. He knew that method would not work with others. You are quite free with deciding how much each of us should sacrifice. Fireman, soldiers, police, rescue workers all take on the possibility of death or injury when dealing with the world. Activists not so much.

    Reptilian2012 says:

    Gandhi also said that European Jews should commit national suicide in the name of their religion.

“To the best of my knowledge, however, Judaism has never recognized unsportsmanlike conduct as a violation of military ethics.”

What about Amalek? Couldn’t one argue that the legal imperative to remember that nation’s cheap military tactics against the Israelites represents a stance against unethical military action?

Rabbi Philip J Bentley says:

Shalom

I’ve been called upon to respond to many of the points in this discussion.

I have found that no one understands war like a combat veteran. Some of the best words I have heard on seeking peace, including for Israel, have come from career military officers and scholars. I have deep respect for those who have been there.

The famous Buber-Gandhi correspondence is often misunderstood in the way Reptilian2012 has. Martin Buber, a Jewish pacifist living in Jerusalem, wrote to the most famous pacifist activist in the world to ask what Gandhi thought the Jews of Germany should do.about Hitler. This was already 1939. Judah Magnes, founding president of Hebrew University and also a pacifist also wrote Gandhi. Gandhi’s response was that the Jews of Germany should do was to practice nonviolence (Satyagraha). He used the example of Indians in South Africa. Obviously this was bad advice. There were only 250,000 Jews among 60 million Germans and the Jews had few allies there. Buber wrote Gandhi back and told him he had given bad advice. This is my point – Jewish pacifism is not the same as other peace traditions.

Another poster here says that Gandhi faced the British and implied they were open to such a campaign because they are so civilized. In fact the British ruled their empire by setting groups in their colonies against each other. Gandhi brought together Hindus and Muslims and his movement overwhelmed the British who, until then, had no scruples about slaughtering nonviolent protesters. Anyone who remembers the way the British ruled Palestine during the Mandate knows that the British are responsible for having prevented reconciliation efforts by Chaim Weizmann, for example. The British were brutal colonial masters.

Most of what is posted in these responses is interesting and thoughtful, but those who shrug their metaphoric shoulders and say in war you kill as many of the enemy as you can however you can, do not understand that there are rules about when a war is justified and about how those engaged in combat must behave. For Jews there are many laws about both of these questions. One of them is that even in a war fought at the option of the government, peace must be sought before combat can begin. Defoliation is explicitly forbidden. This is an area of Jewish law not enough people know well. We should all know however that “Seek peace and pursue it,” is one of the 613.

    Habbgun says:

    Finally noticed you had a reply and these are all good and fair points. However the main thrust of the article was use of drones and if we are in a discussion of general warfare there is something wrong. Intelligence is the number one necessity of war. Good intelligence allows lesser numbers to fight greater numbers and it allows greater numbers not to lose lives needlessly. The use of drones is not about killing per se it is about creating military options that save Jewish lives. If it creates an offensive capability as well so be it. Every option Israel uses gets denounced. From a purely defensive wall to giving up land voluntarily it is still considered the aggressor. The question is not whether comment posters would conduct total war but whether the Israelis do and of course they don’t. The enemy however targets civilians worldwide. Given the differences whom you support should be obvious.
    As for the British I know well what they were. Churchill denounced the treatment of the Jews in Israel by his own army. It just confuses me to think that if even the British are brutal why the peace option should work…….Seeking peace is not seeking governmental negotiations in an international framework…..the Jews of the bible were chastised by the prophets when they sought false hopes and false allies sio why shouldn’t modern Jews learn those same lessons today?

      Rabbi Philip J Bentley says:

      Habbgun’s comment deserves a response. It makes several strong points. I am a Jewish religious pacifist, so for me discussion of war resonates differently from how most people see the relevant issues. Pacifism is about confronting and defeating evil by nonviolent means. It is therefore outside of what most people understand, because the use of violence is taken for granted.
      Talking about right and wrong in warfare, even for nonpacifists, is far more nuanced than most people understand. Habbgun raises strategic issues and does so specifically in reference to Israel. The line between what is defensive and what is offensive is often blurry. Most wars, even obviously offensive ones, claim to be defensive. In order to start WWII Hitler felt that he had to have cause to invade Poland and staged an incident at the Polish border for that purpose. I agree Israel must defend itself but I believe that Israel is too quick to employ violence. That’s a long and complicated discussion.
      Israel used to take greater care about collateral damage than it has in the recent past. I see Israel as suffering from its long-term conflicts and being driven to actions it would not have considered a generation ago. Habbgun is absolutely correct in asserting that real peace involves much more than agreements among governments. Oslo failed because neither Israel nor the PA did nearly enough to bring the grassroots around to what the treaty entailed. On both sides there were forces opposed to any peace process and there was sabotage of the peace process on both sides, although Hamas did the worst of it. Until both peoples acknowledge the humanity and rights of the other; until both sides can acknowledge how they have hurt the other; and until both sides can forgive the other real peace will not come. The model for this is the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in South Africa and Rwanda.
      I like to say “peace is sweet, but peacemaking is bitter.” You have to sit down with an enemy who has hurt you.
      Bringing in Biblical sources is always risky. Biblical law and the Rabbinic law that grows out of it limits the conduct of war – both on when to go to war and on how wars are fought.
      I’d like readers to consider Jeremiah who called for not rebelling against Babylonia. He knew that the Egyptians were playing Yehudah for their own purposes. He could see the calamity that would result from siding with Egypt. In the end he condemned Egypt more than he condemned Babylon. Then there is Zachariah. His words, not by might and not by power but by My spirit,” are frequently quoted, but the context of this verse has a strong message. The prophet was counselling the governor appointed by the Persians and warning him not to get into trouble by rebelling against that empire. He knew that there would be those who would fight out of a sense of nationalism (as it was then).
      Then you have the Maccabees. They fought for the right to maintain our traditions, including our way of worship. They won, but Judah wanted more. He continued his rebellion until he was killed in a battle against a Jewish army. His eldest brother took on the dual role of King and High Priest and began a dynasty of tyrants, really bloody tyrants. The only exception was Salome Alexandra who made the error of dividing the priesthood and throne between her sons who then engaged in a continuing civil war until one of them invited Pompey to come and take Jerusalem. A few decades later King Herod was imposed. Herod was the son of an Edomite who had been forcibly converted by Alexander Yannai (or maybe John Hyrcanus). Herod slaughtered the last Hasmoneans.
      Why do I bring all of this up? We have a history with both wisdom and folly in it. I see the greatest danger to Israel as not coming from outside. The Occupied Territories are poisoning Israel (as ben-Gurion predicted they would); the gap between wealth and poverty is too wide; ethnic divisions remain a problem; and the issues raised by the political power of religious parties are very divisive. As Will Durant wrote, “No nation is destroyed from outside until it has destroyed itself within.” I am more worried by these divisions in Israel than I am about Hamas or even Iran.
      This takes us far afield from drones, so I’ll just say that drones should be subject to the doctrine of Tohar Haneshekh if anyone still pays attention to that.

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What Judaism Says About Drones

Jewish tradition is weighted definitively against pacifism. But does that mean drone warfare is kosher?