The Mitzvah To Kick Out The 7 Nations -

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Resource Type: Shiur in: English
Age: 13-18
Group Size: 1-100
Estimated Time: 30 minutes

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Resource Goal

As we saw in the last shiur, even thought Yehoshua was supposed to wipe out all the 7 nations in the land, he didnt, and as you can see in the map from Shiur #1, there is quite a lot of eretz hanisheret, of left over land that has not been conquered, left full of non Jews. In perek 2 here, the malach comes to bochim and rebukes Am Israel for this sin.

The goal of this shiur is to discuss with the chanichim the original command to wipe out the 7 nations originally. Is this ideal? Or is it genocide? Why would Hashem want us to wipe them out, why cant we live with them?


Resource Contents

Written by- Sarah Gordon

sygordon@gmail.com

Many of the ideas from these shiruim are adapted from the book "Shofet HaShoftim" by Yisroel Rozenson, published by Machon Herzog.

Machal Shiur #5:

As we saw in the last shiur, even thought Yehoshua was supposed to wipe out all the 7 nations in the land, he didnt, and as you can see in the map from Shiur #1, there is quite a lot of eretz hanisheret, of left over land that has not been conquered, left full of non Jews. In perek 2 here, the malach comes to bochim and rebukes Am Israel for this sin.

The goal of this shiur is to discuss with the chanichim the original command to wipe out the 7 nations originally. Is this ideal? Or is it genocide? Why would Hashem want us to wipe them out, why cant we live with them?

Why destroy them?

  1. They are evil so they must be destroyed (sounds like amalek)

    1. Dvarim 9:5 Moshe explains that the Jews are getting Eretz Israel not just bc Hashem promised it to their fathers, but because the nations in the land are very evil and deserve to be kicked out. (Meaning, how do we have the right to kick out the 7 nations? We dont. But Hashem is in charge and He owns the land and can kick out whoever He wants if they are immoral. The 7 nations were immoral; so G-d kicked them out and let us have Israel. But the same laws apply to us- If we are immoral and do not keep the Torah we get kicked out too which happened 2x!).

    2. Vayikra 18:3 Dont copy the impure actions and ways of Egypt or Canaan

  1. They will influence us to do avodah zara

    1. Shoftim 2:2-3: They will be a stumbling block for you

    2. Bamidbar 33:55 If you leave the 7 nations in Israel they will be a stick in your teeth (they will mess you up)

    3. R Hirsch Bamidbar 33:55: By tolerating the polytheistic people, you will tolerate their values, and you will forfeit your attachment to Hashem and the protection of Hashem of you in your land. Once you give this up, those who you allowed to stay in your land will attack you and be your enemies in your own land. The whole book of Shoftim is a warning to this!!

Do we really need to kill all of them? Isnt this Genocide?? 5 APPROACHES:

This is where it gets interesting.

Devarim 20:16-18: Have to kill the 7 nations, all of them, lo tichiyeh kol neshama, so we wont learn from their ways.

  1. APPROACH #1: Pshast of Pesukim we kill all of them. Seems like genocide!

  2. APPROACH #2 (Most famously the Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 6:4): No, have to look at context of pesukim. Look earlier at Devarim 20: 11-15. There it talks about how when we go out to battle with any nation we need to offer them a brit shalom-peace treaty first. If they say no, we attack but we cannot kill women and children. Most mepharshim think that offering a peace deal only applies to optional wars and far away nations. But Rambam reads this as a header to the whole perek you would need to offer a peace treaty EVEN to the 7 nations.

Many mepharshim (Ramban, Rambam, RHirsch) agree and say that we have to offer the 7 nations (and Rambam says even Amalek!!) a peace treaty first, and if they accept, then we dont kill them. But if they dont, then we attack them and destroy them. The only difference between the 7 nations and a milchemet reshut, is that when they say no, we kill women and children for the 7 nations, but not for the other nations. There we only kill the men and leave women and children alive.

WHY?? Bc we only have to kill them if they are going to negatively influence us. Offering them the peace deal means they would have to accept to live with us either (machloket) as people who accept the 7 mitzvot bnei noach (one of which is no avodah zara), or to be our slaves and to pay us taxes. Once they give up Avodah Zara, then they are not going to negatively influence us, and if they are not going to influence us, then we dont need to kill them!!

  • R Hirsch Devarim 20:10-18: You only annihilated them if stayed polytheistic and depraved and a bad example. But if returned to basic principles of morality of human law and justice (shown by accepting 7 noachide laws) could accept them.*Seems that avodah zara is intrinsically depraved. Because sacrificed children (molech) and denied one G-d, so universal morality, could do anything.

  1. APPROACH #3: Rashi and Raavad. We accept the 7 nation members who convert or accept 7 mitzvot and dont kill them, but only if they come to us! But we DO NOT offer them peace, thats only in an optional war.

So it seems that many mepharshim, and the Rambam for halacha, read the commandment to kill the 7 nations as conditional, only if they actually stay immoral. Which seems to make sense, because we see that when we did let them stay, they did influence us! It could be that the mepharshim are responding to an inner ethic to explain this commandment, but that is important too. Anyways we know that 6 of the nations chose to fight, and one came to bnei Israel and tricked them into thinking they werent 1 of the 7 nations and got them to sign a deal (givonim).

APPROACH #4 AND #5:

On the mass killing of people in general in war, lo tichiyeh kol neshama, R Yakov Meidan and R Yoel Bin Nun from Yeshivat Har Etzion, deal with this ethical issue in a book called Mussar, Milchama VKivush a collections of articles from a Yom Iyun had at Machon Herzog (a teachers college in Tanakh) dealing with the challenge that Sefer Yehoshua is about genocide.

They have two interesting approaches on how to explain the command in Devarim of lo tichiyeh kol neshama, not leaving anyone alive (men, women and children).

  1. Lo tichyeh kol neshama doesnt mean you go house to house and kill everyone like the Nazis. But that in these particular battles against the 7 nations (or amalek) it is important that we win, and that we not be concerned with killing civilians. It means we would go in and carpet bomb the place, shoot arrows and fight indiscriminately, like the US in Afghanistan or in Iraq (it still happens today) and unlike what the IDF did in Jenin, where they were so careful not to hurt civilians that many soldiers died. But if there are survivors, you leave them be and dont execute them (assumedly, theyd have the choice to accept 7 mitzvot or leave).

  2. This idea of wiping out everyone in a battle was a fact of life then. Think of any movie from medieval times or further back (Braveheart, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Lord of the rings) when one army fights another, especially at their city, when you win, you kill everyone inside. War in biblical times (and medieval) was horribly bloody and that was the way it went. For am Israel then to survive in such a violent world (this is a Rav Kook idea) they needed to work with the ways of the world otherwise other nations would walk all over them. Therefore they too fought by the world rules of when you attack a city, you destroy it to the ground. The fact that war then was so bloody and survivors were killed and women raped in war, shows us how the Torah was preaching a more moral approach! Even if you say you kill everyone in the wars with the 7 nations (who would be our biggest threats as we were taking their land in Israel), in any other war, we saw in the pesukim you CANNOT kill women and children.

We also have the mitzvah of eshet yefat toar that men cannot just rape women in battle (which always happened in those times) but if he wanted her, he had to bring her back to am israel and treat her respectfully, like a wife. Also we cant destroy and burn fruit giving trees, when back in the day they would burn everything. Meaning, even when the Torah standards of war seem immoral to us today, we have to remember that in a biblical world they were super moral! (also really today, countries like the US kill civilians all the time in war so really the world doesnt act so morally in war even in the 21st century).

However today, now that we have the Geneva Accords, and the UN and the world have agreed on certain laws of moral conduct during wars (the status of civilians, land mines, etc, etc) we would now be bound to these standards and could not fight in the biblical way. Lo tichiyeh kol neshama was meant for that time period to allow Bnei Israel to fight slightly more morally but within the same parameters that all nations were using then to fight wars. An interesting question would be how are we bound to act as a nation fighting in wars today if our enemies do not hold by the Geneva accords! You can bring up last summers war in Lebanon. Now that we have our own Medina, and are no longer sitting in ghettos in galut these issues of how does the Torah want us to act in a war are halakha lmaaseh and are important issues to discuss.

Conclusion: Its a hard moral issue to deal with, but its important that as thinking Jews we engage the text and not be afraid to discuss these issues, such as killing out the 7 nations, and struggle with them. Hopefully the chanichim will find some of the answers satisfying, but if not, we should encourage them to keep looking. But it does seem that it is not as immoral as originally thought to do this, as it may be that we dont kill them if they accept a peace treaty, or that this was the way battle worked then (and maybe even today if you look at Iraq or Afganistan), and we were more moral then most people then anyways.


Resource Comments

Machal Shiur #5:

Sources on Wiping Out the 7 Nations- are in the attach file



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