The Spoils of War in Jewish Law

Feb. 19 2019

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.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

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

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism