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Jewish Law*: One Israeli Soldier Worth More Than 1,000 Palestinians

Please make sure to read my disclaimer Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem wherein I clarify that “Jewish law” here is not meant to be understood in a blanket way.  Certainly, there exist alternative, more compassionate understandings of Halakha.  I understand that many readers are deeply uncomfortable with characterizing “Jewish law” in such a sweeping manner as we have done in this “thought exercise”–but that’s the point of the article series: if you refuse to generalize Halakha, then why do you do it to Sharia?

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #4 TERRORISM!

Israel recently agreed to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 1 captive Israeli soldier.  The soldier’s name is Gilad Shalit: he is neither a high-ranking military official or anyone of national importance.  Then, why did Israel agree to ransom him with over a thousand men?  Why is he worth so much?

CNN ran with the headline “Shalit swap based on ‘ultimate value of human life,’ rabbis say”:

“Judaism places ultimate value on human life. Therefore in the Jewish tradition, in Jewish law, redeeming captives trumps just about everything else,” said Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights. “It takes priority over anything else you can possibly do.”

So, it is just that Israelis value life so much?  Are they just that superbly moral?  I have seen such discussion on the internet and in the media, with pro-Israeli apologists comparing this “ultimate value of human life” with the “culture of death” that Palestinians (and Arabs/Muslims) supposedly have.

Yet, the CNN article is misleading, as it implies that Judaism* values human life, when in fact Jewish law* places the ultimate value on Jewish life only.   The mitzvah (religious obligation) to redeem prisoners is limited to fellow Jews.  It does not apply to Gentiles.  Had the prisoner been Christian or Muslim (ha!), Israel would never have made such a trade.

There is a deeply racial underpinning here: according to Jewish law*, Jews and Jewish life are always considered superior to Gentiles and Gentile life.  Prof. Israel Shahak, an Israeli human rights activist, documented the background for this racist religious dogma in his book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.  For example, he quotes Rabbi Abraham Kook, largely considered “the ultimate father figure” of Religious Zionism, who stated that “the difference between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews…is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”

Admittedly, such beliefs are not unfamiliar to Radical and Ultra-Conservative Muslims, who argue that “the worst Muslim is better than the best non-Muslim.”  Similar statements can be heard from fundamentalist Christians.  Yet, Religious Zionists take this bigoted idea much further, using it to justify the killing of civilians: to save one Jewish life, killing any number of Gentiles is acceptable.  Not only can one exchange 1,000 Gentile prisoners for 1 Jewish prisoner, but one can also kill 1,000 Gentiles to save 1 Jewish prisoner (or as revenge and deterrence in the case of a Jewish soldier who was killed).

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde asks rhetorically on p.4 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition (a book written under the auspices of the world’s leading Orthodox Jewish minds):

If the government can rescue a soldier only by killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp, may it do that?

Broyde argues in the affirmative, noting that “enemy civilians” are “less sacred than one’s own soldiers.”  Even if it were otherwise, Broyde argues, Jewish law* allows for a “presumptive hora’at sha’ah (temporary edict/suspension of law) that would permit such[.]”  He goes on to say:

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, for example, permits the sacrifice of oneself as a form of hora’at sha’ah [temporary edict/suspension of law] that is allowed by Jewish law to save the community.  While the voluntary act of heroic self-sacrifice and the killing of an unwilling victim are not parallel, I think that one who would permit a Jewish soldier to kill himself to save the community, would permit the killing of “less innocent” enemy soldiers or even civilians in such situations as well.  In grave times of national war, every battle and every encounter raises to such a level, I suspect.

In “every battle and every encounter,” it is permitted to kill “even civilians.”

Broyde raises a very odd argument, rhetorically asking:

If a government can choose as a matter of policy to engage in retaliatory military action that risks the lives of its own soldiers and civilians in a time of war, does it not follow that it may do so with enemy soldiers and civilians as well?

Rabbi Norman Lamm asks on p.238:

To use the Talmudic phraseology, is the blood of Israeli soldiers any less red than that of enemy Arab civilians?

The bottom line is that the Jewish military can kill enemy civilians to “save its soldiers.”  Prof. David Shatz writes on p.xix of the introduction to War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

It would be morally acceptable, and perhaps even required, to cause civilian deaths in order to save your own combatants.

How many civilian deaths?  Certainly, “killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp” to save 1 Jewish soldier is not unreasonable.  The 1-to-1,000 ratio is also acceptable.  Mordechai Eliyahu, the late Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, bellowed:

Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

He went on to say:

The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi called for carpet bombing the Palestinians instead of “risk[ing] the lives of Jews.”  The Jerusalem Post reported in an article entitled “Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza: Says there is no moral prohibition against killing civilians to save Jews“:

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza.

Similarly did Rabbi Yaakov Perin famously state that “one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

One of Israel’s justifications for the 2006 Lebanon War, which killed over a thousand Lebanese (mostly civilians), was to recover two IDF soldiers.  Does it seem reasonable to kill over a thousand people to recapture two soldiers?

During the conflict in Gaza, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, former Rabbi of the Beit She’an Valley in Northern Israel, opined that “the Halacha (Jewish law) countenances the killing of non-combatants in times of war,” and that “there is no excuse for endangering our own citizens or soldiers to protect the lives of civilians on the other side.”  This is an argument for Israel relying on carpet bombing against a civilian population instead of sending in ground troops to fight in “hand-to-hand combat.”

Far from being the views of some radical, fringe element in Israel, these are the mainstream beliefs of Religious Zionism.  These attitudes are reflected in Israeli society as a whole, with “more than 70 per cent support for bombing Gaza–but just 20 per cent support for a ground invasion.”  It is no surprise then that indiscriminate killing–accepted by international law as “equally” criminal compared to targeting civilians–is thus the norm of Israeli war policy.

Surely, a dozen or a thousand Palestinian infants (who will grow up to be terrorists anyways) are not worth the life of one brave Israeli soldier.

*  *  *  *  *

This racist line of thinking reaches its logical conclusion by encouraging the slaughter of civilians to “protect” Jewish soldiers.  A Jewish soldier’s life is so much more precious than the lives of enemy civilians that this trade-off is acceptable.  On pp.65-67 of Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Prof. Israeli Shahak documents a Q&A between an Israeli soldier and Rabbi Shim’on Weiser (a conversation originally published in the yearbook of one of Israel’s prestigious religious institutions, Midrashiyyat No’am).  In it, the soldier asks the rabbi:

[Am I] permitted to put myself in danger by allowing a woman to stay alive? For there have been cases when women threw hand grenades.

Rabbi Weiser responds by saying:

The rule “Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first” applies to a Jew…[but] it only applies to him if there is [actual] ground to fear that he is coming to kill you.  But a Gentile [non-Jew] during wartime is usually presumed so, except when it is quite clear that he has no evil intent.

In other words, Jews are considered innocent by default, whereas Arabs are guilty until proven innocent.  If there is any doubt as to the innocence of the Arab civilian, such a person should be killed just to be on the safe side.  The Israeli soldier responds by restating the Rabbi’s position:

As for [your] letter [to me], I have understood it as follows:

In wartime I am not merely permitted, but enjoined to kill every Arab man and woman I chance upon, if there is a reason to fear that they help in the war against us, directly or indirectly.

In the current climate, there is such a high level of paranoia in Israeli society that almost every Palestinian is seen as a threat, constituting “a reason to fear.”

*  *  *  *  *

Similar arguments are raised by many of Israel’s ardent defenders to justify killing civilians.  Former IDF soldier and full-time Israeli propagandist Cori Chascione of Jewcy opines:

Individual [Israeli] soldiers are not permitted to risk their own lives in order to avoid collateral damage or to save civilians…a soldier’s life comes before a civilian in enemy territory

Ted Belman of writes:

As a numbers game, is it moral to cause one of your own to be killed to avoid killing ten of them? What about one hundred of them. In the last few days we killed 100 of them and lost 2 of ours. To my mind that is moral.

How similar is this rhetorical questioning; we saw it in the sober, serious, and scholarly book written by the leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries of the world (see above).

With views such as these emanating from mainstream Orthodox Judaism, it is only natural that others would take this paranoid worldview even further, such as Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira who declared that it would be licit to kill [Palestinian] children if there was a fear that they would “grow up to become enemies of the Jewish people.”

*  *  *  *  *

As I have repeated over and over again, I am not trying to categorize all of Judaism, all interpretations of Jewish law, or all Jews as one way or another.  I am simply establishing that extremist views such as these exist in no short supply.  So why this overwhelming focus on Islam, Islamic law, and Muslims?

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  • Just Stopping By

    @Jon: Please slow down before claiming that Danios was being “anti-semitic in the fullest sense of the word.”

    First, from what I have read here, he is quite anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, but not at all anti-Semitic/anti-Jewish.

    Second, this really seems to be just a case of blaming Israel just out of reflex. Perhaps I am missing something, but the implication of some of the arguments here is that Israel should have released fewer Palestinians, perhaps only one. If anything, the practical implications of decrying the “ratio” are anti-Palestinian.

    As you probably noted here and at other websites, there is a lot of instinctive Israel-bashing that on further reflection looks silly. And there is a similar line of Palestinian-bashing and Arab-bashing on other websites that on reflection looks equally silly. I feel that such knee-jerk criticisms, whether of the Israeli or Palestinian or any other leadership, tend to undercut the legitimate criticisms of them.

    As for your claim that Danios “goes on to quote *the* most extremist Israelis…” yes, that it true. I do think that was in some part deliberate, but as I saw on some other threads, and with all due respect to Danios, based on what he has written in other articles, Danios does not seem to have a sufficiently thorough a knowledge of Israeli politics to recognize that contrary views are much more popular and well-known than he suspects.

  • Jon

    @Just Stopping By – being an ex-Israeli, who incidentally left because of his doubt of Israeli policies – I was wondering about this apparent problem.

    I have now reach the conclusion that using the “ratio” in this was is anti-semitic in the fullest sense of the word.

    The Palestinians *agreed* to this deal – they didn’t saw: “oh, that’s insluting – you’re saying that one Israeli is worth 1000 Palestinians?”. No, they accepted the offer because it ment more fighters for them.

    No. The way Danios seems to make use of the exchange ratio here is as proof that the Israeli (or Jews, for that matter) regard each of their own as worth 1000 times more than a Palestinian life, and from this draws the preverse conclusion that Israel would consider killing 1000 Palestinians for every Israeli killed. And he goes on to quote *the* most extremist Israelis who do seem to encourage such views.

    I critisize Israel for a lot of things. But it seems astounding to me that some people will twist and distort things so bizzarely that even for releasing 1000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one soldier Israel is in the wrong.

  • Just Stopping By

    @Talal: Here is an article: “In fact, there are thousands of Muslim Bedouin who serve in the Israeli army, or IDF, and even bear arms against their fellow Muslims in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.”

    Also, I am a little confused on why there is such an objection to Israel releasing over 1000 Palestinians for one Israeli soldier. Would people have preferred that Israel release only one Palestinian? There are lots of things that Israel does that are worth denouncing, but I’m not sure why this should be considered one of them.

  • Talal

    I assume you are aware that there are a significant number of Muslims serving in the IDF.

    you got stats, links, evidence for this?

  • Ian Gould

    “Had the prisoner been Christian or Muslim (ha!), Israel would never have made such a trade.”

    I assume you are aware that there are a significant number of Muslims serving in the IDF.

  • Christian-friend

    Milad can not harm me because I’m Christian; and I intend to abuse this power 🙂

  • corey

    yeah but its not surprising I can only guess the reason he has such hatred against muslims is because somebody stole his teddy bear and thinks that he somehow got the idea that a muslim did it.

  • Géji

    Attention!! Loon Alert!! Did anyone realized the loonatic that calls himself Milad(a.k.a Porkkk) is becoming more and more violent in his rhetorics?

  • Al

    Ah, the old double standard! Evil Muslims with their lies! lol

  • Sam Seed

    @Milad, your rantings are insane, this is what hate does to people. You can’t complete a sentence without name calling. Tell you what, stick to JW and may you stick there forever in your lust for hate. You are the proverbial ‘donkey’ in as much, when you say ‘A donkey is big headed but has very little grey matter’. With hate and rage, you can’t think straight which is exactly what you are doing.I pity the fool.

  • Just Stopping By

    First, I like the new disclaimer in the article. Good job, Danios.

    Second, how do we know that this is not a national policy that might be applied for any Israeli citizen? Consider the famous case of Azzam Azzam (, a non-Jewish Israeli jailed by Egypt for being a spy (Azzam and Israel denied and still deny this) who was traded for six jailed Egyptians. It’s not 1,000-to-1, but this was well after the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, so there weren’t that many Egyptians held in Israel at the time. Would there be any objection to a state that had a policy of trading muliple non-citizens to secure the release of one of its citizens?

  • By Danios:”As I have repeated over and over again,I am not trying to categorize all of Judaism,all interpretations of Jewish laws,or all Jews as one way or another. I am simply establishing that extremist views such as these exist in no short supply. So why this overwhelming focus on Islam,Islamic law,and Muslims?”

    My Comments:

    The first two sentences of the above quote have genuinely and honestly said it all,precisely as I personally feel. Thank you,Danios,for adhering firmly to the high ground of the debate and never allow yourself to take a cheap shot at Judaism or Christianity or at Jews or Christians. I have been inspired by your disciplines and I wish I could maintain such disciplines,although I believe that I am much older than you and possibly more experience because of difference in age.

    As to the answer to the last question in the above quote,I may simply blame the evil side of the human nature that refuses to let the good side overtaking it. That is to say that the war between good and evil has no end since Adam and Eve were kicked out from the Ganah,(Paradise),according to the Old Testament.

    Off Topic,on Censorship:

    Although I have no wish to continue posting at Loonwatch Website because of censorship of my posts lately,(in fact one post of mine was completely deleted for unkown reason/reasons to me),I have found myself compelled to make the above comments here,after reading Danios’ essay published above. It seems to me that the only way to stop trying to post on this website is to refrain from reading the future essays that may be written by Danios and just wait untill he publishes his book or books,as he promised he wouls eventually do. I am inclined to do just that-wait.

  • Nemo Fish

    I think in the context of occupation, even 1 = 1 is unfair for the Palestinians

  • It would be a rlief when Shalit joins his family.The Arabs will never ever live in peace with the Jews and the Jewish State.Peace,Prgres and Prosperity is not in the Psyche of the Muslims/Arabs.It is only Savagagery.They will never grow out of it.The only language they understand and respect is brutal retaliation.A whip is enough for a horse but for a donkey you need a stick.A donkey is big headed but has very little grey matter.Brutality and Savagery is in the blood of Muslims and Arabs.Just look around and se their behavior towards Non_Muslims in Egypt,Pakistan,Afghanistan,Iran and evey Muslim country.They are basically Sub_Human.

  • mindy1

    Extremeists, we all have them 🙁

  • Sam Seed

    ^ That should read ‘The life of a Jewish soldier equals to 1000 lives of Muslims’.

  • Sam Seed

    I was wondering why this was making it big in the headlines, thanks for clarifying Danios. Really appreciate your efforts on dismantling the propaganda machines.

    The life of a Jewish soldier equals to 100 lives of Muslims. Explains the targetting of civilians also by Israel.

  • Ummer

    “Jewish Law” – one that doesn’t differentiate between the pagan’s that God may have commanded to target at a specific time, as opposed to monotheists of whom rid that land from Roman rule.

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