Whereas last time we encountered the Netziv and Maharal of Prague who justify Noahide warfare, ample room exists to intuitively suspect otherwise, pursuant to the NC prohibition against bloodshed. Why should invocation of the term “warfare” magically override the sanctity of human life and its corollary interdiction against homicide? Such an incredulous posture is indeed adopted by R’ Moses Sofer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah no. 19), R’ Abraham Kahana-Shapiro (Dvar Avraham 1:11) and R’ Menachem Zemba (Zera Avraham no. 24). These halakhic authorities point to Sanhedrin 59a which declares that Noahides “are not people of conquest”, a highly conspicuous assertion in light of the well-established principle that Noahides acquire real estate by military force as was paradigmatically exemplified by Sichon’s ability to purify the lands of Amon and Mo’av (Gittin 38a). Evidently, what Sanhedrin 59a actually indicates is that Noahides are enjoined from initially engaging in acts of territorial conquest, meaning that warfare is forbidden unto them.
As for the Netziv’s appealing to Shvu’os 35b which derives from Shir Hashirim 8:12 that a monarch may kill up to a sixth of the world’s population in the course of military exercises with impunity, a two-tier refutation may be advanced. Firstly, the said scriptural verse is actually subject to two mutually exclusive talmudic interpretations, only one of which offers a sovereign the license to slay. The identity of the exegesis to be accepted as normative is disputed by the Ran and Rambam. Secondly, even if the halakha is assumed to follow the Ran, the empowered sovereign in question may refer exclusively (as Tosafos apparently understand) to a Jewish king who receives prior authorization to wage war by means of the Urim Vetumim’s prophetic revelation, in contradistinction to a normal Noahide king who acts on the basis of his own human impulses. In any event, the fratricidal pleonasm of Genesis 9:5 on which the Netziv bases his permission can be satisfactorily explained in an entirely different manner, viz., R’ Jacob Tzvi Mecklenburg’s elucidation (in the latter’s Hakesav Vihakabbala) that it introduces a prohibition against euthanasia. Maharal’s proof from the attack on Nablusmay be deflected by citing the commentaries of Maimonides and Nachmanides who maintain that the entire population of Nabluslegally deserved execution because of outstanding capital offenses it had already committed. If that is so, then no lesson for posterity can be derived from Shimon and Levi’s exceptionalbehaviour.
R’ J. David Bleich observes that each of these schools of thought concedes to its opponent in at least one case: The anti-war school agrees that war is justified in self-defense or defense of a third party, pursuant to the law of a rodef. (However, one must scrutinize how imminent a threat an aggressor poses to be defined as a rodef, the exact actionable threshold being subject to a triplicate of divergent views among the poskim: Bi’ur Hagra, Choshen Mishpat 388:74; Shu”t Achiezer 1:23; and Shu”t Iggeros Moshe, CM 2:69. Moreover, soldiers would have to be careful to kill only the rodef, and not innocent bystanders together with him, pursuant to the Mishneh Lamelekh on Hilkhos Melakhim 10:2. This point is highly salient in the context of ballistic warfare, and is reflected in Sifsei Chakhamim’s exposition of Genesis 32:8.) The pro-war school agrees that nuclear warfare is strictly forbidden under the NC, because the mutually assured destruction that would result from an atomic holocaust affects more than a sixth of the global population. Additionally, in an age where heads of state commonly swear to abjure war as part of their participation in international treaties, even the pro-war school might recognize that the NC forbids violation of one’s oath. Whether a Noahide must truly safeguard his oath is questioned at length by the Mishneh Lamelekh to Hilkhos Melakhim 10:7, but R’ Yehuda Amital (of the Har Etzion yeshiva) submits that every human being is required to keep his oath as a matter of natural law which the NC implicitly recognizes.
Most noteworthy is the fact that even our pro-war camp merely posits that, at most, aggressive warfare may be permissible to Noahides; no halakhic decisor suggests that it is ever commendable. Thus, the much-touted concept of “holy war” is entirely contra factual, a point if fully appreciated would likely make the UN’s heretofore-futile efforts to end war a success; what most inspires soldiers to risk their lives on the battlefield if not ideology? The ideology of the NC, which is one that will hopefully take root in the hearts of a better-educated humanity, celebrates the sacrosanct preciousness of each human life.