Posted on November 3, 2023 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck
Some have called it Israel’s 9/11. Some have called it a pogrom. Neither of these analogies is perfect, but they both are true. The mass slaughter of innocent Israeli children, women, and men was an act of pure evil, as was the taking of civilian hostages, numbering more than 200, including infants and children, the elderly and infirm.
Twice in the first 18 chapters of the Torah we are taught what must be done when such evil is manifest in the world. It must be eradicated. The failure to do so is itself an evil because it leads to further loss of innocent life. In Parashat Noach, God brought a flood in the days of Noah, and in this week’s parashah, Vayera, God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, because they were irredeemable. So were the Nazis. So was Isis. And so is Hamas.
Before October 7, it was tenable to argue that coexistence was possible with Hamas. God knows that Israel’s leaders tried. Despite repeated acts of terror — the indiscriminate firing of missiles, the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and random bombings and car-ramming of civilians — Israel provided water and electricity, and allowed food, medicine, fuel, and money into Gaza. Gazans were granted permits to work in Israel, and thousands passed through the Erez Crossing each day. And all the while, Hamas was using many of those precious resources to build terrorist infrastructure: tunnels, rockets, and training to perpetrate the mass murder of innocent Jews.
Now we know with certainty that peace with Hamas is not possible. Hamas is pure evil and must be stopped, once and for all. As with Amalek in the Bible(1), it is a mitzvah to destroy them because, given half a chance, they will murder every Jew and destroy the State of Israel.(2) Israel’s war against Hamas is a just war — a war of necessity, of self-defense.
I can’t tell you how much it distresses me to write these words, for we Jews hold all life sacred. Every human being is created in the image of God, and, as the Talmud teaches, “one who destroys a single life has destroyed an entire world.”(3) The Midrash says that when the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, the angels began to rejoice. But God rebuked them saying, “My creations are dying, and you sing praises?”(4) We lament the loss of life, all life, even of our enemies, and especially of innocent civilians.
There are international laws and standards on the ethics of war, and Israel takes great pains to uphold them. Every Israeli soldier is trained to follow the IDF Code of Ethics (5) and must carry it with them in their pocket when they go into battle. Central to this code is the principle of tohar ha-neshek, the purity of arms, that restricts the use of weapons to legitimate military objectives. Lethal force must be necessary and proportional to accomplishing the mission, and all efforts must be taken to avoid harming non-combatants.
This is nearly impossible to achieve when the enemy — now, Hamas — violates every one of these principles. They lob rockets and missiles indiscriminately at civilian populations. They intentionally massacre innocent Israelis, including children, women, and entire families, and maim and desecrate their bodies. In Gaza, they embed themselves among their own people — in schools, mosques, and under hospitals — turning non-combatants, including children and civilian hostages, into human shields. These are war crimes, plain and simple. No circumstances can explain or excuse such actions. There must be no mistake about this. Responsibility for the loss of innocent lives lies squarely with Hamas, and they must bear the consequences. They must be thwarted for the sake of humanity, for the sake of the Palestinians of Gaza, and for the survival of the State of Israel.
Yes, the existence of the State of Israel is indeed at stake. Already, Israelis are asking whether they will ever be safe again; whether they can live and raise their children in Israel knowing that Hamas remains a real and present danger to their lives. The residents of the South of Israel have been displaced from their homes, many of which have been destroyed by Hamas, and they want to return and rebuild. But they will not do so if Israel’s leaders and military cannot guarantee the safety of their children.
Humanitarian aid must flow into Gaza. Non-combatants must be given refuge. But no succor or respite should be given to Hamas. They must not be given the opportunity to regroup or rearm. To do so would be to sacrifice the lives of Israel’s brave soldiers, who are putting their lives on the line to protect their nation by defeating Hamas. Even worse, it would leave open the possibility that Hamas will continue its reign of terror from Gaza.
The prophet Ezekiel warned of those who would mislead our people, declaring “peace, when there is no peace.”(6) As long as Hamas remains in Gaza, we must not be fooled into thinking that peace is possible.
God willing, the IDF will be victorious, with as little loss of life as possible, and peace, security, and tranquility will return to Israel. Then and only then can we turn to the necessary work of pursuing a real and lasting peace with the Palestinians that will grant them the freedom and dignity they deserve.
We pray that the day will come speedily when “all will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (7)
Rabbi Arnie Gluck