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Christian scholars have been writing about war for centuries. The "just war theory" is perhaps the greatest contribution that Christians have made to the moral study of war.

This got me wondering. Is there a Jewish way of war? War has obviously taken place within the Jewish tradition. Is there a decidedly Jewish way of war? I mean this in terms of moral restraints on battle, when wars are justified, etc etc

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  • Rambam has a three-prong criteria for how to lead a just war. If memory serves, first is to send peaceful letters, then soemthing else, and then fight.
    – Turk Hill
    Mar 22, 2021 at 4:25
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    Deuteronomy 20 highlights what the Yisraelites/Israelites were to do before engaging in warfare.
    – יהודה
    Mar 22, 2021 at 5:34
  • @TurkHill ask the enemy to flee, accept a peaceful settlement then fight. See MT Melachim 6:5
    – mbloch
    Mar 22, 2021 at 6:36
  • @mbloch Yes, that's it.
    – Turk Hill
    Mar 22, 2021 at 16:13
  • From Rabbi Michael Broyde's article: "It is clear to me that the vast majority of contemporary poseqim agree with R. Shaul Yisraeli, and for that reason, even as there are numerous sefarim that deal with religious life in the army, not a single one of them discusses battlefield ethics halakhah le-ma`’aseh. Why? Because the Israeli army obeys international law, and that is all halakhah requires in war. edah.org/backend/journalarticle/conversation%20-%20final.pdf
    – Shalom
    Nov 6, 2023 at 19:24

1 Answer 1

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There is indeed a Jewish way of war. See Rambam's Mishne Torah Melachim uMilchamot chapter 6 and to some extent 7 and 8.

Some of the key principles are

  • propose a peaceful settlement first (except for Amnon and Moav, but we can accept peace if they start it)
  • it is forbidden to lie after they accepted peace
  • don't kill women and children (except for Amalek and seven nations)
  • not to set siege on all four sides of a city but to leave a side for escape
  • not to cut down fruit trees outside a city nor prevent an irrigation ditch from bringing water to them so that they dry up

See also here and there.

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  • Interesting point in addition to your first point. The sefer Efes Biltecha Goaleinu, p. 133 quotes the Ramban and Abarbanel in parshas Vayishlach and writes that the first approach in war, would be to pray for the welfare and that we will be saved from evil.
    – Shmuel
    Nov 6, 2023 at 15:01
  • can it be inferred from your last point that shutting down water and gas, is also forbidden?
    – Shmuel
    Nov 6, 2023 at 15:07
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    @Shmuel no (not from that rule anyway). a) You control the fruit trees so there isn't any direct military advantage to cutting them down - it's possible you could do it to starve the enemy soldiers (not sure!) b) Withholding water from the citizens isn't destroying a fruit tree, it's killing the enemy which is the entire point of war (though it's a separate question whether you can kill civilians, at least as collateral damage)
    – AKA
    Nov 6, 2023 at 20:35

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