Tuesday, July 18, 2006

War in Lebanon

In his Toras Ha-Medinah (pp. 395-401), R. Shlomo Goren addresses halakhic objections to the Operation Peace in Galilee. When terrorists in Lebanon were shelling villages in northern Galilee, Israel sent troops into Lebanon to stop the attacks. As a result, the attacks stopped for two decades but over 200 soldiers were killed and many more were injured. Was it justified to sacrifice that many lives in order to save the lives of villagers in northern Galilee who might or might not have been killed? Should not the imperative of "piku'ach nefesh" obligated us to minimize death and not send in soldiers?

R. Goren addresses this at length. He quotes the famous view of the Minchas Chinukh (nos. 425, 604) that piku'ach nefesh does not apply during war. If it did, it would be impossible to ever wage war. Rather, the Torah sometimes obligates us to set aside the concerns of piku'ach nefesh and fight a war. Thus, the entire above argument does not apply to soldiers.

However, R. Goren adopts a different approach to the permissibility of war. Rather than arguing like the Minchas Chinukh that piku'ach nefesh does not apply during war, he suggests that piku'ach nefesh does apply. However, the piku'ach nefesh of the nation takes precedence over the piku'ach nefesh of each individual. So while each individual is placing himself at risk, that is in order to save the community as a whole. (Interestingly, R. Menachem Genack offers the same explanation in the name of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his Gan Shoshanim, ch. 45 pp. 88-89. I know, there are contradictory reports in the name of R. Soloveitchik.) Furthermore, he quotes the Chazon Ish (Eruvin 114:1) as being of the view that once we go to war, then any fighting is considered piku'ach nefesh of the entire community. Therefore, even if an argument could be made that Israel should not have entered Lebanon, once they entered the piku'ach nefesh of the community takes precedence over that of the individual.

R. Goren then offers another argument that I find difficult to understand. He quotes a Tosefta in Eruvin (3:5, quoted in the Gemara 45a) that, even though when bandits try to steal money on Shabbos one may not fight them with weapons because it is not a case of piku'ach nefesh. However, at border towns, one can assume that they are really trying to invade the country and one may always fight them on Shabbos. The relevance of this passage to the case at hand is unclear. Yes, the terrorists were attacking border towns. However, the Tosefta is only saying that one should always assume that attacks on border towns are invasions. But in our case, we already knew that! If he was trying to say that not defending the border towns would allow the terrorists to penetrate further, then that is certainly a good argument but one that is militaristic and not necessarily halakhic.

Regardless, our thoughts and prayers are with the Israeli soldiers who are currently working tirelessly for piku'ach nefesh of the community as a whole.

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