It is an halakhic imperative that a Jew be loyal to the country and government where he lives. This loyalty extends to defending our country and fighting for its freedom. The classic Spanish medieval Torah sage, David ben Yosef (Abudraham), whose commentary on the Jewish prayers is deemed among the most authoritative through the centuries, wrote: “It is the custom to bless the king and to pray to G-d that He may give him victory.” We fight, if need be, alongside that king. Thus, we have found Jews as loyal participants in the armed forces of nations wherever we have lived. Even during internecine warfare, Jews are required to fight for and defend the government and values of the country where we live. Thus, we saw northern Jewish armed participation on behalf of the Union armies during the American Civil War, even as Jews in the South fought for the Confederacy. Similarly, leading religious figures have been chaplains in American armed services.
The concept of loyalty and patriotism to the government where one lives traces back to the Prophets. In explicit terms, we are bidden: “Seek the well being of the country where I have sent you into Exile. Pray to the L-rd for it, for your well-being depends on its well-being.” (Jeremiah 29:7). Even more powerfully, Jeremiah 27 commands:
“This is what the LORD Almig-ty, the G-d of
In other words, even someone evil – who truly ruled over an Evil Empire – succeeded by the grace of G-d, and Jews were required to be loyal to
Beyond standing by the country in loyalty, defending our country and fighting for its freedom, Jewish law requires respect for and adherence to the laws of the country: Dina d’malkhuta dina – “The law of the kingdom is the law [for Jews living there, too].” This requirement means that we must conduct our business practices honestly, abide by all laws of the land, and certainly pay our taxes according to the law.
Consistent with the Jewish record of loyalty to our country, fighting for her and defending her freedoms, it is noteworthy that the many Jewish organizations who have begun mobilizing for an end to Jonathan Pollard’s incarceration after his twenty-five years’ imprisonment for conducting espionage, seek a “commutation” of his life sentence but not a “pardon.” Disloyalty to one’s country, even when secretly seeking to help another country that is allied with one’s country, still constitutes unpardonable disloyalty under Jewish law. If we live in
Veteran's Day is an opportunity to honor our veterans. What does Judaism say about defending one's country and fighting for freedom?
Jewish law is clear about our right to self-defense. According to the Talmud if someone is pursuing you (as referenced in Deuteronomy 19) with the intention of killing you, then you are obligated to defend yourself, even if that means you must kill the other. On a larger scale, in terms of battle, if one’s city is attacked, the Talmud also obligates us to defend ourselves and even permits us to break Shabbat in order to do so. Maimonides and certain other important Jewish legal decisors also include permission for preemptive attacks against known would-be aggressors if it is perceived that doing so will save the lives of our fellow countrymen, who could be classified as the would-be defenders. In other words, defending one’s own life and the lives of one’s fellow citizens from attack is a basic right and obligation. Therefore, one who does so in a proper and holy way should be honored.
The law in regard to fighting for freedom and defending human rights when there is not a clear and present danger to the self or a fellow citizen is a more complicated legal matter. However, we are informed by our legal tradition on this matter by the commandments to redeem captives and to defend the basic moral laws of Noah. Past Jewish legalists have made the case that we are obligated to fight for freedom and the rights of others, wherever they are, if the offending nation or group has demonstrated they will essentially hold their citizens captive or deny them basic ethical rights. In this view it is permissable and possibly obligatory to fight in these situations as well.
Clearly all those who have risked, or sacrificed, their lives to defend others or to defend freedom and human rights, deserve our honor and lasting respect.