Long before Goldstone, rabbis struggled with moral paradoxes created by extreme circumstances. Just as lawyers and legislators do today, rabbis sought to apply their formal rules to extremely rare situations. Rabbinical rules, like any others, tend to become inoperable on the fringes. Instead of recognizing that some situations are inherently ungovernable, rabbis researched them zealously. They did not arrive at a single decision, though, leaving us with two contradictory approaches.

It is a famous Talmudic dilemma: a hostile foreigner asks that a group of Jews deliver any one of them for execution—otherwise, all of them will be killed. The traditional answer belongs to Rabbi Resh Lakish. Formerly a bandit, he was sensitive to arbitrary—or perhaps any — persecution, and ruled that all Jews must die rather than deliver their brethren to be killed. Realizing the apparent absurdity of such an idealistic approach, Rabbi Yochanan ruled in the opposite way. Indeed, a Jew is going to die anyway, whether alone or among the group, so one death is preferable to the wanton death of the entire group. The random choice of an unfortunate scapegoat would relieve the group of responsibility for his murder.

Live shields in Judaism

In a further argument against Resh Lakish, the rabbis noted that his approach makes it impossible for Jews to fight. An enemy might take a few Jews for a human shield and march straight into our towns, being assured that Jews won’t kill their own. Without saying so explicitly, rabbis thus permitted the killing of some Jews to save many more of them. Indeed, this is the very logic of war, that some die to save many. But Judaism has a concept of obligatory war which is not related to saving Jews. According to the concept, Jews must go to war when an enemy wants land rather than our lives, or even if he merely demands a small ransom, such as “hay and straw.” Thus it is permitted to kill Jews for purely nationalist purposes.

Traitors seem to fall into this category. Indeed, some rabbis permitted the delivery of a scapegoat if the enemy singled him out, thus taking the murderous choice away from the Jews. The unfortunate person, they reasoned, becomes a rodef, a murderous stalker, because he endangers the community by his very presence there. If he is not surrendered, the entire community will suffer. Traitors, too, fall into the category of rodef.

Since it is permitted to kill Jews or have them killed for nationalistic reasons, it is all the more permissible to endanger them for the same reason. This disproves the nonsense that Jewish lives are so important that we must walk down the road of the peace process. In Judaism, Jewish lives have zero importance; the only important thing is furthering the divine will as it is laid down in the Torah. If Jewish lives are more important than Jewish land, then Israelis would prove righteous by moving to Toronto.

Rabbis, when they were real rabbis, did not even discuss the issue of enemy civilians in this context. If Jewish human shields can be killed, then of course Arab ones can be killed as well. Besides many commandments and rabbinical rulings on dealing extremely harshly with enemy populations, the rule that Jews may—indeed must—kill our own human shields when necessary implies that an enemy’s shields must be killed with no compunction.

And I’ve yet to see a single rabbi who would dispute the practice of taking Arab human shields to protect our soldiers.