Sifrei Devarim 203.

כי תצור אל עיר. במלחמת הרשות הכתוב מדבר.

(Devarim 20:19) "If you besiege a city many days": Scripture here speaks of an optional war.

I אל עיר. ולא לכרך.

"a city": and not a metropolis;

אל עיר. ולא לכפר.

"a city": and not a village.


What exactly is the definition of a city, village and metropolis? Is a city surrounded by walls, does it have a certain population size or something else?

Is there a distinction between a city and other settlements in other aspects of warfare as well?


1 Answer 1


As far as the parameters of combat and the like. It is worth noting that Rambam expressly notes about when fighting an 'Ir' - city, the inhabitants are given the means to escape:

כְּשֶׁצָּרִין עַל עִיר לְתָפְשָׂהּ. אֵין מַקִּיפִין אוֹתָהּ מֵאַרְבַּע רוּחוֹתֶיהָ אֶלָּא מִשָּׁלֹשׁ רוּחוֹתֶיהָ. וּמַנִּיחִין מָקוֹם לַבּוֹרֵחַ וּלְכָל מִי שֶׁיִּרְצֶה לְהִמָּלֵט עַל נַפְשׁוֹ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר לא, ז) "וַיִּצְבְּאוּ עַל מִדְיָן כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֶת משֶׁה". מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ שֶׁבְּכָךְ צִוָּהוּ:

When we besiege a city which we want to capture, we do not encircle it from all four sides, but only on three. We leave one side open for them to flee. Anyone who wishes to escape with his life may so do, as it says, “and you shall deploy against Midian, as G-d had commanded Moses” (Numbers 31:7). By Tradition we have learned that this is what was meant. (Mishneh Torah, Melachim Umilchamos 6:7) - (Also refer to the Sifrei Bamidbar 157)

Note it is specifically an עיר. When relating about an Ir Hanidachas - a city that has been earmarked for destruction due the city-wide idol worship, Rambam tells us in Mishneh Torah, Avodas Kochavim 4:2 that it is only an עיר that qualifies and relating to your first question he also writes a clear sizing definition:

...שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יג טז) "ישְׁבֵי הָעִיר" לֹא כְּפָר קָטָן וְלֹא כְּרַךְ גָּדוֹל. וְכָל פָּחוֹת מִמֵּאָה כְּפָר קָטָן. וְרֻבּוֹ שֶׁל שֵׁבֶט כְּרַךְ גָּדוֹל...

...for it is said: "the inhabitants of their city" (Ibid.) which means neither a village (כְּפָר) nor a large city (כְּרַךְ), and every place of less than one hundred citizens is a village and of a majority of a tribe is a large city....

  • The definition of kfar and krach changes based on context. See Megillah 4b for example. If there is no definition given, it may mean that here it goes by common usage.
    – N.T.
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 13:14
  • a majority of a tribe is a large city.... I'm not really sure what this means, does it mean the majority of the city is from one tribe or that the majority of a certain tribe dwells in that city? Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 21:37
  • Refer to Sanhedrin 15b - sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.15b.13?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en when assessing an ir hanidachas, Rabbi Yonasan, who allows a larger community to be declared an idolatrous city, said this only with regard to a majority of the tribe at most, but if it was all of the tribe that was idolatrous, then the halakha of an idolatrous city does not apply.
    – Dov
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 22:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .