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

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy