Torah For Today: Israel under attack

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Torah For Today: Israel under attack

Rabbi Zvi Solomons looks at a topical issue and delves into Jewish texts for a response

Smoke and flames are seen following an Israeli air strike on a building, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza City May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Smoke and flames are seen following an Israeli air strike on a building, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza City May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The events of the past two weeks show that Israel today finds itself in a very difficult situation – one often ratcheted up by our enemies. What does the Torah say about military strikes in the face of terrorist activity?

Anyone learning theology needs to understand that Judaism is different from Christianity. Our religious outlook may include turning the other cheek, but that concept is not a mainstream strand in our traditions.

More to our way of thinking is the necessity for survival in a world that is not always predictable or safe. The Talmud says in three separate places: “If someone comes to kill you, get up early in the morning to kill him first.”

This is not about an offensive war, but more a war on the defensive.

When in 1967 the message came through that the Kotel was in our hands, for a few years people believed this would herald a new age of peace. However, the use of religious buildings for war is almost universal in the Middle East, as is the outrage when soldiers try to put down riots based in those buildings. 

The values of Judaism teach us to preserve human life whenever possible, as each life is worth a universe of human lives. The warnings given to residents of buildings about to be attacked also allow our enemies to escape. We see a media building and Hamas headquarters neatly collapsed leaving its neighbours untouched. 

Yet the images of the dead and the devastation will continue to stoke outrage and, as ever, antisemitism rises, with British Jews on our streets paying for the violence. 

Israel must defend its citizens and try to calm things down while depleting the weapons; a rain of death from Hamas or Hezbollah cannot be allowed to overwhelm defences.

But neither can we behave in anything but a moral way. 

We must pray for strength and use our ingenuity to move away from this cycle. It is a terrible curse on a people to be perpetually at war, although support from the Gulf states gives us at least a glimmer of hope that peace is on the horizon.

  •  Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire in Reading,
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