Jewish Law and Sieges
Gil at Hirhurim has two posts which summarize discussions regarding Jewish Law and military sieges. What is brought in those posts and this recent one by me raises a number of important questions, one of which will be illustrated with a statement found in Judah Halevi’s Kuzari that I heard from Prof. Aviezer Ravitzky some years ago. The “Rabbi” speaks about the humility of Israel and their being near to God due in part to their conduct, while Christianity and Islam became powerful through violent conquest. The “Rabbi” says “Yet our relation to God is a closer one than if we had reached greatness already on earth” (The Kuzari, 1:113, H. Hirschfeld trans. p. 78). The “Khazar King” responds by saying, “This might be so, if your humility were voluntary; but is it voluntary, and if you had power you would slay” (ibid., 1:114). Are many Jewish sources irrelevant to concrete questions regarding military power and affairs of state because they were written by people for whom it was a theoretical discussion? Gil refers to both the Sifrei and its later codification by Maimonides which describes how a siege during an optional war must only be on three sides of a city, giving people the opportunity to escape. Regarding this law, Prof. Michael Walzer wrote,
But this seems hopelessly naive. How is it possible to “surround” a city on three sides? Such a sentence, it might be said, could only appear in the literature of a people who had neither a state nor an army of their own. It is an argument offered not from a military perspective, but from a refugee perspective. (Just And Unjust Wars, p. 168)
Is Jewish Law irrelevant to these types of questions? I don’t think so, but one must also be aware of its limitations.