Sunday, August 21, 2011

Self defense against one who is only a possible rodef

Ran(Sanhedrin 73a): Since it is a mitzva to kill the rodef in order to save his victim, why is there a need for the verse of “don’t stand idly by the blood of your fellow” It is clearly a mitzva to exert yourself to save him – such as if he is drowning in the river or being attacked by bandits? The answer is the verse that tells you that you can kill the rodef is only relevant when it is absolutely clear to you that he is intent on killing. Similarly if it is absolutely certain that he will drown in the river if you don’t save him. However in a case of where it is uncertain, we would not know that there is an obligation. Therefore the verse of “don’t stand idly by the blood of your fellow” teaches us that it is also a mitzva to try and save him even though it is uncertain [while the case of certain need is learned from rodef].

Rav Yehuda Silman(Yeschurun 15): Question: Is it permitted to kill someone that there are doubts whether he is in fact a rodef (threat to life)? I was asked concerning a security guard in a public place e.g., the entrance of a restaurant or a mall who notices a man approach and he appears suspicious. The person is acting strangely and appears to be an Arab. When the security guard approaches him, he begins to run. The security guards suspects that he is a terrorist. This is only a suspicion since it is possible that he is in fact a Jew and there are people in the world who act strangely. In addition it is possible that the suspicious stranger is running away simply out of panic. However it is possible that in a short time the stranger will in fact cause a serious terror attack. Is it permitted to kill the stranger when the facts are not clear? This is a common question and a similar question can be asked regarding a bank teller who is suddenly confronted with a bandit with a pistol in his hand. There are many times when it is later determined that the gun was only a toy and even if it were real the bandit didn’t intend to kill but only to scare the bank teller. Nevetheless there is a doubt whether the person is in danger. In such circumstances is it permitted to kill him? Answer:… Conclusions: 1) It appears that we hold in practice that it is permitted to killed a suspected rodef. In other words someone who is doing activities that endanger others even if there are doubts. … 4) Therefore in the two versions of the question that were asked concerning a suspicious person it is permitted to kill him. That is only in a case there are valid bases to suspect that he is trying to kill. 5) In contrast in the case of someone running in the forest or is shooting and there are doubts as to his intent[ - he is not to be viewed as a rodef because we assume he has a legitimate reason for doing these things (chezkas kashrus)

Rav Yehuda Silman(Yeschurun volume 15 page 662):. …
The commentaries explain that the obvious reason for not needing witnesses but they could rely even on circumstantial evidence is because this was not a court procedure to punish wrongdoers. Rather it was either done to obey the law of the kingdom or it was to stop someone from sinning. The Rashba is cited in the Beis Yosef that witnesses are not needed in such a case…”. That is because we are concerned only with the knowledge of truth in order to stop the harm and to make protective measures against iniquity. Furthermore according to what I said that even a doubtful rodef is permitted to be killed, it is obvious that it is permitted for us to take protective action even if we have unresolved doubts.

Rav Yehuda Silman;(Yeschurun 22): The view expressed in Bava Metzia (83b) ;concerning R’ Eliezar bar Rav Shimon who was involved in capturing thieves because the king had commanded him to do so... In the original article I was inclined to the view that in the case of sexual abuse since the perpetrator is not executed but is imprisoned to protect society then perhaps all would agree that it is permitted to report him to the authorities... In addition according to the reason that even in the case of a possible rodef it is permitted to inform the authorities – it is obvious that is permitted without proper witnesses since all that is required is that there be the possibility that he is an abuser... it is clear that there is no need to convene a beis din in the presence of both sides since the basis of the permission to report the perpetrator to the secular authorities is either because he is a possible rodef (pursuer) or to separate him from sinning or because of the government mandates reporting. In fact these cases do not require a beis din and we need to merely consider the possible loss versus the possible gain. If the accusations are in fact true then we are dealing with a case of saving a person from being harmed. While if the accusations are in fact not true then in general then the government will free him. On the other hand it is certain that it is impossible that everyone can take responsibility for deciding whether to inform the secular authorities… 


  1. The Ran is just saying that if the victim MIGHT die from the perpetrators action, you can still kill the perpetrator/rodef.

    Rav Yehuda Silman (first one) is paskening on a case where the suspected rodef is overtly acting suspiciously in a manner that gives reasonable cause to suspect he is a rodef (and that only killing him immediately will save the possible victims.)

  2. thanks1

    would appreciate if you u/l the hebrew of these quotes!

    Ran: Seems to be saying that there is an obligation to save a life of a person who is a safek sakana due to "loy taamod" but does not seem to say thast it is due to "rodef" in which case might be possibly deduced that one is not allowed "lehatziloh benafshoh" (to kill the "fake rodef").

    Rav Sillman: Some lack of clarity. 1) in the first passage there seems to be required parameters to qualify as "safek rodef" (that entitles one to kill this person). Either while he is doing certain activities that might endanger others, "valid bases" to suspect what is the exact definition of this versus his other case where one may also have a doubt due his activity and yet we apply cheskas kashrut.

    Page 662: "unresolved doubts":Again what are the parameters?

    Rav sillman Y 22: What is the meaning of "in the original article I was inclined to the view..." what is he say in his later article: He changed his mind?

  3. What I take from the various teshuvos (on this thread and the previous moser thread) is that if someone attempts to moser an alleged abuser to the government, you can kill the moser, per halacha.

  4. Ahron, can you read? The teshuvos keep mentioning rodef which is distinct from moser. A child molester has a din rodef.

  5. How? 1) As Rav Wosner mentions in his teshuva today's messira they will just punish the person arrested and there is never a threat to life.2) According the Ritva mentioned by Rav Vosner: If one acts upon being mandated by the goverment it might be mutar meikar hadin. 3) You mean that is massers a musser one may kill the second mosser? These teshuvas actually state that one should be permitted/commanded to masser an alleged abuser (if there are strong grounds).

  6. "The teshuvos keep mentioning rodef which is distinct from moser."

    Oylem Goylem: R. Eidensohn said a moser is a rodef.

  7. A moser is a rodef but stopping a rodef child molester to begin with is not mesirah. That is what Dayan Silman means in the teshuvos.


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