Monday, February 06, 2006

Terrorism, Tanakh, and Truth

Journalist: M. Ben M'Hidi, don't you think it's a bit cowardly to use women's baskets and handbags to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?

Ben M'Hidi: And doesn't it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.


What is the role of terrorism in the Torah?

Terrorism is defined in many different ways. One of the most pivotal ways is that the attack is unprovoked. For example, no one would claim that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is a form of terrorism against the Nazis, even though it was a few citizens against a large body of people. Terrorism is often miscast as asymmetrical warfare. I think that assymetrical warfare makes sense in terms of the Nazis vs. the Jews, or enslaved African Americans vs. white plantation owners, but I cannot condone terrorism when it refers to bodies and groups of free people, such as it is often today, namely, with Palestinians vs. Israelis.

However, leaving aside that the most common definition of terrorism is that it seems to be unprovoked, there are other similarities between terror attacks. They often include disguised participants, suicide bombers (so small numbers of participants, limited to one person), and the like. The question is, how is this represented in our own Torah? And how are we to understand this?

One of the most thought-provoking episodes in the Torah is that of Shimon, Levi, Shechem and Dinah. Look at what happens here:

    יג וַיַּעֲנוּ בְנֵי-יַעֲקֹב אֶת-שְׁכֶם וְאֶת-חֲמוֹר אָבִיו, בְּמִרְמָה--וַיְדַבֵּרוּ: אֲשֶׁר טִמֵּא, אֵת דִּינָה אֲחֹתָם.
    13 And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father with guile, and spoke, because he had defiled Dinah their sister,

    יד וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵיהֶם, לֹא נוּכַל לַעֲשׂוֹת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה--לָתֵת אֶת-אֲחֹתֵנוּ, לְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ עָרְלָה: כִּי-חֶרְפָּה הִוא, לָנוּ.
    14 and said unto them: 'We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us.

    טו אַךְ-בְּזֹאת, נֵאוֹת לָכֶם: אִם תִּהְיוּ כָמֹנוּ, לְהִמֹּל לָכֶם כָּל-זָכָר.
    15 Only on this condition will we consent unto you: if ye will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised;

    טז וְנָתַנּוּ אֶת-בְּנֹתֵינוּ לָכֶם, וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֵיכֶם נִקַּח-לָנוּ; וְיָשַׁבְנוּ אִתְּכֶם, וְהָיִינוּ לְעַם אֶחָד.
    16 then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people.

    יז וְאִם-לֹא תִשְׁמְעוּ אֵלֵינוּ, לְהִמּוֹל--וְלָקַחְנוּ אֶת-בִּתֵּנוּ, וְהָלָכְנוּ.
    17 But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone.'

    Genesis 34

There are several problems with this scenario.

1. Look at the phrasing of the verse. The sons answer before Jacob. This is problematic because we have seen in Genesis 24 that:

    נ וַיַּעַן לָבָן וּבְתוּאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ, מֵיְהוָה יָצָא הַדָּבָר; לֹא נוּכַל דַּבֵּר אֵלֶיךָ, רַע אוֹ-טוֹב.
    50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said: 'The thing proceedeth from the LORD; we cannot speak unto thee bad or good

Apparently Rashi learns from the fact that Laban answered before Bethuel that Laban was a wicked person. So...what does this seem to say about Levi and Shechem?

2. Look at the word used here. The sons answer with "guile." We have seen this word before as well.

    לה וַיֹּאמֶר, בָּא אָחִיךָ בְּמִרְמָה; וַיִּקַּח, בִּרְכָתֶךָ.
    35 And he said: 'Thy brother came with guile, and hath taken away thy blessing.'

    Genesis 27

Now, Jacob was so worried about this blessing and the trickery behind it that he felt he was going to be cursed. What does that say about the brothers in this scenario?

Now, as we all know, Shechem and Levi go on to single-handedly decimate the entire city. But how does this reflect on them? The verse says:

    כה וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיוֹתָם כֹּאֲבִים, וַיִּקְחוּ שְׁנֵי-בְנֵי-יַעֲקֹב שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אֲחֵי דִינָה אִישׁ חַרְבּוֹ, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַל-הָעִיר, בֶּטַח; וַיַּהַרְגוּ, כָּל-זָכָר.
    25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city unawares, and slew all the males.

These two men take the city when the men are in pain and the city is unawares. Who does that seem like?

Well, most unfortunately, it sounds like:

    יח אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ--וְאַתָּה, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ; וְלֹא יָרֵא, אֱלֹהִים.
    18 how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.

    Deuteronomy 25

And that verse refers to Amalek.

When Jacob rebukes the brothers, he does not say that what they did was morally wrong, but rather that they have put him into a reprehensible position. Later on, when he blesses them, he curses their anger but he does not curse them...

    ל וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל-שִׁמְעוֹן וְאֶל-לֵוִי, עֲכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי, לְהַבְאִישֵׁנִי בְּיֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ, בַּכְּנַעֲנִי וּבַפְּרִזִּי; וַאֲנִי, מְתֵי מִסְפָּר, וְנֶאֶסְפוּ עָלַי וְהִכּוּנִי, וְנִשְׁמַדְתִּי אֲנִי וּבֵיתִי.
    30 And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi: 'Ye have troubled me, to make me odious unto the inhabitants of the land, even unto the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and, I being few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and smite me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.'


    שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי, אַחִים--כְּלֵי חָמָס, מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם.
    5 Simeon and Levi are brethren; weapons of violence their kinship.

    ו בְּסֹדָם אַל-תָּבֹא נַפְשִׁי, בִּקְהָלָם אַל-תֵּחַד כְּבֹדִי: כִּי בְאַפָּם הָרְגוּ אִישׁ, וּבִרְצֹנָם עִקְּרוּ-שׁוֹר.
    6 Let my soul not come into their council; unto their assembly let my glory not be united; for in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they houghed oxen.

    ז אָרוּר אַפָּם כִּי עָז, וְעֶבְרָתָם כִּי קָשָׁתָה; אֲחַלְּקֵם בְּיַעֲקֹב, וַאֲפִיצֵם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. {פ}
    7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel; I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. {P}

    Genesis 49

This second rebuke is much stronger, however; their anger is described as being cruel.

What do Shimon and Levi have to say in their defense?

1. They were provoked- "Shall he treat our sister like a harlot?"
2. The entire city is to blame, for they should have set up courts of law to try Shechem for his crime of abduction and rape. That is why they are justified in killing out the entire city. (Rambam)

End of episode one.

Enter next episode.

Samson/ Shimshon, man of strength and power, the pillar of the Jews, mightiest amongst them.

It is clear that Samson is born into a time when/where the Philistines (Pelishtim) are attacking the Jews, and they must fight back. However, his methods seem unfair. That is why we must explore them further.

    ד וַיֵּלֶךְ שִׁמְשׁוֹן, וַיִּלְכֹּד שְׁלֹשׁ-מֵאוֹת שׁוּעָלִים; וַיִּקַּח לַפִּדִים, וַיֶּפֶן זָנָב אֶל-זָנָב, וַיָּשֶׂם לַפִּיד אֶחָד בֵּין-שְׁנֵי הַזְּנָבוֹת, בַּתָּוֶךְ.
    4 And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned tail to tail, and put a torch in the midst between every two tails.

    ה וַיַּבְעֶר-אֵשׁ בַּלַּפִּידִים, וַיְשַׁלַּח בְּקָמוֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּים; וַיַּבְעֵר מִגָּדִישׁ וְעַד-קָמָה, וְעַד-כֶּרֶם זָיִת.
    5 And when he had set the torches on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks and the standing corn, and also the oliveyards.

    Judges 15

Warfare is one thing, people coming to meet each other at the battlefield is one thing, even people coming to a duel (later on, David and Goliath) seems understandable, but is this permissable? And all because his wife was given to another man? (Interestingly, there are sources that state that once again, all the Philistines were held accountable because they did not create court systems to try the people who had taken his wife and given her to another man.) But the Gemarah provides a different sort of reasoning, and one that might seem more applicable.

    And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes.6 Why just foxes? — R. Aibu b. Nagari said in the name of R. Hiyya b. Abba: Samson declared: Let [the animal] come which turns backward7 and exact punishment of the Philistines who went back on their oath.8

    Sotah 10

What oath was this?

    כג וְעַתָּה, הִשָּׁבְעָה לִּי בֵאלֹהִים הֵנָּה, אִם-תִּשְׁקֹר לִי, וּלְנִינִי וּלְנֶכְדִּי; כַּחֶסֶד אֲשֶׁר-עָשִׂיתִי עִמְּךָ, תַּעֲשֶׂה עִמָּדִי, וְעִם-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-גַּרְתָּה בָּהּ.

    23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son; but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.'

    Genesis 21:23

Once the Pelishtim went back on their oath, it seems that Samson was given the right to punish them (perhaps similar to the idea that when the Jews throw off the yoke of Torah, the nations are given the ability to 'punish' them, as it were.)

But are Samson's methods correct? He disguises himself, taking Pelishti wives for himself, seeming to be one amidst his enemy. Is this permissable?

It seems, while not desirable, disguise itself is not a capital crime. Where do we learn this?

From here:

    ד וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גַם-הֵמָּה בְּעָרְמָה, וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיִּצְטַיָּרוּ; וַיִּקְחוּ שַׂקִּים בָּלִים, לַחֲמוֹרֵיהֶם, וְנֹאדוֹת יַיִן בָּלִים, וּמְבֻקָּעִים וּמְצֹרָרִים.
    4 they also did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine skins, worn and rent and patched up;

    ה וּנְעָלוֹת בָּלוֹת וּמְטֻלָּאוֹת בְּרַגְלֵיהֶם, וּשְׂלָמוֹת בָּלוֹת עֲלֵיהֶם; וְכֹל לֶחֶם צֵידָם, יָבֵשׁ הָיָה נִקֻּדִים.
    5 and worn shoes and clouted upon their feet, and worn garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and was become crumbs.

    ו וַיֵּלְכוּ אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה, הַגִּלְגָּל; וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו וְאֶל-אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ רְחוֹקָה בָּאנוּ, וְעַתָּה, כִּרְתוּ-לָנוּ בְרִית.
    6 And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, and to the men of Israel: 'We are come from a far country; now therefore make ye a covenant with us.'

    ז ויאמרו (וַיֹּאמֶר) אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-הַחִוִּי: אוּלַי, בְּקִרְבִּי אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב, וְאֵיךְ, אכרות- (אֶכְרָת-) לְךָ בְרִית.
    7 And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites: 'Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a covenant with you?'

    ח וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, עֲבָדֶיךָ אֲנָחְנוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם יְהוֹשֻׁעַ מִי אַתֶּם, וּמֵאַיִן תָּבֹאוּ.
    8 And they said unto Joshua: 'We are thy servants.' And Joshua said unto them: 'Who are ye? and from whence come ye?'

    ט וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, מֵאֶרֶץ רְחוֹקָה מְאֹד בָּאוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ, לְשֵׁם, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: כִּי-שָׁמַעְנוּ שָׁמְעוֹ, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה בְּמִצְרָיִם.
    9 And they said unto him: 'From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the LORD thy God; for we have heard the fame of Him, and all that He did in Egypt,

    י וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, לִשְׁנֵי מַלְכֵי הָאֱמֹרִי, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן--לְסִיחוֹן מֶלֶךְ חֶשְׁבּוֹן, וּלְעוֹג מֶלֶךְ-הַבָּשָׁן אֲשֶׁר בְּעַשְׁתָּרוֹת.
    10 and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth.

    יא וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֵינוּ זְקֵינֵינוּ וְכָל-יֹשְׁבֵי אַרְצֵנוּ לֵאמֹר, קְחוּ בְיֶדְכֶם צֵידָה לַדֶּרֶךְ, וּלְכוּ, לִקְרָאתָם; וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֲלֵיהֶם עַבְדֵיכֶם אֲנַחְנוּ, וְעַתָּה כִּרְתוּ-לָנוּ בְרִית.
    11 And our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying: Take provision in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them, and say unto them: We are your servants; and now make ye a covenant with us.

    יב זֶה לַחְמֵנוּ, חָם הִצְטַיַּדְנוּ אֹתוֹ מִבָּתֵּינוּ, בְּיוֹם צֵאתֵנוּ, לָלֶכֶת אֲלֵיכֶם; וְעַתָּה הִנֵּה יָבֵשׁ, וְהָיָה נִקֻּדִים.
    12 This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry, and is become crumbs.

    יג וְאֵלֶּה נֹאדוֹת הַיַּיִן אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּאנוּ חֲדָשִׁים, וְהִנֵּה הִתְבַּקָּעוּ; וְאֵלֶּה שַׂלְמוֹתֵינוּ, וּנְעָלֵינוּ, בָּלוּ, מֵרֹב הַדֶּרֶךְ מְאֹד.
    13 And these wine-skins, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they are rent. And these our garments and our shoes are worn by reason of the very long journey.'

    יד וַיִּקְחוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, מִצֵּידָם; וְאֶת-פִּי יְהוָה, לֹא שָׁאָלוּ.
    14 And the men took of their provision, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.

    טו וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם יְהוֹשֻׁעַ שָׁלוֹם, וַיִּכְרֹת לָהֶם בְּרִית לְחַיּוֹתָם; וַיִּשָּׁבְעוּ לָהֶם, נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה.
    15 And Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the princes of the congregation swore unto them.

    טז וַיְהִי, מִקְצֵה שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, אַחֲרֵי, אֲשֶׁר-כָּרְתוּ לָהֶם בְּרִית; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ, כִּי-קְרֹבִים הֵם אֵלָיו, וּבְקִרְבּוֹ, הֵם יֹשְׁבִים.
    16 And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them.

    יז וַיִּסְעוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-עָרֵיהֶם--בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי; וְעָרֵיהֶם גִּבְעוֹן וְהַכְּפִירָה, וּבְאֵרוֹת וְקִרְיַת יְעָרִים.
    17 And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim.

    יח וְלֹא הִכּוּם, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי-נִשְׁבְּעוּ לָהֶם נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה, בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּלֹּנוּ כָל-הָעֵדָה, עַל-הַנְּשִׂיאִים.
    18 And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the LORD, the God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes.

    יט וַיֹּאמְרוּ כָל-הַנְּשִׂיאִים, אֶל-כָּל-הָעֵדָה, אֲנַחְנוּ נִשְׁבַּעְנוּ לָהֶם, בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְעַתָּה, לֹא נוּכַל לִנְגֹּעַ בָּהֶם.
    19 But all the princes said unto all the congregation: 'We have sworn unto them by the LORD, the God of Israel; now therefore we may not touch them.

    Joshua 9

Now, the Givonim are liars and they are deceitful; they come with guile and trick the Israelites, but though the people "murmur" against them; still they are sworn and must keep their oath. What this seems to demonstrate is that disguise itself is not forbidden- after all, if the disguise were considered deceitful enough, surely they would have been permitted to go back on the oath of peace! This is similar to the situation by Jacob, Esau and Isaac- if Jacob's disguise had been considered a true crime, then surely Isaac would have been able to rescind the blessings! Then again, perhaps it is also important to consider the intent. In both situations, nothing bad was happening- the Givonim wanted peace, and Jacob wanted the blessings. If they had disguised themselves with the intent of harm (like suicide bombers) perhaps this would have been seen differently.

Even Samson is unable to act until he is given a pretext...."You have plowed with my calf" to learn the answer to the riddle.

But it is now that we reach the most disturbing part. Samson commits suicide- killing thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Pelishtim alongside him.

    כה וַיְהִי, כי טוב (כְּטוֹב) לִבָּם, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, קִרְאוּ לְשִׁמְשׁוֹן וִישַׂחֶק-לָנוּ; וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְשִׁמְשׁוֹן מִבֵּית האסירים (הָאֲסוּרִים), וַיְצַחֵק לִפְנֵיהֶם, וַיַּעֲמִידוּ אוֹתוֹ, בֵּין הָעַמּוּדִים.
    25 And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said: 'Call for Samson, that he may make us sport.' And they called for Samson out of the prison-house; and he made sport before them; and they set him between the pillars.

    כו וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְשׁוֹן אֶל-הַנַּעַר הַמַּחֲזִיק בְּיָדוֹ, הַנִּיחָה אוֹתִי, והימשני (וַהֲמִישֵׁנִי) אֶת-הָעַמֻּדִים, אֲשֶׁר הַבַּיִת נָכוֹן עֲלֵיהֶם; וְאֶשָּׁעֵן, עֲלֵיהֶם.
    26 And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand: 'Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house resteth, that I may lean upon them.'

    כז וְהַבַּיִת, מָלֵא הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים, וְשָׁמָּה, כֹּל סַרְנֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים; וְעַל-הַגָּג, כִּשְׁלֹשֶׁת אֲלָפִים אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה, הָרֹאִים, בִּשְׂחוֹק שִׁמְשׁוֹן.
    27 Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.

    כח וַיִּקְרָא שִׁמְשׁוֹן אֶל-יְהוָה, וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה זָכְרֵנִי נָא וְחַזְּקֵנִי נָא אַךְ הַפַּעַם הַזֶּה, הָאֱלֹהִים, וְאִנָּקְמָה נְקַם-אַחַת מִשְּׁתֵי עֵינַי, מִפְּלִשְׁתִּים.
    28 And Samson called unto the LORD, and said: 'O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray Thee, and strengthen me, I pray Thee, only this once, O God, that I may be this once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.'

    כט וַיִּלְפֹּת שִׁמְשׁוֹן אֶת-שְׁנֵי עַמּוּדֵי הַתָּוֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר הַבַּיִת נָכוֹן עֲלֵיהֶם, וַיִּסָּמֵךְ, עֲלֵיהֶם--אֶחָד בִּימִינוֹ, וְאֶחָד בִּשְׂמֹאלוֹ.
    29 And Samson took fast hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and leaned upon them, the one with his right hand, and the other with his left.

    ל וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְשׁוֹן, תָּמוֹת נַפְשִׁי עִם-פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וַיֵּט בְּכֹחַ, וַיִּפֹּל הַבַּיִת עַל-הַסְּרָנִים וְעַל-כָּל-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ; וַיִּהְיוּ הַמֵּתִים, אֲשֶׁר הֵמִית בְּמוֹתוֹ, רַבִּים, מֵאֲשֶׁר הֵמִית בְּחַיָּיו.
    30 And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bent with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life.

    Judges 16

What are we to make of this? Samson asks God to allow him to die alongside the Pelishtim, so long as he is able to bring them down and topple the entire hall.

What are the differences between Samson's attack and a terrorist attack?

Some possible answers-

1. The Pelishtim knew very well that they had an enemy in their midst. It was their mistake to think Samson harmless- remember, they forgot that Samson's hair "had grown again." It is logical to assume that they are given their fair chance at stopping Samson from doing anything of the kind, and it is their own foolishness that causes his death.

2. They provoke him, calling him in order to "make sport of him." All the members of the party either participated or observed this, and no one seems to have attempted to stop it.

3. From the Gemara, "And Samson called unto the Lord, and said: O Lord God, remember me, I pray Thee and strengthen me, I pray Thee, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.4 Rab said: Samson spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He, Sovereign of the Universe, Remember on my behalf the twenty5 years I judged Israel, and never did I order anyone to carry my staff from one place to another. " (Sotah 10) His action is a form of vengeance as opposed to a suicide bombing, which generally seems unprovoked.

But this answer (from the Gemara) seems difficult, for did not God ordain that Samson must lose his two eyes?

    GEMARA. Our Rabbis have taught: Samson rebelled [against God] through his eyes, as it is said: And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me, because she is pleasing in my eyes;19 therefore the Philistines put out his eyes, as it is said: And the Philistines laid hold on him and put out his eyes.20 But it is not so; for behold it is written: But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord!21 — When he went [to choose a wife] he nevertheless followed his own inclinations.22

    Sotah 9a

One could suggest the sort of answer we often receive when it comes to the Egyptians- "God gave them permission to punish us, but not to the extent that they did so, and hence they themselves were punished," but this answer has never fully satisfied me. Either God gives them permission to punish, in which case they seem blameless, or He does not, in which case they are guilty. How can it work both ways?

Even the answers I suggest- that in both scenarios (Shimon and Levi and/or Shimshon) the perpetrators are provoked, this still does not explain their behavior (sweet-talking the enemies/ Shimshon takes wives from amongst them!) If they truly felt they were correct and right in all they did, should they not have been honest? Can one mislead people if one intends to hurt them?

And, as my father mentioned, David was told that he must bring a dowry of 100 foreskins to receive Michal's hand in marriage. David doesn't bring 100, but more- 200! Doesn't this seem bloodthirsty, an unprovoked crime? How are we to understand this?

I don't have the answer...


Jewish Atheist said...


To me, the difference between terrorism and assymetric warfare is whether civilians are targeted. Obviously, blowing yourself up in a disco in Tel Aviv is terrorism, but I would argue that blowing yourself up near a U.S. army jeep in Iraq is just assymetric warfare. (When it's moral to fight a war to begin with is outside the scope of this argument.)

I also think that the Palestinians (and M. Ben M'Hidi) have a point when they talk about the many civilians killed by the other side. Yes, Israel targets the guilty (or those they presume guilty, anyway) and take steps to reduce civilian deaths, but they still take action knowing that they're going to kill many civilians.

I would argue further that the U.S.'s nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as its firebombing of many other Japanese cities (killing more civilians than the nukes) were terrorist actions, albeit committed by a nation's military.

Many argue that the slaughter of Japanese civilians saved lives and/or that it was morally acceptable because of the consequences. I'm not here to say if that's right or wrong, but I think it's important to note that terrorism is essentially a tactic. Theoretically, it could be moral.

To take an extreme example, what if Iran got nuclear weapons and were going to detonate them over many cities, killing hundreds of millions of civilians. Assume for the sake of this example that we have 100% certainty that they will do this and 100% certainty that a small terrorist attack on Iranian civilians will somehow turn them against their government and lead to saving hundreds of millions of lives. Perhaps it would be moral to do it, at least as far as one can talk about morality with regard to war and killing.

In real life, we can never be 100% certain of such things, though, so the questions are more complicated. But I think in the Torah, the perpetrators of the actions you write about are 100% sure. They have a direct line to God. In the Torah, the Jews are God's people and are essentially good, and the nations and peoples they clash with are bad.

Ask yourself why the Hebrews are permitted to attack the nations of Canaan. It's because God gave the land to the Israelites.

This answer makes the analogies even more troubling I think, since the suicide bombers presumably believe that their God, their moral arbiter, has condoned and encouraged their terrorist actions.

Theists criticise us atheists for not having a basis for objective morality, but I think objective morality is more dangerous, since more often than not, it says that "our" people are better than "their" people and that God wants us to be victorious.

e-kvetcher said...

I think that a common definition of terrorism involves the notion of disregard of the rules and conventions of war. Of course, without sounding like a Flower Child, I believe that the term "rules of war" is a complete oxymoron, so I don't really think we can define terrorism.

Furthermore, I don't really know how the classification of whether an act of violence is an act of terrorism really moves humanity forward.

Anonymous said...

I think the real issue with terrorism is what the aims are.

As you point out, deceit for the purposes of making peace that otherwise wouldn't be granted is a different sort of offense than deceit for the purposes of violence.

Similarly, asymmetric warfare and killing of civilians for a strategic goal needs to be judged in context of the goal. 1) Can the goal be achieved with less violence, particularly to civilians 2)Is the goal achievable.

I think what strikes most people about Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is that its goals are fundamentally not achievable. The Israelis are simply not going to pick up and leave the land entirely to the Palestinians. The Western world is not going to give up its values and political system and become Islamicized.

The problem with Islamic fundamentalism is that the goals are divorced from reality, and not recognized as moral by the other side - we are not about to grant that Fundamentalist Islamic repression is more moral than Western values of free speech. This is not a war they can win, and not just because they are outnumbered conventionally or outpowered by Western armies.
They are blowing up civilians for no ultimate purpose save glorification of violence.

Chana said...

Thanks, you've all helped me clarify my question.

Is terrorism always morally wrong, or is it the cause behind it that makes it wrong (i.e. terrorism is simply a tactic?)

I have always been of the view that terrorism itself, no matter the cause, is wrong (because it hurts civilians without cause, etc...)

That's why I find these verses in Tanakh troubling.

Masmida said...

What repluses many from the concept of terrorism is the destruction of those who are considered non-combatents and therefore is some ideal world, innocent and vunerable e.g. children on a school bus.

Which means that rather than armed struggle, it's glorfied murder and a fairly cowardly one at that.

So the question becomes is it justifiable under any circumstances, combine that with unquestionable (you're going to hate that) moral rectitude of G-d and we have a really intresting question.

If unbalanced force was always morally reprehensiable, then G-d punishing anyone is wrong, since He is always stronger than anyone. Except for the fact of his perfect knowledge.

I can only answer well in terms of the Egyptians (and Nevucadnezzer as well, is described in Yerimiah as Hashem's chosen means of punishment) in the case of the Egyptians there is a question of how intense the exile was intended to be. There were three stages.
1) strangers
2) slaves
3) afflicted
If you look at Avraham's phrophecy at the Brit ben Ha'betarim,(end of lech lecha) I believe this fits well with the language.
The timing of each stage was not proscribed, giving latitude for bothe the Egyptians and Ya'akov's descendent's behavior.

However it seems that the Egyptian were excessively enthusiatic in their fufillment of the third stage, that last 86 years of exile.

Consider that even had they wished to justify that they had no choice, G-d commanded it, they obviously had no faith in the continuation of the same phrophecy, that the slaves would go free, otherwise the Egyptians would have let them go the first time that Moshe came before Pharoah.

The other examples are considerably more difficult to understand. There is a book about Shimshon called Samson's Struggle which I have read sections of that might help you gain further insight.

good luck.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a qestion of perspective. Terrorists feel that they cannot defeat their enemies ina "fair fight" and are thus forced to use less even handed methods of gaining their victories. The problem is that it's easier to strike at unarmed, defenseless targets.

Additionally, look at the root of terrorism. Terror. The entire point of a "terrorist attack" is to strike fear into your enemy. Strapping a bomb onto your person and stepping onto a school bus, or flying a 747 into an office building - are extremely successful ways of doing just that.

Anonymous said...

-->I have always been of the view that terrorism itself, no matter the cause, is wrong (because it hurts civilians without cause, etc...)

That's why I find these verses in Tanakh troubling.

I'm confused (not an all together uncommon occurance, but I digress...). If the issue is one of targeting civilians, then I fail to see the problem w/ any of the given instances in TN"K. In both the cases of Shimon/Levi & Shimshon the individuals involved, on both sides, are all willing players on the field of battle, as it were.

Tobie said...

First off, I don't think the question is one of disguise. Secret agents, saboteurs, and members of the Resistance also disguise their identities with the intention of causing harm.
The question of defining terrorism as opposed to legitimate warfare has always been a tricky one. Asking whether terrorism is wrong is often a tautology, since people define whatever they see as wrong as terrorism and everything else as "asymetric warfare" or "legitimate tactics". The more pertinent question is "Is it always wrong to target civilians?"
The answer to this is also complex. Everyone does make a moral difference between a suicide bombing and, say, an air force bombing a city. But even within the latter category- bombing runs, yes, nuclear bombs, probably not. The boundaries are unclear, and I think that the most convenient guide for this sort of thing is international law, which attempts to capture all of these same sorts of instincts and inclinations.

That said, I don't really see anything wrong with the examples from Tanach. Judging warfare 3000 years ago by modern international law is unfair to the protagonists. Shimon and Levi's tactics sound objectionable to modern ears, but does that make them necessarily illegitimate? How else could one small tribe hold its own against a larger, more powerful, and oppressive one? As for Shimshon, he chose his tactics, according to most commentators, to avoid having retaliation boomerang back to the other powerless Jews by disguising it as a personal vendetta.

I know that this sort of talk smacks of relative morality, and yes, this fact bothers me as well. But, on the other hand, the Torah's morality has always been very aware of context and what is a legitimate expectation. Prescribing Marquis of Queensbury rules to people living in the Bronze Age is unrealistic, unfair, and pretty much suicidal.

Which leaves us with the question of how to deal with these incidents. I personally am disgusted when I hear people singing "Zachreini Na V'Chazkeini Na..."(Shimshon's final prayer) at weddings, although I do not think that Shimshon was wrong to have said it the first time. Just becuase Biblical figures are role models does not mean that every action that they did is right or appropriate today, or should be viewed as ideal. Qualms like yours are probably the best reaction out there.

e-kvetcher said...


You virtually read my mind with your response.

Anonymous said...

way too long to read why do you let it get so long winded

dbs said...

First of all, I thing that JA’s definition of terrorism is the most commonly accepted one – that the targets are civilians. This, by the way, is different from the idea of having civilian casualties from an action in which the target is military and the civilians are ‘collateral damage’ (a terrible expression, by the way).

Without getting into the question of which tactics are allowed or the overall moral dilemma yet, it may be helpful to get a better handle on when warfare and/or killing is permissible in the Torah. I don’t have you’re gift for typing speed and hyperlinking, so I’m just going to do this from memory. (By the way, I’m not expressing moral agreement here – I have a problem with much of this.)

Here are the primary principles of justifiable warfare in the torah:

1. Self-defense, including preemptive strikes.
2. Defense of property and liberty.
3. Enforcement of law and punishment.
4. Royal decree (which is usually associated with one of the above situations).

There is also classification of killing which is “patur aval asur”, such as someone who kills an accidental murderer of a family member. [I think that you’d find the Rambam’s Hilchos Milchamah and Rotzeach very interesting.]

Using the above categories, you can pretty much understand the rational for many of the cases which you cited. For example, Shimon and Levi were allowed to commit murder to rescue Dina. Further, had they not killed all men in sh’chem, there would have been retaliation, so preventing this was also permitted.

Certain cases are simply difficult. If you look at it from my ‘secular’ perspective, the reasons for those cases has to do with human factors. It doesn’t all have to jibe with divine perfection. If you look at it from the orthodox perspective, you can always find a rational using either medrash, drash or creative halachic application.

Regarding the use of trickery and deception: The Torah allows jews to use the accepted tactics of war. In biblical times, war was a winner take all proposition, so what is certainly mass murder by today’s standards (well, any standards) was the norm of the day. Likewise, it is acceptable to use trickery and deception, but not acceptable to break a treaty. To a certain degree, there isn’t really an absolute halacha here nor is there a moral principle. It is just a fact of life, which the Torah accepts, that if you’re going to go to war, you need to use the weapons which the other side is using. In the same way, you can’t go to battle today and only use tasers when the other side is using lethal weapons. The norms of war have evolved a lot (though not enough) over two thousand years. There is no longer use of gas, for example. It is illegal to kill prisoners of war – this wasn’t always the case.

My point is that the Torah is not setting a permanent principle that you can do what Shimon and Levi did. It was ‘justifiable’ based on the norms and needs of the time.

How does the Torah view stack up with other legal systems? It depends on your perspective, but probably pretty well in most cases. (Except for the issue of divine right.) First, there is a very high value placed on human life and a strong prohibition against murder. Second, there is a broad category of exceptions for self defense, which modern law universally recognizes. Third, there is an acceptance of capital punishment, which is a matter of ongoing moral debate. Forth, there is a high degree of latitude given for battlefield conditions – far more than one would argue for today, but look at JA’s point about the atom bomb. Fifth, there is virtually unlimited discretion of the king and court – also a principle which is problematic in today’s world.

The biggest moral problem in absolute terms is divine rational for murder. This extends both to the wars of conquest as well as for capital punishment for ‘crimes against god’.

I guess when all is said and done, I think that the Tanach took place in a brutal time, and that the stories told reflect these times. Whether you want to explain them in terms which are consistent with halacha depends on your point of view.

(By the way, another extreme case which always fascinated me was Pelgesh B’Givah – killing virtually an entire shevet in retaliation for one murder.)

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana: Yaakov Avinu didn't have an answer to Shimon and Levi either.

He cursed their anger, they replied, "You want our sister to be as if a harlot?"

And Yaakov had no answer.

Anonymous said...

"I have always been of the view that terrorism itself, no matter the cause, is wrong (because it hurts civilians without cause, etc...)"

The key words are "without cause." Do you really think the allied bombing of German cities was immoral? Or do you accept that they did what they needed to do to demoralize the Germans and win the war.
Blowing up civilians in a pizza shop is different isn't it. It is their only tactic - they are not otherwise in a conventional war - and they can't accomplish anything except random violence.

Ezzie said...

Related: Watch the first few minutes of the movie Swordfish. One of the few movies that has an interesting discussion on morality... and terrorism.