Ceasefire Afterthoughts

 Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, as it seen from Sderot, on May 13, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, as it seen from Sderot, on May 13, 2023.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week: Ceasefire Afterthoughts 

Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, seeking to halt five days of intense fighting. The text reads as follows: "In light of the agreement of the Palestinian and the Israeli side, Egypt announces a ceasefire between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides has been reached. The two sides will abide by the ceasefire which will include an end to targeting civilians, house demolitions, and an end to targeting individuals immediately, when the ceasefire goes into effect".

When a treaty is signed between two parties is there a Halachic obligation to keep your side of the agreement, or is it just a temporary agreement meant to give us quiet until we see it fit to break for any interest which we might have?

Let’s dwell into some of the treaties found in Tanach between the Jewish Nation and the gentiles to learn about this topic. There are several treaties that can teach us the extent of how far we need to go in order to keep our words, and on the other hand when may we break the treaty.

Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer (chapter 37) brings few treaties of the Avot:

Avraham Avinu made a treaty with the Yevusites when he needed them. In return they asked for a treaty that when the Nation of Israel would concur the land of Canaan they would not take possession of the cities of Yevus. What did the men of Yevus do? They made images of copper, and set them up in the street of the city, and wrote upon them the covenant of the oath of Abraham. When the Israelites came to the land of Canaan, they wished to enter the city of the Yevusites, but they were not able to enter, because of the sign of the covenant of Abraham's oath.

When King David reigned he wished to enter the city of Yevus, but they didn’t allow him because of the covenant.

At the time of Yehoshua, the people of Givon heard that which Yehoshua did to Jericho and Aiy, and they decided to enter a treaty with the Jewish people under false representations and circumstances. They made themselves appear like messengers that had traveled from a far land taking with them worn-out saddles for their donkeys and tattered leather canteens for their wine, with cracks and patches over them. They wore ragged shoes containing different color, worn-out garments.

The Jewish people believed the Givonites and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.

Three days after the peace treaty was made the Jewish people discovered the true origin of their “peace partners”, and that they were not from a distant land at all, but from very close—from within Israel! This posed a problem as the Jewish nation at the time were not supposed to accept anyone from the nearby neighboring nations. The Gemara (גיטין מו,א) explains that the Jewish people had the right to kill the Givonites because they misled them, which means that the treaty is invalid. Still, the Jews kept their word for the sake of Kiddush Hashem.

Another treaty was after Yaakov left his father in-law Lavan’s house and Lavan chased after him. After an exchange of words between them, they proposed a treaty, and raised a stone monument as witness to the treaty. The treaty between them was that Yaakov’s children would not take possession of the land of Edom, while Lavan’s children will not cross the monument towards the land of Yaakov.

From those examples and many more, we learn that whenever the Jewish people make a treaty with other nations it must be kept. Therefore a ceasefire should be respected once agreed upon. The reason for protecting the treaty is either because of the obligation to keep our word הין שלך צדק, or because of Chilul Hashem, as we learn from this last incident. But we also find that whenever an agreement is broken by others, we aren’t obligated to keep it anymore. We mentioned above the treaty between Yaakov and Lavan. Chazal say that Bilam violated the treaty when he went passing that monument in order to curse our nation.

The Midrash (תנחומא דברים ג’) tells us that in King David’s time, our nation wanted to fight a war against Aram, but the people of Aram reminded them of Lavan and Yaakov’s treaty. They also mentioned that they are the descendants of Lavan. Then King David rose before the Sanhedrin and explained that Bilaam (who was also from Aram) had already violated and broke the treaty, and therefore they didn’t have an obligation to keep it. Immediately, the Sanhedrin declared a war and the army of David conquered Aram’s land.

From the above we learn that whenever we agree to ceasefire we must keep our words and promises; but as soon as the other side violates it, we aren’t obligated to keep it any more.

Needless to say, the terrorists have a long history of breaking promises, and the ceasefire that was agreed upon is usually not binding in any way or form. Thus, if the Jewish people see fit to continue the fight in any way or start a new war, they have the right to do so.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel