As Shabbat Ki Tetzei ends here in Israel, I can't help but notice how many of the weekly parasha sheets decided to focus on this week's release of the first 26 of 104 Palestinian prisoners ahead of the latest round of peace talks. I've already written about my personal reaction, as a terror survivor, elsewhere, but I wonder about the use of Jewish sources, especially the Torah itself, to approach these difficult hot-button issues.
strikes me as disingenuous the way some invoke verses like the final
one in last week's portion (Deut. 21:8), "And you shall clear out the
innocent blood from your midst;" after all, those verses refer to what
we define here as "criminally-motivated murder," a personal grudge
between two individuals. "Nationalistically-motivated murder," on the
other hand, is about tribal grudges, the waging of war by other means.
The immediately following verse is, "When you go out to war against your
enemies, Lord your God will put him in your hand and you will take him
captive." So the Torah itself acknowledges that there are captives,
prisoners of war, those taken during war whom we do not subject to the criminal justice system.
perhaps it is I who is being disingenuous now. The Torah goes on to
talk about the "woman of beautiful form," since there is no concept of
adult males being taken captive in biblical war. (I'm unsure if there is
any significance to the shift from the masculine shevi to the female shivya
as a term for all those taken captive.) Incarceration is a
post-biblical concept, so there really are no prisoners of any sort in
the Torah, and the only enemies who would survive war would be children
and women, all of whom would be enslaved.
maybe there is nothing to be learnt from the Torah on this subject. But
if so, how can we say that it guides our morality? It's one thing to
say that tzaraat is not leprosy and reinterpret over a hundred
verses of text as a roundabout warning against slander, but is war not
war anymore? Or are we simply left with Maimonides, since he is the last
Jewish sage to seriously deal with these laws? This at least I'll say
about the parasha sheets: they are dealing with the question, even if I find their answers at best unsatisfying and at worst dangerous.