The Spoils of War in Jewish Law

In ancient times, the right of victors in war to the possessions of the vanquished was accepted almost universally, and the Torah for the most part permits plunder as well, although certain regulations apply. By contrast, current international law strictly forbids the seizure of anything but weapons and military equipment. Not only has halakhah moved in the same direction but, as Shlomo Brody explains, contemporary rabbis have been able to look to the Bible for support:

On a pragmatic level, concern with spoils can lead to military mistakes, as was painfully discovered by the Moabites who prematurely ceased fighting to focus on gathering booty, only to be surprised and defeated by the Israelites (2Kings 3:23). The kingdoms of Gog (Ezekiel 38:10-13) and Egypt (Exodus 15:9) are accused of unjustly going to war for the sake of booty, only to fall for their lust of money. . . .

Most [importantly], the first Jewish warrior, Abraham, refused to take “even a shoe strap” for himself when he defeated the four kingdoms [that had invaded Canaan and captured his nephew Lot], because he wanted his material success to be attributed to God [alone] (Genesis 14:22-23). Similarly, when the Jewish people defeats its enemies in the book of Esther, it was prohibited from taking booty, so as to highlight the purity of its intentions: defense and deterrence, not wealth or vengeance. Indeed, based on this sentiment, [the great late-19th-century sage] Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin asserted that the need to protect ourselves from corrupt motivations should lead us to shun all booty, even if the Torah may permit it.

[As for the contemporary IDF], Rabbis Haim Hirschensohn and Shaul Yisraeli have argued that halakhah demands that Israel respect the military conventions that it has officially affirmed. Accordingly, even if one believes that the Bible mandates seizing booty, Jewish law still requires one to refrain from such action under Israel’s international commitments. Violating such agreements would be a grave desecration of God’s name.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Halakhah, Hebrew Bible, Laws of war, Religion & Holidays

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy