Chief Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak visits desecrated Joseph's Tomb.
(photo credit: MEIR BRACHIA)
A person is obligated according to religious law to kill an armed terrorist who is trying to commit a violent attack, and shouldn’t be afraid of being tried in court over such an action, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said.
The chief rabbi’s comments on Saturday night generated strong criticism from MKs and NGOs, who said he should leave such matters to the heads of the security services and political decisions makers.
Yosef is the latest in a list of rabbis who in recent months have advocated killing terrorists while they are murdering innocent people, on the basis of a precept in Jewish law that permits killing a person seeking to kill you.
“If a terrorist is advancing with a knife, it’s a mitzva [commandment] to kill him,” said Yosef in his weekly Torah lesson on Saturday night.
“One shouldn’t be afraid that someone will petition the High Court of Justice or some [army] chief of staff will come and say something different.
There is no need to be afraid. ‘He who comes to kill you, get up and kill him,’” continued Yosef, citing the rabbinic dictum of self-defense.
“This also deters them. When a terrorist knows that if he comes with a knife he won’t return alive, it deters him, so therefore it’s a mitzva to kill him.”
Yosef stressed, however, that a murderous attacker who no longer has a weapon should not be killed, but rather put in prison for the rest of his life.
In mentioning the chief of staff, Yosef was referring to recent comments by Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who said in February the military should not operate according to this precept, adding that “a soldier should not empty a magazine of ammunition into a girl holding scissors.”
This was a reference to a controversial incident in November when two Palestinian teenage female attackers stabbed a 70-year-old Arab man (who they thought was Jewish) in the head with scissors and wounded another in downtown Jerusalem before security officers shot them. One of the terrorists was killed and the other critically wounded.
In October, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, municipal chief rabbi of Safed, called for terrorist attackers to be killed at the scene of the attack.
“The fact that there are terrorists that are still coming out alive after committing terrorist acts means that we haven’t understood that we’re in a war, and we need to destroy these enemies,” said Eliyahu.
Yesh Atid MK and faction chair Ofer Shelah criticized Yosef for his comments.
“Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who, at the age when Israeli youth endangered their lives in military service, was editing his father’s books, pretends to give rulings on the ethics of battle and even challenges the chief of staff. The IDF is led only by its commanders; rabbis should not try to take their place.”
Yair Sheleg, head of the religion and state project of the Israel Democracy Institute, said Yosef’s comments were troubling, since they could be considered binding by those who heard them.
“As a senior arbiter of Jewish law, the positions of Rabbi Yosef are taken not simply as those of another citizen, but rather as a ruling in Jewish law that is supposed to obligate those hearing it [to adhere to it],” said Sheleg.
“In this context, he is joining a long and problematic list of rabbis who seek to rule for the public on issues for which responsibility lies with other state authorities, the security services, the political echelon above it and the justices of the High Court of Justice who examine the legality of an action.”
Sheleg said the rabbi’s comments would put religious citizens in a quandary.
“Should they listen to the chief of staff or the chief rabbi?” he asked, and called on the prime minister, religious services minister and heads of the national-religious community to condemn Yosef’s statement.
Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich came to the defense of the chief rabbi, though, questioning whether or not his critics had “fallen on their heads,” and saying that Yosef was simply repeating the well-known principle in Jewish law of self-defense.
“It would be useful for those sanctimonious critics to take a deep breath and not attack the obvious. Every terrorist who lifts up his hand against a Jew should know that his blood is on his own head,” said Smotrich.