Acceptable Murder

[First posted on the Times of Israel at:]

Netziv Genesis: Noah

Acceptable Murder

“Murderers are not monsters, they’re men. And that’s the most frightening thing about them.” -Alice Sebold

There is a debate as to the moral difference between using so-called weapons of mass destruction versus old fashioned conventional weapons. They both kill; they both leave their victims equally lifeless in painful, violent, gruesome ways.

Some argue as to the hypocrisy of protesting chemical weapons, while remaining silent as to the use of bullets, machine guns, tanks, mortars, artillery, rocket-launched grenades and missiles of various shapes, sizes, payloads and flesh-tearing capabilities. I will not get into the political or economic motivations as to why some conflicts get more attention.

The Netziv on Genesis 9:5 however, does make a clear differentiation not so much as to the type of weapons of death, but rather as to the roles of the participants in a theatre of war. According to the Netziv, to kill a non-combatant is murder, no matter how they are killed, and should be punishable to the full extent. To kill a combatant is not murder and does not carry any penalty or even guilt. The Netziv goes so far as to state that even leaders sending young men into a non-existentially critical war, where they know they will lose soldiers, are not held to blame.

The question therefore is less about the weapons being used but rather who they are being used on. Murder is murder no matter how it is committed. Soldiers on the other hand, have always known that from the moment they put on their uniforms they may become casualties of war – not murder victims.

May God protect our soldiers wherever they are, and keep non-combatants away from murdering zealots.

Shabat Shalom,



To Nadine Segall and Diego Turn on their upcoming wedding. I’m honored they’ve asked me to conduct the ceremony.

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