The Maccabees and Fighting Wars on Shabbat

Dec. 29 2016

Nowadays, religiously observant Israeli soldiers fight on the Sabbath when necessary. However, writes Shlomo Brody, Jewish law was not always so clear in this regard:

The book of Maccabees records that in 167 BCE, the Seleucids initially succeeded in defeating Jewish pietists by attacking them on Shabbat and slaughtering them, because of their lack of resistance. . . . [S]imilar incidents had occurred in the 4th century BCE with the conquest of Jerusalem by Ptolemy Lagos and would occur later with Pompey’s conquest of the Temple Mount in 63 BCE.

Scholars have long debated the motivation behind [the] lack of resistance. [According to some interpretations], this attitude reflects the practices of the Sadducees and other similar sects who refused to violate Shabbat even in the case of warfare. Indeed, explicit testimony to this effect is found in the [apocryphal] book of Jubilees and in a few texts attributed to the Dead Sea sects.

According to 1 Maccabees, this outlook was rejected by the Hasmoneans. Mattathias, [the leader of the revolt], declared, “If any man comes against us on the Sabbath day, we shall fight against him and not all die as our brothers did in their hiding places.” This sentiment was not accepted by many Jewish sects, but was certainly endorsed by rabbinic and Pharisaic texts. . . .

Other texts further assert that the rabbis, led by the famous sage Shammai, declared that Jews can even initiate warfare on Shabbat for the sake of protecting or conquering the land of Israel. . . .

This attitude should not be taken for granted. As we see from antiquity, a fundamentalist outlook might assert that Shabbat should be kept at all costs. The Hasmoneans and ancient rabbis taught us, however, that sometimes the Sabbath must be desecrated, alas, so that the Jewish people can observe many more Sabbaths in the future. We should live for Shabbat, but not die for it.

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More about: Halakhah, Judaism, Maccabees, Pharisees, Religion & Holidays, Shabbat, War

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America