Rabbi’s Weekly Message


17 August 2018 / 6 Elul 5778


Dear Friends

Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Defence Force chief General Angus Campbell were among those at the dedication of the cenotaph at the National Jewish Memorial Centre in Canberra last Sunday.

 Sir John Monash, was the most famous of the Jewish servicemen who fought in WWI.  Monash was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General and was famously knighted by King George V on the battlefield the south of France.

There were other notable Jewish soldiers. For example, Lieutenant Leonard Maurice Keysor, who was awarded a Victoria Cross during the battle of Lone Pine in August 1915. For 50 hours he smothered bombs that landed in his trench or threw them back at Turkish soldiers, in some cases catching them mid-flight before lobbing them back at the Turks. Sergeant Issy Smith also won a Victoria Cross for carrying a wounded man 230 meters to safety under machine-gun and rifle-fire during.  Major General Paul Cullen distinguished himself as a Battalion Commander on the Kokoda Track against the Japanese in WWII.

Approximately 9000 Australian Jewish men and women have served in Australia’s Defense Forces. However there are the heroes who did not make it back home.  341 Jewish servicemen laid down their lives fighting for Australia.  100 years to the day since Sir John Monash was knighted on the battlefield they were honored on a memorial wall in the nation’s capital.

Inter arma silent leges,” says the Latin proverb – “During war the law is silent.” This proverb expresses the view that war is not  subject to the rules of morality. War strips man of norms of civilised behaviour. The Torah certainly disagrees with this and  several laws are laid down in Sefer Devarim pertaining to the conduct of war.

The fundamental aim of war is obviously to conquer the enemy, and the Torah’s regulations pertaining to warfare are certainly meant to help realize this aim. But on the other hand, owing to the potentially corrupting nature of war, boundaries and restraints  are required. The laws of warfare are meant to address this.  

In this week’s Parsha Shoftim  (20:9) we read:  “When you besiege a city for a long time to wage war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its fruit  trees , for you shall eat of them,  and    the tree of the field is compared to a man”. Torah forbids armies to use a scorched earth tactic  in war. 

However, the ultimate vision of Israel’s Prophets is one of peace, and we await the day when  “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”

Gut Shabbas

Rabbi and Sheyna Riesenberg