Judaism, War and Education

“We may forgive the Arabs for killing us, but we will never forgive them for making us killers” said Golda Meir.  One of the great challenges presented to a country threatened by consistent war is how to educate their children in light of that. Halacha has a clear and beautiful message regarding this challenge.

The Mashuach Milchama was a position mandated by the Torah, held by one of the Kohanim, the priests. This person was in charge of preparing an army for an approaching war. The preparation had two elements – he would first remove those soldiers who could not fight due to fear, and he would give them the rallying message before they entered battle, encouraging them not to be scared.

What is unique about this job is the way the person who is to be Mashuach Milchama is selected. There are numerous senior positions alloted to Kohanim – there was a Kohen Gadol (High Priest), a number of deputies, and treasurers. Those roles are all hereditary – If any one of those people dies, their son inherits the job after them. They will not be appointed if they are unsuitable, but essentially the job passes from father to son. However, Halacha states unequivocally that this is not true of the position of Mashuach Milchama, for which the son is considered for the job like any other Kohen.

The message of this is clear and powerful. Children of Kohanim in senior roles will pick up, by osmosis, certain values and sensitivities. Their home will be one of more intense spirituality than other homes, and their father has provided for them a role model for what they wish to be. The home dynamic of the Kohen Gadol will be directly influenced by his role, and this will rub off on his children.

We do not want this for the Kohen in charge of war. The job of rallying the soldiers for war is an important one, but not part of an ethic that we wish to impart to our children. We do not want his dinner table to consist of military discussions and rhetoric. Judaism does not reject the idea of fighting – in fact, a defensive war is often a religious obligation. But war is not part of the rhetoric of Judaism. “If you want to see what a people values, see what they teach their children.” Judaism does not want the rallying cry of war to make any impact on the home environment, on the education of children, on the passing down of religious tradition. Jews may have to fight wars, but they will never be a people of war.


(Based on an idea heard from Rabbi David Meyer, Executive Head Teacher of Hasmonean High School)

About the Author
Aron White, 22, is currently studying and teaching in Yeshivat HaKotel, whilst studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations through LSE.