Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about… self-defence

Torah for Today: What does the Torah say about… self-defence

by Rabbi Zvi Solomons Torah-For-Today-300x206

These are terrifying times. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, has declared that every Israeli citizen should carry a gun to defend themselves against knife attacks. So what does the Torah say about self-defence?

In Parshat Lech Lecha, we read about Avram chasing after the captors of his nephew Lot and rescuing him. There is nothing wrong with warlike defence of our friends and families, and we have great precedent in our ancestor Avram in doing this.

The Halacha goes further. When a person breaks into our home in the dark, we are allowed to kill them (Mishna Sanhedrin Chapter 8) because their intent is evil, and Halacha holds us clear of guilt if we do this.

The recent example in our British law caused outrage when a person broke into a rural home to steal, and the homeowner shot the intruder.

The law was changed to allow self-defence in such cases. Yet these vile terror attacks are even more extreme. They are an attempt to spread terror in the street by randomly striking the civilian population.

The use of knives makes this a deliberate, slow and personal form of violence and Halacha unequivocally allows us to shoot a person in such a case.

The principle of self-defence is enshrined in the saying (relating to the same passage in Exodus and from the same section of the Talmud as above): “Im ba l’hargekha, hashkem l’hargo,” “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him (first)”.

There is nothing righteous in turning the other cheek. We are not supposed to passively accept death, but rather to fight and survive.

The call to kill every Palestinian terrorist, however, is wrong. Although they may often be outrageous – such as the man who attacked one victim, was shot, cried for help and tried to stab the paramedic who went to his aid – there is no excuse for killing such a person unless it is necessary. We are only allowed to kill a person when our life is at risk.

While it may seem asking the impossible to suggest that it is wrong to shoot to kill, it is wrong to kill when there is no need to take a person’s life.

We learn that we are all made in God’s image. Even terrorists are in that category and it is not self-defence to kill a person who is not threatening lives immediately, no matter who it is.

Self-defence is limited to when a person is in danger and does not include intent or futile attempts to kill – otherwise we would have to kill many more people for merely having the evil of anti-Semitism inside them. T

hat would be wrong, however we might feel at times of crisis.

• Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire.

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