Rabbi Avi Weinstein

What would the Rambam say of Collatoral Damage?

In civilians, collateral damage, Maimonides, Rambam, war on April 1, 2009 at 4:37 pm

There has been a small buzz on the internet regarding the conduct of Israeli combatants during the Gaza incursion. It is undisputed that it has been a longstanding practice for Palestinian combatants to elect to fight in heavily populated civilian areas in order to not only deter the Israeli forces, but to use civilian casualties to their political advantage.

This type of war was not considered in our sources, but the Rambam does speak eloquently about the mission of the soldier:

…he should put his life in his hands, and not be afraid. He should not think of his wife and family, but he should wipe out the memory of them from his heart, and focus everything on the battle before him. For anyone, who has second thoughts during battle and feels fear, transgresses a negative commandment, as it is written: Do not soften your hearts and do not be afraid… Not only this, but all of Israel is weighing on his neck. And if they do not win, and he has not fought with all his heart, it is as if he has spilled the blood of everyone… (Rambam Hilchot Melachim 7:15)

For a more complete rendering and a scorchin commentary, click here.

  1. What does it mean, though “For anyone, who has second thoughts during battle and feels fear, transgresses a negative commandment”.

    Anyone who has seen combat has second thoughts and feels fear.

    Of course, most do not act on those thoughts or shirk their duty, but are not second thoughts and fears normal?

  2. Many normal actions in extraordinary circumstances can be construed as sinful. I think in the heat of battle, one does not normally feel fear because the adrenalin takes over. Before battle and after, one often has second thoughts, but a soldier doesn’t usually have time to indulge in second thoughts when he is being fired upon. The Rambam quotes the Torah which states: “Do not soften your hearts and do not be afraid”, which shows the Rambam learning that it is literally prohibited to feel this way.

  3. Those who have served in battle often report intense fear, and every battle has moments in which the combatants have moments for reflection and doubt.

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