Among the Ten Commandments, there are two that stand apart. Every other commandment deals with Jews: we shall not covet another Jew’s wife, or testify falsely against him, etc. But two of the commandments apply seemingly to everyone: You shall not murder and You shall not rob.

Rabbis suggest that the robbery in question is actually kidnapping. Their logic, while not necessarily true, is sound: presumably, violation of any of the Ten Commandments is a capital crime, but robbery is not generally punished with death; therefore the commandment must refer to a specific type of robbery, the one punishable by death—kidnapping. One may argue, though, that unlike theft, robbery is dangerous to the perpetrator’s life. He may be killed legally if he enters the house at night or the victim perceives a death threat. Whether kidnapping or robbery, the commandment only applies to fellow Jews: explicitly in the first case, implicitly in the second one. Indeed, only neighbors can be robbed, not distant nations—and the Torah envisages a society where the only neighbors around are Jewish. Robbing distant nations is only possible as a part of war (a war of choice, rather than obligatory war), and the Torah not only sanctions but even prescribes it.

killing and murder in Judaism

In the case of murder, the Torah carefully chose a word different from “to kill.” Only murder is prohibited, not generic killing. The Hebrew word for “murder” is a root cell cognate of “to long for, to desire.” Murder is a passionate act, while killing is a thing of necessity or justice. We’re permitted to kill animals for food, but not to murder them in the course of recreational hunting. There are no restrictions on killing enemies and criminals. Like the rest of the Ten Commandments, the prohibition of (passionate) murder only applies in the Jewish milieu, because passions are only sustained on individual level, they are an intra-group phenomenon; today, we don’t really hate even Germans. Nowhere in the Bible does the word for “murder” apply to other nations; it always denotes an act in the Jewish environment.

The Torah does not regulate our treatment of enemy nations. Mercy is prescribed in a single case: a woman captured from an enemy nation must be allowed a month-long mourning over her family before submitting to the conqueror male. The case is telling: she is allotted mercy because she is going to marry a Jew and so become Jewish. I don’t argue whether it is good to kill enemy civilians; the point is the Torah sets no restrictions on that. Arguably, not everything is laid out in the Torah: brushing the teeth is good, but nowhere to be found in the Bible. But we expect that the most significant moral prohibitions are in the book. Moreover, the Torah specifically commands the Jews to kill all enemy adult males. This is not done on the presumption that the entire male population fought us: women often help in defense but are not killed, while older males who clearly lack the physical strength to participate in defense are killed nonetheless. The real criterion is whether the survivors can be assimilated into the Jewish nation.

Here, as always, the Torah is right. The modern prohibition against killing enemy civilians is unrealistic and never observed. It would be too easy to appeal to the example of carpet-bombing Dresden, where justice and revenge were served, albeit with woeful insufficiency. Consider a much harder example: Israelis killing Arab women and children, as we have done in a great many incidents. Not as collateral damage in  air strikes, but as primary targets and in a manner you don’t want to read about. Most interestingly, the Jews who did that—or shot the POWs, for that matter—lead absolutely normal lives. I would expect that European anti-Semites returning from murderous pogroms behaved like decent family men. But look at various murderers and common criminals; usually, they’re warped characters.

This is just what the Torah tells us: human beings have a built-in prohibition against murdering their neighbors. That prohibition might be weak, but it exists nonetheless. It is an evolutionary feature: no society can tolerate murderers in its midst. Not so with the killing of foreigners: there is no evolutionary reason to refrain from that. In inter-group competition, killing foreigners is actually a beneficial behavioral trait. The very ease with which people shed their fake morality and kill foreigners at the government’s behest testifies to the weakness of the unnatural prohibition against killing. Their normality just days—often hours—after the killing confirms the absence of any moral conflict.

Moses—not God—commanded the Jews to kill their relatives who worshiped the golden calf. Ostensibly, one cannot get lower than killing his relatives. Yet, Moses told the people that they are blessed. Killing for a good cause is not just immune from condemnation, but a moral achievement outright.

They cannot replace the Torah with the Geneva conventions.