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With recent talks about Russia and Ukraine ongoing invasion of Russia to Ukraine, or China and Taiwan was wondering is there a source in the Torah that would allow or disallow a gentile nation to invade another gentile nation?

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    Amon and Moav were conquered by Sichon which allowed the Jews to conquer it from Sichon without violating the prohibition of taking land from Moav
    – Chatzkel
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 3:55
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    Yes, the Torah does not believe in the New World Order. Further, the conquering nation acquires lawfully the land it conquers (kinyan kivush milchamah).
    – pcoz
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 4:08
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    @pcoz a ganav also makes a real kinyan
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 4:20
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    If not in self-defense, how would the prohibitions of murder and theft be allowed?
    – Loewian
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 6:03
  • Wow, a very good question. Naturally, Torah laws apply to individuals, not kingdoms or armies (albeit it is unclear what does the commandment of establishing the courts apply to). So, I guess, it is allowed to wage wars at large, as long as you personally don't kill anyone.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 10:01

7 Answers 7

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The question of whether a gentile nation is permitted to wage war and invade another nation is a machlokes in the achronim.

There are two primary prohibitions that need to be considered: the prohibition of theft incurred by annexing land, and the prohibition of murder incurred during war.

Theft:

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 59b) writes regarding gentiles "דלאו בני כיבוש נינהו", which Rashi explains to mean:

לאו בני כיבוש נינהו - לא נתנה ארץ לכבוש כי אם לישראל שאף לישראל לא הותר יפת תואר אלא במלחמה ע"י כיבוש:

The Dvar Avraham (1:11) understands Rashi as saying that waging war is prohibited for gentiles, and therefore conquests of war are equally unlawful. (See his responsa for a lengthy treatment of Gittin 37 and it's relevance to this discussion).

However, many authorities rule that conquests of war are legally of the victor (see Rambam Avadim 9:4, Radvaz 3:533). The Radvaz writes:

דחוק מלאכים הוא כשלוכדים המדינה בכח המלחמה כל הבתים והשדות והכרמים הם שלו וגם העם הם לו למס עובד

However, the Chasam Sofer (Responsa Vol 2, 12) and Zera Avraham (Siman 24) explain that although it is prohibited (as per Sanhedrin 59), it is still legally effective, and the victor is entitled to the spoils of war.

Position of the Netziv that murder is not prohibited in war situations

The Netziv (Hamek Davar, Bereishis 9:5) writes regarding the prohibition of murder given to gentiles (ואך את דמכם לנפשתיכם אדרש מיד כל חיה אדרשנו ומיד האדם מיד איש אחיו אדרש את נפש האדם), that circumstances of war are different:

מיד איש אחיו. פירש הקב״ה אימתי האדם נענש בשעה שראוי לנהוג באחוה. משא״כ בשעת מלחמה ועת לשנוא אז עת להרוג ואין עונש ע״ז כלל. כי כך נוסד העולם. וכדאי׳ בשבועות ל״ה מלכותא לקטלא חד משיתא לא מיענש ואפי׳ מלך ישראל מותר לעשות מלחמת הרשות אע״ג שכמה מישראל יהרגו עי״ז וע׳ ס׳ דברים כ׳ ח׳:

He writes that deaths incurred during war - even a voluntary war - are fundamentally different to murder.

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  • According to the Netziv that you cite, Cain could exempt himself from guilt of murder by just saying to Hevel "I declare war on you!" before killing him? Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 18:10
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi Could be Hashem is hard to fool, even if you don't acknowledge any distinction between person and nation.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 13:40
  • I think you are conflating two issues: One is the original poster's question, What is a nation allowed to do? The Netziv may be saying a controversial statement there. The second is a question about the individual: Is an individual whose nation went to war, is he personally responsible? Or is that between the leaders of the nation and heaven? I don't see here evidence that anyone is arguing that.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 13:44
  • @MichoelR indeed. There are two steps: (1) Initiating a war; (2) Killing during an ongoing war. I claim that at least one of these steps must be restricted. If both steps are allowed to anyone without any restriction, then the ban murder is effectively meaningless. Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 9:53
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What I heard from my Rebbe in the name of the sefer D'var Avraham is that it is clear that the Torah generally does not treat war as murder or theft. The line between them is that war has to be declared by the highest level of government in order to be valid, otherwise it is just theft and murder.

(I heard this a few years ago, so this is to the best of my recollection.)

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  • What about in this particular case, with Putin declaring war on Ukraine? People have thus died over this. Are we to justify his actions since he's in power, that he knows what's best for Russia? It would sound more plausible that a nation go to war for any violation of the 7 Noahide laws committed in another country. Like the USA declaring war on Germany during WWII.
    – Moshe
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 15:15
  • @Moshe I don't think the reasoning behind the war matters for this discussion. The point is it is a different category than murder or theft.
    – N.T.
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 16:24
  • Sorry, this does not make any sense. By this logic, anyone can declare himself a "president" of a new independent state (that contains only his own house), and by this power, declare war on his neighbor and kill him. This competely annuls the commandment to not murder. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 12:43
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    @ErelSegal-Halevi He could. Then the surrounding state will try him for treason and kill him. Your "sense" seems to me to ignore the reality of the way nations have always operated. There is no legal authority higher than a country, no "World Court". Even today that is true. Other nations aside from Russia and Ukraine will decide what they want to do about it: that's the closest we come.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:29
  • @MichoelR The question is about the Halacha, not about what other countries would do. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 17:10
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I am an Italian Noahide.

My humble opinion is that the question must also be framed in the light of the Noahide precept to establish a legislative and judicial system, which is functional both to ensure compliance with the other Noahide precepts, and the harmonious development of Gentile communities. In this perspective, I believe it is fundamental to evaluate the case in relation to International Law, as codified by the relevant conventions to which most of the Gentile Nations have adhered. On the basis of this law , which I therefore consider to derive from the Noahide precept of "dinim", the use of armed violence is lawful only in self-defense against the aggression of a foreign state, or to defend a third country that has been attacked, prior in the last case a specific international mandate (for example by Onu or Nato).

I repeat that this is my humble personal opinion.

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From the very first pesukim in the Torah seem to permit war

Genesis 1:28 says פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and capture it

While one can possible understand that to mean capturing in the absence of war the Gemara clearly understands it as referring to war. The Gemorah (Yevomos 65B) says that women are not obligated in Pru Urvu because they don't normally engage in battle or capture so the Posuk must be addressed to mem

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  • I don't see the word "battle" in that gemara. Maybe I missed it, just checked quickly
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 16:11
  • As Adam and Eve were the only human beings at that time, whom exactly are they to capture the land from? Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 10:47
  • He wasn't only speaking to them. It was also for the future generations.
    – Schmerel
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 12:56
  • Even if the word "kivshuha" means "go to war", it was said to Adam and Eve as representing all of humanity together. So it must mean "all humanity should go to war together". Who should they go to war against? Maybe the animals, maybe the calamities of nature. Certainly not against each other. This does not follow from this verse. Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 17:46
  • It is instructive to compare this verse Genesis 1:28 with Habbakuk 1:14, which is said in the context of the cruel conquests of the Babylonians: "You make people like fish in the sea, like insects that have no ruler". God's blessing in Genesis 1:28 is that all humans together rule over the fish and the insects; but when nations like the Babylonians go out for an unrestricted war, the opposite happens: the humans degrade to being fish or insects, who have no ruler, and the strong eats the weak. Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 18:22
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We can learn from the discussion between Yiftach judge of Yisrael and Nachash king of Bnei Ammon (Judges 11). Although Yiftach is Israeli, the discussion between them is based on universal legal arguments.

The bottom line is Yiftach's claim in Judges 11:27:

ואנכי לא חטאתי לך, ואתה עשה אתי רעה להלחם בי; ישפט ה' השפט היום בין בני ישראל ובין בני עמון .

And I did not sin to you, and you do me evil by waging war on me. Let God judge today between Yisrael and Bnei Ammon.

This shows that nation A is allowed to attack nation B, only if the nation B has "sinned" towards nation A. Otherwise, the war is unjustified. Unjustified war is considered "evil". God will "judge" the nation who initiates unjustified war, which shows that unjustified war is a transgression of God's laws. If all war were legal, there would have been no need for judgement.

Previously, the Ammonite king says why he thinks that the war is justified:

כי-לקח ישראל את-ארצי בעלותו ממצרים מארנון ועד-היבק ועד-הירדן; ועתה השיבה אתהן בשלום

When the Yisraelites came from Egypt [some 300 years earlier], they have taken a land that belongs to me. Now give them back in peace [or I will take them by force].

This shows that nation A is allowed to attack nation B, if nation B holds lands that belong to nation A.

Yiftach agrees to this general principle, but disputes the facts:

לא-לקח ישראל את-ארץ מואב ואת-ארץ בני עמון.

Yisrael have not taken the land of Moav and Bnei Ammon.

[Why is Moav mentioned? Because the disputed territory belonged in the past to the Moavites. Then, the Emorites took it from them by war. Then, Yisrael took this land from the Emorites by war. Bnei Ammon and Moav are brothers, so the king of Bnei Ammon claims the land that was taken from Moav].

Yiftach refutes Nachash's claims using four arguments:

  1. When Yisrael came from Egypt, they were very careful to not even enter the land of Moav, let alone take land from them. They went only through the desert to the east of Moav.

  2. Yisrael were on their way to enter their own land - the land to the west of the Jordan river - and they have full right for it. So they asked Sichon, the Emorite king east of the Jordan, to let them pass. He refused and attacked them. So the Yisraelis had a right to fight back. In this justified war, they took the land from him.

  3. God, by helping Yisrael win the war against Sichon, have given the disputed land to Yisrael. So it is not justified that this land be given to Bnei Ammon.

  4. The Moavites themselves, who are the original owners of this land, have given up on it (since they knew they could not beat the Emorites). You are not Moavite, so your claim is much weaker than theirs.

To sum: a nation may be justified in attacking another nation that sinned against it, particularly by taking its land, or by disallowing passage to its land. Unjustified war is a crime that is judged in the highest possible court - the court of God.

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  • I would have thought that the discussion was based on shrewd negotiating tactics, not universal legal arguments. How do you know it's the latter?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 21:27
  • So you say that Yiftach did not mean anything he said, he just said it to buy time or mislead the enemy? I think that is the claim that requires evidence. Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 12:20
  • Chas veshalom. He meant it, just not as a legal argument. Why would he be having a legal argument with a foreign sovereign who uses a different legal system anyway?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 12:52
  • @DoubleAA the very fact that they argue, shows that there is a common legal/moral system that both of them agree to. It is also evident, along the book of Genesis, that even before the giving of the Torah, there were moral rules that were universally acceptable. Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 17:08
  • You just conflated a legal argument with a moral argument.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 19:53
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I do not know of any written law that specifically answers the question. However, all children of Noach are subject to the seven Noachide laws [Rambam, Mishne Tora, Laws of Kings and their Wars, 9:1]:

על ששה דברים נצטווה אדם הראשון: על ע"ז ועל ברכת השם ועל שפיכות דמים ועל גילוי עריות ועל הגזל ועל הדינים. אע"פ שכולן הן קבלה בידינו ממשה רבינו והדעת נוטה להן, מכלל דברי תורה יראה שעל אלו נצטוה. הוסיף לנח אבר מן החי... נמצאו שבע מצות. וכן היה הדבר בכל העולם, עד אברהם. בא אברהם ונצטוה יתר על אלו במילה והוא התפלל שחרית...

Six commandments were given to Adam: no idolatry, no blasphemy, no murder, no incest/adultery, no robbery, and obligation to have a judicial system. Although we received all these in tradition from Moses, and the reason supports them, there are also explicit Tora verses showing that Adam was commanded to keep them.

A seventh command was added to Noach: no eating of a living part of an animal. These commandments were accepted throughout the entire world. Then, Avraham came, and was added the commandment of circumcision, and prayed the morning prayer...

Now, if someone can find a way to wage war without violating these universal commandments, then he is probably allowed to do it. But, realistically, this is impossible. War inevitably involves murder and robbery. So, by default, it is forbidden by the Noachide laws. The word "war" is not a magic word that erases the written laws

It may be permitted to wage war in specific circumstances, but each such permission needs explicit evidence.

For the king of Yirsael, there are two kinds of war that are explicitly permitted [ibid, 5:1-2]:

  1. "Mitzva" (commandment): a war against the people of Canaan, Amalek, or to defend Israel from an enemy. For each of these causes, there are explicit commandments in the Tora, so they are of course permitted.

  2. "Reshut" (authority): a war explicitly authorized by the Sanhedrin - the court of 71 elders.

For other Noachide kings, the second permission does not apply since they do not have Sanhedrin. Note that the Sanhedrin is not just a democratically-elected government. It is a court of 71 elders who were appointed in a very strict process, one after one up to the first Sanhedrin, that was appointed by Moses himself with inspiration from God. The Ramban, in his comments on Rambam's book of commandments, adds another requirement for a war:

"שייראה לי שמצוה על המלך או על השופט ומי שהעם ברשותו להוציאם לצבא במלחמת רשות או מצוה להיות שואל באורים ותומים ועל פיהם יתנהג בעניינם".

I think that the king or judge or whoever commands the people to a war of Reshut or Mitzva, to ask the Urim and Tummim and behave according to their answer.

The Urim and Tummim represent direct Divine approval. This may be seen as another pre-requisite for war.

War against Canaanites or Amalekites is also not relevant to non-Yisraelis, since it is not one of their commandments.

But the permission to wage war for self-defense "ועזרת ישראל מיד צר שבא עליהם ", is, almost certainly, relevant to all nations.

Another potentially relevant permission (though it is much more vague) is given at the end of the previous chapter (ibid. 4:10):

ובכל יהיו מעשיו לשם שמים, ותהיה מגמתו ומחשבתו להרים דת האמת, ולמלאות העולם צדק, ולשבור זרוע הרשעים, ולהלחם מלחמות ה'.

And in all these [wars], his deeds should be for the sake of Heaven, and his goal and plan should be to lift the true religion, and fill the world with justice, and break the arms of the evil, and fight the wars of God.

What does "fill the world with justice" mean? It is not explicitly written. But one can relate this to the Noachide law to "have a judicial system". If, for example, there is a civil war in a nearby country, and the judicial system does not operate, then the king of Yisrael is allowed to intervene, take hold of that country, and set up a judicial system for them. Or, if a strong country unjustly attacks its weak neighbor, the king of Yisrael is allowed to send troops to protect the victim. These are wars that "fill the world with justice, and break the arms of the evil". It is a very hard to set fixed rules in advance, since the situation between nations changes all the time. This is why it is required to ask the Sanhedrin (or even the Urim&Tummim) before initiating such war.

At the end, all the kings, whether in Yisrael or in other nations, are judged by God for all their actions.

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    Why do you think that rules for Jewish kings apply for non-Jewish leaders? Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 13:07
  • I'd think it's quite obvious that gentile governments would have the same status as the Sanhedrin here.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 13:13
  • @Kazibácsi they do not apply - this is my point. The default law for all children fo Adam is that they are not allowed to murder and steal [Mishe Tora, Kings and their Wars, chapter 9]. Any exception to these laws needs an explicit source. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 13:37
  • @DoubleAA I disagree. The Sanhedrin is not just a democratically-elected government. There are very strict rules on who is allowed to be in the Sanhedrin. They require a "Semicha", which means that they must be a part of a lineage of appointments that starts with Moses himself. Rambam mentions a process by which all sages of Israel can asssemble and renew the Semicha, but this is still a very strict process. Not just every government can claim to be a Sanhedrin for the purposes of waging war. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 13:39
  • @Erel Ok well it's your guess vs mine. Mine is consistent with the minhag. Yours is a hyper literal read of the Rambam.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 13:53
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See [Yirmiyahu 46:1-5]:

"The Word of YHVH to Yirmiyahu the-prophet concerning the-nations."

(אֲשֶׁר הָיָה דְבַר־יְהֹוָה אֶל־יִרְמְיָהוּ הַנָּבִיא עַל־הַגּוֹיִם)

Notice [Yirmiyahu 46:2] is also documented in [Melachim II 24.7]

  • Why did HaShem inspire פַּרְעֹה נְכוֹ Pharaoh Neko in [Divrei Hayamim II 35:20-22] and again [Yirmiyahu 46:2-5] to march against Bavel?

Based on the opinion of [Yirmiyahu 27:6-7], Nebukadnezzar of Bavel was being helped by HaShem (to remove idolatry of Neko & Jehoiakim):

"And it shall come to pass that the-nation or the-kingdom that will not serve him, Nebukadnezzar the king of Bavel, and who will not place his neck into the yoke of the king of Bavel, with the sword and with famine and with pestilence will I visit upon that nation, says YHVH, until I have consumed them by his hand."

(וְהָיָ֨ה הַגּ֜וֹי וְהַמַּמְלָכָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹא־יַֽעַבְד֚וּ אֹתוֹ֙ אֶת־נְבֽוּכַדְנֶאצַּ֣ר מֶֽלֶךְ־בָּבֶ֔ל וְאֵ֨ת אֲשֶׁ֚ר לֹֽא־יִתֵּן֙ אֶת־צַוָּאר֔וֹ בְּעֹ֖ל מֶ֣לֶךְ בָּבֶ֑ל בַּחֶרֶב֩ וּבָֽרָעָ֨ב וּבַדֶּ֜בֶר אֶפְקֹ֨ד עַל־הַגּ֚וֹי הַהוּא֙ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֔ה עַד־תֻּמִּ֥י אֹתָ֖ם בְּיָדֽוֹ)

Yet Nebukadnezzar quickly forgets his revelation in [Daniel 2:47] and becomes idolatrous [Daniel 3] by making himself a god equal to HaShem [Yeshayahu 14:4-14], so HaShem anoints כוֹרֶשׁ Koresh over Bavel and all nations [Yeshayahu 44:28-45:1] in order that nations would understand this about YHVH:

"His Kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and His Dominion is with every generation."

( מַלְכוּתֵהּ מַלְכוּת עָלַם וְשָׁלְטָנֵהּ עִם־דָּר וְדָר )

  • stated in Daniel 3:33 and Tehillim 145:13.

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