Friday, May 16, 2008
[skulls remaining from mass murders in Cambodia]
There are several instances where the Torah mandates genocide – the extermination of an entire ethnic group. Those instances are:
In Deut. 20:16 God commands the extermination of the Canaanites.
In Deut. 25:19 God commands the extermination of the Amalekites.
In Numbers 31:17 Moses commands the Israelites to kill most of the Midianite prisons of war, leaving only the virgin females as slaves.
However, Psalms 145:9 states “The LORD is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works.” How then could God mandate the slaughter of children, old women and other apparently harmless, innocent people? This seems to contradict God’s basic kindness and goodness and the entire spirit of the Torah. The prophet Micah 6:8 stated clearly “He has made clear to you, O man, what is good; and what is desired from you by the Lord; only doing what is right, and loving mercy, and walking without pride before your God.” Therefore, how can God command people to slaughter others?
I believe the answer is very simple – all these killings were perfectly justified based on the principle of self-defense.
Each of these groups represented a dire threat to the Israelites. In regards to the Canaanites, Deut. 20:18 states that if not eliminated, they will teach the Israelites their sinful practices. Deut. 25:18 mentions the unprovoked attack by the Amalekites on the Israelites, perhaps implying that they will surely attack again if left unmolested. Also, a lack of retribution might have been a sign of weakness, putting the Israelites in danger from other attackers. Numbers 25:18 mentions the involvement of a Midianite noblewoman in the spiritual corruption of the Israelites. Based on this, Moses understood that the Midianites were a very dangerous influence that had to be eliminated.
The common denominator here seems to be that any group of people who posed a serious threat to the Israelites, either physically or spiritually, had to be eradicated, provided that God or Moses explicitly mandated it. Rather than murder, these killings were righteous acts of self-defense.
This was not, however, a principle applied to all future conflicts with gentiles. We do not find, for example, a scorched earth policy applied to the Philistines by the Israelites or to any other opponents in war. These three groups were special cases, ordained by God or Moses, which were so dangerous that they had to be eliminated.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:09 AM