Monday, 28 October 2013

Questions Rabbis Get Asked - Jewish Attitudes to Terrorism


Dear Rabbi Jeremy Gordon,


my name is [my correspondent uses an identifiably Muslim name, let’s say Mohamed] and I am a law student from Germany.

Currently I continue my studies [elsewhere in Europe] as an Erasmus student.


The reason for getting in contact with you is because of a paper I work on.

This paper deals with the term "Terrorism" in Christian, Jewish and Islamic criminal law.


To be more precise I want to know whether Jewish criminal law knows a crime called "Terrorism"?

If not are there crimes which can be subsumed under the legal definition of the term "Terrorism"?


This is my first work on religious law so I want to avoid mistakes.


Thank you in advance.

Hoping to hear from you soon.


Best Regards





Dear [Mohamed],


What an interesting project.

You've some difficult waters to navigate.

A couple of thoughts.


There is no such thing as 'criminal law' in the world of Halacha - Jewish law.

Murder is a gross sin as most clearly defined by Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 (a central text for you).

But terrorism simply isn't a category identified in Halacha.

There is terror (have a look at Deuteronomy 28:20 and subsequent), but that comes from God.

Gideon, Judges Chapt 7, wins a military campaign using tools of discombobulation, but I'm not sure that is terrorism.


How about this one.

Amalek, (Deut 25:17 and subsequent) attacks the stragglers in the rear and is pilloried for it, but I would consider that more a breach of what we would today call a breach of the laws of war, rather than terrorism.


Trying to pin down Jewish law in terms of a contemporary term like terrorism is going to be anachronistic.

Most of the material about the limits of force in justified and non-justified military contexts is going to come up in the context of the Laws of War. It's not that Judaism would accept the trite over-simplification that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, but rather the distinction between civilian and military is more modern than the major texts of Jewish law.

I just threw this at google and you might find some of it helpful.


On the subject of the justifiable and unjustifiable use of force in war and war-like environments you might be interested in this journal

The article on Jewish attitudes to War and Peace is by someone whose opinions I agree with :-), I don't know any of the other contributors, but I suspect there might be a great deal of material there that could be of interest.


I hope that is helpful - it's a very interesting subject.


Do let me have a look at any material you get to, I would be interested,


Very best wishes,

Rabbi Jeremy



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