The Maccabees and Fighting Wars on Shabbat

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.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law