- Holy War in Judaism: The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Idea by Reuven Firestone
Firestone's well-written book traces the origins, history, and transformations of the concept of holy war in Judaism. After Maccabean victories liturgized in the Al hanism prayer, with the failed holy wars of the Great Revolt (66-70 C.E.) and the Bar Kokhba Rebellion (135 C.E.), enthusiasm for holy war was quelled, and during medieval Judaism the rabbis built fences around the notion by categorizing biblical wars so that in practicality the Jews would not revolt. Firestone traces the complicated processes of interpretation and change within religious systems. While many of the early modern Zionists were secular nationalists, in the last third of the twentieth century, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been characterized as a conflict between religions.
No longer are the ways of solving die Juedische Frage, nor fostering the ingathering of the exiles (Kibbutz galuyot) by Marxists like Ber Berochov and A. D. Gordon with a religion of labor (Avodat ha-adama), nor politicians like Theodor Herzl after the Dreyfus Affair, but Zionist ideology is being given a religious context. Renewed religious rhetoric of conquest (kibbush) celebrating militarization (tohar hanneshek) to reclaim Judea [End Page 134] and Samaria in state conquest (hakibush hamamlakhti) to free the land (milchemet shichrur ha-aretz) has replaced earlier language such as settling the land (yishuv ha-aretz) of the love of Zion (Hibbat Ziyyon) movement and inheriting the land (lareshet et ha-aretz) through cultivating the desert (kibbush hashemashot) and the establishment of the port city Tel Aviv on the sea (kibbush hayam). The aggressive language is used to extend Israel to its biblical borders (eretz yisrael hashelemah). Some Ultra Orthodox Jews resist the military draft, arguing that learning Torah protects the land as much as the IDF and the warriors of G-d are the Buchrim shield bearers (ba'aley trisin) who fight battles of Hashem with the swords of pilpul, the debates (makloket) in the Shas. Recent articles by Rabbis David Bleich (Tradition 18: 44-78; 21: 3-41) and Herschel Schachter (Journal of Halakhah and Contemporary Society 16: 17-95) examine some of these questions from Jewish law.
Drawing on Aviezer Ravitzky (Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism ) Firestone goes further in clarifying military action within the context of religious claims of the messianic beginnings of divine redemption (atchalta dege'ulah) in the footsteps of the messiah (Iqveta de'meshicha) that has revealed divine mysteries (kavshey derachamana) and hidden things (nistarot) of "the revealed end" (haqetz hameguleh) and the renaissance of the unique people of Israel (segullat Yisrael Utechiyato). Firestone suggests that a more peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict can be implemented only when fundamentalist radicalism, that is, zealots (kana'im) and holy war cease on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
Firestone identifies that the title of Mishnah Sotah ch. 8 is anointed for battle (mesuach milchamah), which refers to the priest who addresses the Israelite troops before battle (Deut. 20:1-4). Firestone explains the rabbinic sources for the halakhic categories of 1) divinely commanded war (milchemet mitzvah) such as the wars of conquest of Joshua (milchamot yehoshua likhbosh); 2) discretionary wars (milchemet reshut) such as the wars of King David; 3) obligatory war (milchemet chovah) for which there are no deferments such as the first year of marriage (Deut. 20:5); and 4) the later term for preemptive strike or war to save Israel from an attacking enemy (ezrat yisra'el miyad tzar).
The rabbinic paradigm that curtailed war in the diaspora is the "Three Vows" (Ketubot 110b-111a) paralleled in the Song of Songs 2:7 as clarified in the work of Blumenfeld (Shanah BeShanah 151-55) Mordecai Breuer (Ge'ulah uMedinah, 49-57) Menachem Kasher (Shanah BeShanah, [End Page 135] 213-28) and Tzvi Yehudah Kook (Lenetivot Yisrael, 1989-97). "I make you swear, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, do not wake or rouse love until it is...