Monique Susskind Goldberg
Is it permitted to kill another Jew?
Because of the recent shooting in Tel Aviv, I am having a debate with someone. Is it ever permitted to kill another Jew for any reason besides self-defense? I told the person that there is not one authority that would advocate killing another Jew. We don’t have a Sanhedrin now. I basically told him that according to halakha, it is forbidden to kill anyone unless all of the following conditions exist:
2. Two witnesses;
3. A Sanhedrin.
He says: In Judaism there are many instances where killing another Jew is permissible and even praiseworthy without the requirement of witnesses, i.e., Rodef [persecuter], moser [one who commits treason], self defense and other instances. I think he is wrong. Please advise.
In the Jewish tradition there is nothing more sacred than human life (see Genesis 4:10: Genesis 9:5-6; see also the sixth Commandment: "You shall not murder!" Exodus 20:13 and Deut. 5:17). Furthermore, for saving a human life (pikuah nefesh) one can transgress almost every commandment in the Torah including the Laws of Shabbat, Yom Kippur and the dietary laws (Yoma 82a and parallels, 83a, 85a-b). A clear example of this value of human life is found in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5). This Mishnah describes the warning given to witnesses in capital cases to be very careful in their testimony: "Why did God create all of mankind out of one single person? To teach you that whoever destroys one life is considered as if he had destroyed the entire world, and whoever saves one life is considered as if he had saved the entire world."
Capital punishment may only be judged by the Sanhedrin [the Jewish high court] and they stopped doing so around the year 30 C.E (see Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 41a and parallels). The Sages added so many conditions that it would be almost impossible to execute a person (see Mishnah Makot 1:10).
Jewish Law allows the taking of a life only in very limited and specific cases.
1) Self-defense: The Rabbis ruled: "If someone is coming to kill you, rise early and kill him first" (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 72a and parallels). One may kill in self-defense only when one's own life is in imminent danger.
2) The law of the pursuer (rodef): In the Mishnah Sanhedrin 8:7 it is stated that, if a person (Reuven) sees someone (Shimon) running after a person in order to kill or rape that person, then Reuven may kill Shimon in order to prevent the crime. This law is explained at length by the Talmud and codes (see Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 73a; Maimonides Laws of Murder 1:6). One may kill a rodef only if one sees him pursuing another person with the evident intention to kill that person, and killing the rodef is the only way to save this person.
3) The Talmud mentions two instances where sages killed a moser, a person who informs the non Jewish authorities against a fellow Jew and puts him in danger (see Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 58a and Bava Kamma 117a). This was codified by Maimonides (Laws of Wounding 8:10). But this was the exception to the rule, as is made clear in Maimonides (ibid., 8:11) and in Shulhan Arukh, (Hoshen Mishpat 388:9 ff).
To answer your question, you are basically right, but you friend also at least in the three examples he mentioned is partially right.
As there is no more Sanhedrin, there is no death penalty, and a Jew can only kill another Jew in self defense or to save a third person from an attacker (rodef). The circumstances in which one could kill a moser are very exceptional.
Jewish Law does not mention other instances as you friend seems to believe.
I pray that we will see very soon a stop to the circle of violence that surrounds us and that human life will again be the ultimate value,
Rabbi Monique Susskind
For further reading:
Rabbi David Golinkin, Jewish Law on the Killing of Yitzhak Rabin http://www.shalomctr.org/node/1063