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The Best Defense

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The old adage that the “best defense is a good offense,” very much agrees with the method of self-defense advocated by the Talmud. The Mishna, as quoted in Sanhedrin 73a, says: “The following must be saved [from sinning] even at the cost of their lives: he who pursues his neighbor in order to slay him…” In other words, it is permitted to kill a person who is attempting to murder another person.

Halacha, Jewish law, is about far more than legal statutes such as the law that allows a person to save his/her own life by killing a rodef (a pursuer, as one who seeks to commit murder is called). Nor is halacha simply a code of civil law. Halacha is intensely concerned with the over-all welfare of every human being, both physically and spiritually.

Therefore, according to the previously mentioned Talmudic text, one must do everything possible to stop a rodef, not just in order to prevent a murder, but to save the prospective murderer from sinning–i.e. protecting the rodef from him/her self. Of course, killing the rodef should only be considered if no other means of stopping the murder exists.

The case of the rodef is not limited to a situation of pursuit and self-defense. It also includes situations where one must step in to protect others. This is understood from the verse in Leviticus 19:16, “You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor.” Thus, if one sees Reuven attacking Simon, there is an obligation to get involved (even if only by calling the police) both for the physical welfare of Simon and the spiritual welfare of Reuven.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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