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September 27, 2016 / 24 Elul, 5776
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Is Preemptive Action Permissible Under Torah Law?

Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem after the 6 Day War which began with a pre-emptive strike.

Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem after the 6 Day War which began with a pre-emptive strike.
Photo Credit: Sarah Shuman/Flash 90

Recent events in Israel have encouraged discussion on preemptive strikes according to Torah law.

For example, after some reprieve, the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip has resumed. Last week southern Israel experienced a barrage of more than 90 rockets within 24 hours. In response, the IDF attacked a number of terror targets.

“The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers, and will continue to act decisively and strongly against anyone who carries out terror activities against the State of Israel,” according to an IDF statement.

“The IDF is prepared to defend the citizens of Israel,” the statement continued. “The IDF will continue to take determined action against any party that uses terrorism against the State of Israel.”

Clearly, the IDF is threatening major offensives, both as a response to the current rocket fire and to discourage future attacks.

In yet another exciting recent news story, we see unexpected, definitive preemptive action in what was dubbed Operation Full Exposure  on March 5. As readers may recall, IDF naval commandos intercepted an Iranian ship loaded with lethal weapons intended for use against Israeli civilians.

The loot included: 40 M-302 rockets, with a range of 90 to 160 km, 181 mortar shells, 400,000 bullets, and much more.

A Preemptive Strike is Often Necessary for Survival

So what does the Torah have to say about a preemptive strike?

A Jew should always prefer peace over war; nevertheless, we are required to fight for justice and to defend ourselves against any threats.

For example, when Abraham’s nephew Lot was captured and taken hostage, Abraham waged a war to win his release (Genesis 14).

So, too, in an example relating to the recent Purim celebrations, the Torah commands us to destroy the nation of Amalek, which is intrinsically committed to the destruction of the Jewish People; they were the first to attack the vulnerable Hebrew nation after they left Egypt. (Exodus 17).

There are many more examples. Indeed, as seen throughout Scripture, the Jewish People regularly faced wars, some of which necessitated a preemptive strike.

The Talmud teaches: “If someone comes to kill you – kill him first!” (Sanhedrin 72a). preemptive strike

This ruling is summarized in the Code of Jewish law, which says: “If one sees that someone is pursuing him with the intention to kill him, he is permitted to defend himself and kill the one who is pursuing him.” (Choshen Mishpat 125:1).

Considering that Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah continue to attack Israel ruthlessly, making every effort to kidnap our soldiers and terrorize innocent civilians, it is clear from the Torah, Talmud, and Jewish law that it is not only permissible, but also obligatory, to launch a preemptive strike.

We saw how true this was with during the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel launched the preemptive strike, as well as with the unexpected raid on Entebbe in 1976 to free Israeli hostages.

Indeed, Israel may not have become as secure and powerful as it is today if not for the many daring and heroic preemptive strikes in the course of its short history.

Originally published at United with Israel.

Rabbi Ari Enkin

About the Author: Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, who performs some form of kaparot in most years, is a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh and a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (five volumes), among other works of halacha. He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review. E-mail him at rabbiari@hotmail.com.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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