And [Moses] said unto them: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Put you every man his sword upon his thigh, and go to and from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his fellow, and every man his relative.’
And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
And Moses said: ‘Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, for every man has been against his son and against his brother; that He may also bestow upon you a blessing this day.’
Exodus 32:27-29

The atheist rabbis love the concept of pikuah nefesh, which is so refreshingly liberal: life is valuable above all things. The other, more educated rabbis understand how nonsensical that interpretation is, but adhere to it as it allows them to abstain from political action, ostensibly in order to save lives. Even Meir Kahane partially conceded to that view, and declared he wouldn’t impose too many Jewish values on Jews for a fear of civil war.

The problem we face today in Gaza has a historical precedent. About thirty-five centuries ago, when we left Egypt, “God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: ‘Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.’” Not that modern Arabs have anything to do with the ancient Philistines, but the analogy holds. Here lies the death of misapplied pikuah nefesh: “Lest the people repent when they see war.” War, by its nature, takes precedence over lives. That is true not only for wars directly sanctioned by God, but for every war Jews choose to wage, even wars of expansion like King David’s. God hardly observed the pikuah nefesh when slaughtering the Egyptian firstborn, nor did the Jews when slaughtering the already harmless Babylonians on Purim and slaughtering the liberal Jews in the civil war we celebrate on Hanukkah.

If life is above values, then Jews should convert to Islam (which is definitely not idolatry) and save themselves from wars with Arabs. Joshua bin Nun was somehow oblivious to pikuah nefesh when he told the Hebrews to cross the River Jordan and fight the Canaanites. And sometimes not killing the Arab enemies means allowing them to murder Jews in the future. It doesn’t matter whether the enemies are right; Amalek was surely right to defend his territory against Hebrew refugees streaming from Egypt. In terms of saving lives, our only objective is to save the lives of reasonably righteous Jews—but they must establish their righteousness by killing and risking their lives to further Jewish values.

Ignorant rabbis allude to the view that one only endangers his life to abstain from idolatry, incest, and murder; never mind they commit idolatry continuously and sanction the assimilation, which is no better than incest. That rule applies to observant Jews. Jewish tradition economizes on words; written down explicitly, the rule would run as follows, “An observant Jew should endanger his life only when forced to commit idolatry, incest, or murder.” Non-observant, apostate Jews are executed as usual. When the apostasy is public, executing them is a major religious obligation; no court verdict is required. Pinchas merited eternal blessing for his descendants when he killed a Jew who peacefully married a shiksa.

Contrary to pikuah nefesh, the Torah values not every life, but only the lives of reasonably righteous people: they are defended with the brutally efficient maxim, “a bruise for a bruise.” The Torah doesn’t hesitate to dispense capital punishment for criminal acts, Shabbat violation, religious immorality, and other types of un-Jewish behavior.
Jews are mandated to accept death rather than be forced to publicly violate any commandment whatsoever. “Publicly” means in the presence of even ten people. And how we do praise such Jews in the Book of Maccabees!

Talmudic sages greatly expanded the number of capital offenses. Sensible rabbis suggested hanging, asphyxiating, burning, decapitating, and stoning the offenders. They would have been not a little surprised to know that “saving lives is the major commandment in the Torah.” Strictly speaking, there’s no such commandment at all. In recent times, the absolutely authoritative Orach Chaim (ch.329), based on the Talmud, mandates that Jews fight even on Sabbath if the enemy asks just for “straw and hay.” The libertarian rabbis should read this: Jews must kill their enemies in any conflict whatsoever, even down to “straw and hay” disputes. Jewish religious authorities from Moses to Rambam to Rav Kook established that lives hold no value at all when Jewish national interests are at stake.

God concurs. He could have saved plenty of lives by planting in the Canaanites’ hearts the idea of abandoning the land; he did so in 1948. God, however, commanded that Hebrews liberate a space for themselves, losing many of our own and killing many Canaanites in the process. God, who has told us to annihilate Amalek—does he care about lives? Striving to emulate him, should we care?