War and Peace

Reasons for war

Reasons might include:

  • To defend your own country or another country.
  • To fight for your beliefs or freedom
  • To stop an unjust government in your country (civil war)
  • To gain more territory or resources (e.g. oil)

The effects of war

The effects might include:

  • A large number of deaths – both military and civilian.
  • Destruction of people’s homes and families.
  • Some people might become refugees.
  • Millions of pounds spent on weapons and on fighting the war.
  • It can take years for a country to recover from a war.


  • Many people are scared that ‘dirty bombs’ that spread radioactive material will be used in warfare.
  • Nuclear weapons cause massive destruction on a huge scale and pollute the atmosphere for years.
  • Other weapons include conventional weapons (like guns, tanks, etc.), chemical weapons (e.g. mustard gas bombs) and biological weapons (that spread viruses, etc.).

Jewish teachings on war

God is portrayed as a warrior (e.g. 2 Samuel 22:15 – ‘He shot arrows and scattered the enemies').

Jews were encouraged to defend themselves with teachings such as ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ (Exodus 21:24)

Deuteronomy 20:10 ‘make people an offer of peace.’

Just War

War is a necessary last resort at times – milchemet mitzvah (obligatory war), for example in self-defence and Holy wars.

The conditions for this are:

  • The enemy must have attacked first or you need to pre-empt an attack
  • The war must be a last resort
  • All non-violent ways of preventing the war must have been tried first.
  • You must only attack military targets.
  • You must try to minimise targets (see Deuteronomy 20:19-20).

Michemet reshut is optional war. This has to take place after consultation with the religious authorities.

War is not allowed if it is only to gain your own advantage or if it totally destroys the country you are going to attack.

People are allowed to defend themselves. ‘If a person intends to kill you, be first to kill him.’ (Sanhedrin 72a). However if it is possible to defend yourself without killing then you should do this.

Holy War

In the Bible, there are many examples of God encouraging the Jews to fight. For example, God saying in Joel 3:9 ‘Prepare for war! Raise the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.’

The idea of ‘Holy War’ is not used by modern Jews. Although it is present in the Bible, it is no longer necessary.


  • Pacifism is the idea that it is always wrong to use violence.
  • Jews tend not to be pacifists as they believe it is acceptable to fight in self-defence.

Jewish teachings on peace

Micah 4:3 ‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.’ This means that weapons of war will no longer be needed and can become weapons of peace.

‘Great is peace, because peace is to the earth what yeast is to dough.’ (Talmud)

‘Do not kill’ (Exodus 20:13)

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