Biblical wars—the battles, armies, weaponry and tactics—looked very different than the wars of the modern era. The Land of Israel was a frequent battle site in biblical times, and remains one today. With the frequency of war an unfortunate but sometimes necessary reality, Jewish law has clear directives on how war should be waged.
While Judaism places the highest value on preserving life, some wars are deemed as necessary. The bible instructs that even when war is determined to be absolutely necessary, first the Jews must attempt to offer peace. If peace is rejected, the Jews are still obligated to fight mercifully by following certain guidelines. For example, Jewish warriors are prohibited from destroying fruit trees, needlessly killing animals, or from completely surrounding a city on all four sides.
In Jewish law, there is a distinction between different types of wars. There are obligatory wars and then there are discretionary wars. Obligatory wars include destroying the seven nations which inhabited the land of Canaan, destroying the evil nation of Amalek, or defending Israel from an enemy seeking its demise. On the other hand, a discretionary way is one in which Israel wages war to expand the borders of the Land of Israel, and this type of war cannot be waged without the approval of a distinguished Jewish court and other requirements.
The modern state of Israel abides by a purity of arms code which is partly based on Jewish law.
- For a fascinating look at what archeology illuminates on how the ancient Israelites wages war in biblical times, check out this link:
- For an in depth look at the Jewish laws pertaining to waging war, click here: