Collaboration between Torah scholars and experienced administrators can enable proper security policy management guided by Torah * The mitzvoth of conquering and inheriting the Land of Israel for all generations according to Ramban * As indicated by Rambam, there is no mitzvah in all generations to inherit the Land, nevertheless, it is a mitzvah to dwell there and protect the residents * The difference between the two positions is not great * If Israel is forced to launch a defensive war, the opportunity will be utilized to fulfill the mitzvah of conquering the Land according to Ramban * Non-Jewish residents in the Land of Israel: The fundamental approach, and its actual realization in times when the non-Jewish residents threaten our sovereignty
Settlement and Security Policy According to the Torah
From time to time the question arises: Is it possible to learn from the Torah and halakha the proper security policy for the State of Israel, and can Torah scholars, those who dwell in the study halls, run the security policy of the State?
While the answer is extremely complex, it can be summarized in one sentence: the principles certainly should be learned from the Torah, but their implementation is contingent on the overall situation on the ground. Therefore, in order to implement the Torah’s vision, Torah scholars must first properly clarify the principles of the Torah. Alongside these Torah scholars, extremely intelligent people are required who understand the principles of Torah and believe in them, and at the same time, understand the political and military situation in all its elements, so they can examine how to implement the vision. And from within the ranks of those intelligent people, leaders who are capable of bringing the practical idea into reality must arise.
While the public is busy electing the practical leaders, we must endeavor to fulfill our task of clarifying the principles, without which it is impossible to realize the vision.
This is the first principle which must be learned from the Torah – think before you act. Learning comes before action. First we must know what we are striving for, because the less clear the goal is, the more difficult it is to achieve. This is the fundamental problem of Israel’s policies: on the one hand, they say that virtually the only goal is calm, peace and tranquility. On the other hand, below the surface and beyond the official statements abounds a longing for redemption, the ingathering of the exiles, and settling the Land – and when necessary, Jews are even willing to give their lives in order to achieve this vision. If you listen carefully to the statements of the key leaders of the State of Israel, this contradiction can almost always be found in their words.
Let’s begin clarifying the principles.
The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel
The foundation of Israel’s policy lies in God’s promise of the Land to our forefathers, and the Torah mitzvah to settle it. Without the promise and the mitzvah, the Zionist movement would not have been initiated, and the State of Israel would not have been founded.
Ramban’s Position – Conquest and Settlement
The chief spokesman for the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) is Ramban, who merited ‘preaching well and acting well’ by making aliyah and to Israel and founding a community in Jerusalem. To this day, the Ramban synagogues in Jerusalem bear his name.
He wrote: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and not to abandon it to other nations, or to leave it desolate, as He said to them (Numbers 33:53-54): ‘You shall inherit the Land and dwell in it, for I have given the Land to you to possess it…’ (Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive commandment #4). The meaning of the word ve’horashtem (‘you shall inherit’) is to conquer – that there is Israeli sovereignty over the land, and the meaning of the word ve’yeshavtem (‘to dwell in’) is to settle the Land, so it won’t be desolate.
The mitzvah requires Israel to conquer the Land, “and this is what our Sages call a milchemet mitzvah [war by commandment](Sotah, perek 8, Mishna 6) …. and in the words of Sifri ‘ve’yarashta ve’yashavta ba‘ – in the merit of your inheriting (conquering), you will dwell …” and in order for us not to mistakenly think that the mitzvah referred only to the Jews who left Egypt in the times of Yehoshua bin Nun, Ramban emphasizes that the mitzvah requires all generations not to abandon the Land “to other nations at any time…behold, we are commanded with the conquest of the Land in every generation.” And by virtue of this positive commandment, every individual Jew is required to dwell in the Land of Israel, “even in the times of exile.”
Although, for many generations the Jewish nation was in a state oh’nes (forced against their will), stemming from being in exile in both body and mind, and we could not fulfill the general mitzvah; as a result, most individual Jews were negligent in making aliyah. But in recent times, by the grace of God, He began to cause our redemption to flourish, our situation changed, and we can now fulfill the mitzvah, both as a nation, and as individuals.
Furthermore, it is important to add that this mitzvah overrides pikuach nefesh (saving lives) of individuals, for we were commanded to conquer the Land and Torah did not intend for us to rely on miracles, and since in every war there are casualties, the mitzvah of kibush ha’aretz (conquering the Land) requires us to risk lives for it (Minchat Chinuch 425, 604; Mishpat Kohen, pg. 327).
Rambam’s Position – Settlement and Defense
However, Rambam did not write in his rulings that Israel is commanded to conquer the Land. In other words, in his opinion the mitzvah to conquer the Land was assigned to the generation olei Mitzrayim (those who left Egypt), and apparently, on the kings of Israel throughout history as well. Indeed, there is a general and basic mitzvah for every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael, and for Am Yisrael to establish its nation-state in the land. The reason Rambam did not count this mitzvah in his six hundred and thirteen commandments, is because he set a rule in his counting that he would not include general mitzvoth on which other mitzvoth are reliant. And indeed, many mitzvoth are reliant on the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, including all the agricultural mitzvoth ha’teluyot ba’aretz, the mitzvah to establish the Beit HaMikdash, sanctification of the months, ‘lo techanem’, the prohibition of extraditing a slave who escaped to Israel, and the mentioning of the Land in birkat ha’mazone.
Nevertheless, according to the Rambam, if the Gentiles conquered the Land of Israel and exiled the Jews from it, there is no obligation for Israel to initiate a war to re-conquer the Land. Rather, the mitzvat ha’milchama (war) mentioned in the Torah currently applies only to “ezrat Yisrael me’yad tzar” (helping save Israel her enemy).
In other words, according to the Rambam, this is the realistic plan of settling the Land – that increasingly more Jews will settle in Israel and thus, the Jewish community will continue to develop. And then, one of two things will happen: either in a great process of teshuva (repentance), they will merit a miraculous redemption leading to full sovereignty, or, in a gradual process, Israel’s standing in their land will become established, and if there are nations that endanger their existence – the Torah mitzvah of going to war to save Israel will be reinstated. In such a situation, the mitzvah of going to war is not only for defensive purposes, but also to attack in order to defend. As our Sages said regarding Shabbat, that if Gentiles come to steal even minor things such as straw or hay from towns located on the border, it is a mitzvah to profane the Sabbath and go out with weapons to fight them, for if the residents do not react to the theft of straw and hay, in the end, the Gentiles will come to murder (Hilchot Shabbat 2:23). Consequently, out of the need to defend, sovereignty is achieved (Milumdei Milchma, sect. 1).
The Precedent of the First and Second Temples
It can be said that in the opinion of the Ramban, the compulsory example of fulfilling the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz for future generations is the conquest and settlement of the Land by Yehoshua bin Nun and his contemporaries. This is the mitzvah incumbent on Israel when they are in exile or under foreign rule – to strive with all their might to achieve sovereignty, and be willing to initiate a war to conquer the Land, and liberate it from foreigners.
The compulsory example according to Rambam is the way Israel acted during the Second Temple, where initially the Jews settled in Eretz Yisrael under the auspices of the ruling Gentiles, and eventually the community expanded to the point where the need to protect their existence, both spiritual and physical, forced them to fight the rulers, and restore sovereignty and kingdom to Israel. And as the Rambam writes: “ In [the era of] the Second Temple, the Greek kingdom issued decrees against the Jewish people, [attempting to] nullify their faith and refusing to allow them to observe the Torah and its commandments. They extended their hands against their property and their daughters; they entered the Sanctuary, wrought havoc within, and made the sacraments impure.
The Jews suffered great difficulties from them, for they oppressed them greatly until the God of our ancestors had mercy upon them, delivered them from their hand, and saved them. The sons of the Hasmoneans, the High Priests, overcame [them], slew them, and saved the Jews from their hand.
They appointed a king from the priests, and sovereignty returned to Israel for more than 200 years, until the destruction of the Second Temple”(Hilchot Chanukah 3:1).
And for this we thank and praise God during Chanukah.
The Difference between the Two Approaches
In practice, the actual difference between the Rambam and Ramban is not vast. For even the Ramban would agree that the entire country should not be conquered all at once, and as prescribed by the Torah to conquer the essential areas of the country first and gradually expand, and that the war should be conducted according to rational considerations without relying on miracles. On the other hand, even Rambam, who holds that a milchemet mitzvah is only a defensive war, recognizes the historical reality that it is almost impossible for a large Jewish community to be able to defend itself without sovereignty, and that there is no defense without deterrence – including capturing the places from which the attackers come.
Nevertheless, in principle, there is a considerable difference between them: according to Ramban’s approach, conquering the Land must be actively pursued and afterwards settled, whereas the Rambam’s approach is to first strive to settle the Land, and subsequently protect its inhabitants, a reality which usually requires war for sovereignty.
How great it would have been had we merited repenting completely and fulfilled the obligation to live in Israel according to the words of the Ramban – ‘even in a city of mostly non-Jews’, in the words of the Rambam. Had the Jewish people ascended to their land long before the Holocaust, in order to settle it and re-establish their sovereignty, consequently, millions of Jews would have been saved and the Final Redemption would have been brought closer.
Not having achieved this, the main ingathering of the exiles began only after the Holocaust – very few in number, and out of self-defense, Holocaust survivors and refugees from the Diaspora merited establishing the State of Israel.
It seems that in regards to what we have learned, the correct policy according to the Torah emerges, which includes a combination of all the principles presented by the Rambam and Ramban: aliyah, settlement, defense and conquest.
The basic declaration of the State of Israel should be that of the Ramban: as members of the Jewish nation, according to our holy Torah, we strive to settle all areas of our country – from the Nile River of Egypt to the Euphrates, on both sides of the Jordan. Only non-Jews who are lovers of Israel, believe in the Torah, and observe the Seven Noahide commandments are permitted to be citizens in our country (according to the laws of ger toshav [resident alien]).
However, being a peaceful people and having respect for all human beings, we restrain our aspirations and do not intend to initiate a war of conquest, and we also do not intend to deport foreigners who do not identify fully with our aspirations.
However, if God forbid, our enemies abroad dare to attack us, we will take advantage of every war to gradually expand the boundaries of our country. And if the non-Jews living with us dare to threaten our sovereignty, in addition to crushing the violence, we will work to gradually remove them from the country.
Incidentally, all normal countries act this way towards their sworn enemies, however, we are not like all other nations, and therefore only when we understand that a sacred value guides us to do so, will we be able to achieve this policy with wisdom, determination, and sensitivity.
From such a political position we can deal with international pressure in a much more successful manner, for a large amount of it is anchored in moral and historical considerations, without any awareness of Am Yisrael’s true vision.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.