Torah for Today – 17/10/2013

Torah for Today – 17/10/2013

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

With Rabbi Ariel ABEL.

What does the Torah say about… The Nairobi Attack?


LAST MONTH, a terrorist Islamist group attacked the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, holding hostages for three days and murdering at least 67.

What does the Torah say about this? The terrorists divided up the shoppers into two groups: Muslims and non-Muslims, with the latter threatened with murder. In the Book of Samuel, we read how King David, after a war with Israel’s bitter enemy, “measured out three rope- lengths”: two he put to death and one to live. This action would not comply with the Geneva Convention nowadays. However, what happened at the shopping centre was not in the heat of declared war.

Even in a case of war, hostages taken must be looked after with respect. The Torah is ruthless in condemning Canaanite captives to the sword. However this is only when the enemy has sworn to fight to the last. All Canaanites were first given the option to leave peacefully with Israel – or leave the area permanently. The Nairobi terrorists gave no warning of attack. According to Torah, all battles must be announced before they are engaged. Babylonians, Philistines and Israelites all gave each other a chance to surrender before attack.
For example, Joab asked the “wise woman” of Abel Beth Maachah to give up a rebel or risk attack of the entire city. Rabshakeh, the Jewish military commander who defected to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, called out in Hebrew to the soldiers encamped on the city walls of Jerusalem.

And when Gideon attacked the Midianites, he did so by stealth, but they were already encamped militarily against him. Sickening displays of inhumanity are roundly condemned by the Bible. When the Israelites confronted Moab, the enemy King slaughtered his own son as a sacrifice to the Moabite god Chemosh, in full view of David’s soldiers. The Israelites were so disgusted that they turned around and went home.

Ironically, the Moabites perceived this as the successful outcome of the human sacrifice of the crown prince. The Mesha Stone, discovered in 1868, thus claims victory for Moab when Jehoram, King of Israel, attacked them in reprisal for a rebellion against his authority. This shows how victory is in the eye of the beholder. There may be many Islamists who, due to negative values, will al- ways regard the cowardly attack on innocent shoppers as a victory for their religion. But, more than ever, this highlights the enduring importance of ensuring all places of education promote a culture of life and not a culture of death.

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