Religious Zionism, Jewish Law, and the Morality of War

How Five Rabbis Confronted One of Modern Judaism's Greatest Challenges

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Robert Eisen
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , October
     320 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Ever since the state of Israel was established in 1948, it has been plagued by war, and that has presented religious Zionists with an immense challenge. Jewish law prior to 1948 includes little material on war because it developed during centuries when Jews had neither a state nor an army. The leading rabbis of the religious Zionist community have therefore had to create an entire body of laws on this subject where practically none had existed beforehand. 

These rabbis have responded to the challenge with remarkable energy and ingenuity. Religious Zionist rabbis have produced a corpus of laws on war that is both comprehensive and nuanced, and these laws now serve as a critical source of guidance for Orthodox Israelis serving in their country's military. 

The present study is a pioneering work on this fascinating chapter in the history of Jewish law, a chapter that, up to now, has received relatively little attention from academic scholars. Robert Eisen examines how five of the most prominent rabbis in the religious Zionist community have dealt with key moral issues in war. The figures include R. Abraham Isaac Kook, R. Isaac Halevi Herzog, R. Eliezer Waldenberg, R. Sha'ul Yisraeli, and R. Shlomo Goren. Eisen also examines how the positions of these rabbis compare with those of international law. These explorations provide critical insight into the worldview of religious Zionism, which in recent years has become increasingly influential in Israeli politics.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Robert Eisen is professor of religion and Judaic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is author of three books, the most recent of which is The Peace and Violence of Judaism: From the Bible to Modern Zionism (Oxford University Press, 2011). He is also active as a consultant on religion and international conflict with an interest in fostering better relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims throughout the world.

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