Torah Position On Use Of Force

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

According to Rav Soloveitchik, the main goal of the Torah is to establish a world dominated by peace, understandings patience and a resolve to settle differences amicably.

Some people turn to the Bible with accusations, quoting the Torah’s statements about the seven nations of K’na’an and the command not to spare human beings. These critics overlook the facts that Yehoshua, the successor to Moshe Rabbeinu, who led the battles in conquering the Land of K’na’an, offered each nation a covenant of peace. But since this was not accepted Yehoshua had had no choice but to lay siege to the enemy cities. He nevertheless, left one side open so they can escape (Rambam-Melachim 6:1-5).

The Torah philosophy is very clear on this; in order to gain anything precious, we must be willing to make sacrifices. For a businessman to earn money, he must first invest capital he already has. For one to be able to enjoy family time one must first give up his personal time for work and making a living. Similarly, to acquire peace, we must be ready to fight for it, and sometimes, to relinquish peace temporarily, in order to keep it in the long term.

Peace cannot be attained by appeasement, said The Rav. A true peace lover has to be ready to take up arms and resort to their use if necessary, and he must be ready to protect the sacred institutions that the aggressors seek to destroy. In the Bible, (Bamidbar 25:8), Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the Kohen Gadol (high Priest) understood that the Jew who publicly flaunted his immorality, without shame or fear, represented a disease to our Holy Nation. If such behavior would be allowed to exist it would bring the destruction of everything that Moshe Rabbeinu had accomplished in his lifetime. The fight for peace therefore required giving up peace by killing the perpetrator.

Pinchas did not relish the role of using force, and he certainly was not eager to kill the sinner. He did it most reluctantly, but with the conviction that only through his bold action could the Jewish people be saved. It is such individuals who are prepared to fight for peace, and risk their entire credibility for the sake of peace, who succeed in creating an inner unity. It is most appropriate that the covenant of peace should be their reward.

(Source: Rabbi Heshy Reichman)

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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