Ask the Rabbi: The right to self-defense

The right to self-defense is well established within Jewish law as manifested by the law of 'rodef' (the pursuer).

By SHLOMO BRODY
December 3, 2010 14:11
4 minute read.
Open to interpretation. The right to self-defense.

home intruder_521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The right to self-defense made headlines here in 2007 after Shai Dromi, a Negev farmer, fatally wounded a burglar. In his case, he shot the intruders after attempting to verbally scare them and aimed to only wound them. The location of the hit, however, led to massive bleeding. The case led to a rethinking of Israeli law on the matter which, to a large extent, drew upon Jewish legal sources. This essay will theoretically explore the discussion within Jewish legal theory, with the caveat that readers should clarify the relevant laws for their own locales.

The right to self-defense is well established within Jewish law as manifested by the law of rodef (the pursuer). The sages contended that the verse “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16) not only demands saving a friend from drowning or other dangerous situations but further dictates that one stop an assailant from committing murder (Sanhedrin 73a). This right was extended to both onlookers and threatened victims alike and was also applied in cases of sexual assault. The status of rodef was further applied to a fetus whose mother is endangered by the pregnancy, thereby mandating an abortion, even as the fetus certainly has no malicious intent (CM 425:2-3).

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