March 28, 2003
For George W. Bush, a passionate Christian, there must be some frustration in the fact that American Christian churches have overwhelmingly opposed the present war. From the Episcopal, United Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it’s hard to find a major denomination (Southern Baptists excepted) that didn’t come out against military action.
So Mr. Bush may take comfort in knowing that one other religious tradition would lend unequivocal support to giving him maximum freedom to make war as he sees fit. I refer to Jewish tradition.
If Christians look for guidance on the morality of war to the 13th-century scholar St. Thomas Aquinas, Judaism directs our attention to Moses Maimonides, who lived a century earlier. In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides summarizes the teachings of the Talmud and Mishnah, works that clarify the dictates stated or alluded to in the Bible.
In the section of the Mishneh Torah called “The Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” he offers bracing clarity. The nation’s leader — its “king,” though we may substitute the word “president” — has a simple role: “to execute justice and conduct warfare.”
To be sure, this leader’s intention must always be “for the sake of Heaven.” In this model the king heads a country that stands for high moral values — prominently including peace, so cherished in Judaism that it’s said one of God’s names is Shalom, or Peace. But to defend such a nation may call for…
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