Q. Israel is often accused of being aggressive in its targeting of Hamas terrorists. Is there a Jewish approach to military attacks?A. There is a well-known Jewish principle, ha-ba l’hor’gecha, hashkem l’hor’go – “If someone comes to slay you, forestall him by slaying him” (Sanh. 72a).
According to the Talmud, “The Torah stated (haTorah am’rah) this principle.” The Midrash Tanchuma finds the source in the verse, “Attack the Midianites and smite them, for they harass you with their wiles” (Num. 25:17). This provides authority for a pre-emptive strike to forestall an enemy when there are reasonable grounds to expect an attack.
Rabbi Moise Katz says, “We have here a criterion for determining cases of ba l’hor’gecha, namely: If a nation desires to annihilate Israel, and keeps advisers for that purpose, their mere presence is proof enough… Similarly, we may infer that the presence of an army, which could lead to an attack, is aggression of the ba l’hor’gecha type, so that the mitzvah of hashkem l’hor’go by surprise attack applies” (“Intercom”, Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, NY, Sept., 1968).