Matot-Masei 5763-2003

"The Massacre of the Midianites: Does Judaism Countenance Genocide?"

In parashat Matot, G-d tells Moses to mobilize the army of Israel and exact vengeance on the Midianites. The rabbis of old are troubled by this call. They explain that "genocide" was never countenanced by Jewish law, but rather that it was necessary to always first sue the enemy for peace and give them opportunity to flee if they refused to live in peace. Nevertheless, Jewish tradition teaches that one should not be overly compassionate, otherwise one will wind up being cruel at a time when compassion is appropriate.

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