Hussein Asylum

As tragic as wars can be, sometimes they are necessary, and even moral. This is one of those times.

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Week

With all the discussion, confusion and controversy about the Bush administration's planned actions against Saddam Hussein, it's ironic that President Bush, a born-again Bible reader, appears to have rejected the Christian position and adopted instead the Jewish stance on self-defense and responding to evil people.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, instructs: "If anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other one as well," adding: "Offer the wicked man no resistance."

One shudders to think of the consequences of such behavior in the face of the Hitlers of the world.

Moses, by contrast, in his first act as an adult, kills an Egyptian taskmaster who is beating a Jewish slave. His response to violence is not pacifism but defending the innocent, an approach taught clearly in the Talmud: "If someone comes to kill you, kill him first." (Sanhedrin 72a)

That blunt instruction, in turn, is based on a passage in the Torah noting that if a thief is killed while attempting to rob your house at night, "there is no blood guilt." (Exodus 22: 1).

These ancient lessons are all too relevant today. When Islamic fundamentalists struck against America last Sept. 11, killing thousands of innocents, the U.S. responded by declaring war on the perpetrators and all those who seek to destroy this country through terror. Clearly, the notion of defending one's self--be it a person or a nation--is accepted most widely, as is the understanding that as tragic as wars can be, they are necessary at times, and even moral.

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Jewish law distinguishes between two types of war, one waged to conquer territory and one fought in self-defense. The latter, milchemet mitzvah, is literally considered to be a mitzvah.

The question today is whether the U.S. planned invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam is a war of aggression or self-defense. President Bush, given to seeing the world in black and white and articulating policy along those lines--you either are with us or against us in the war on terrorism, he declared to the world last fall--has come to believe that Saddam represents a clear threat to regional, and perhaps international, stability and must be removed. Bush has argued that Saddam's race to develop biological, chemical and nuclear warfare-- and the fact that he has used chemicals for the mass killing of his own people--are reason enough to act against him before he employs these instruments of mass destruction, as threatened, particularly against Israel.

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