The Halacha of Rodef and the Rabin Shooting by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

(2004/5765) 

Introduction
In 1995, a Jew assassinated Israeli Prime Minister
Yitzchak Rabin. His defense was that Rabin was a Rodef
(pursuer - Halacha mandates one to kill someone who is
attempting murder). We seek to demonstrate that Prime
Minister Rabin was not a Rodef and that the Jew who
assassinated Rabin had no Halachic basis for his actions.
Our discussion is based on a responsum of Rav Yehuda
Henkin (Teshuvot Bnai Banim 3:33) and an essay authored
by Professor Eliav Schochetman, which appears in the
nineteenth volume of the Israeli Torah journal Techumin.
Please note that both Rav Henkin and Professor
Schochetman have been outspoken critics of the Oslo
process and are cited as spokesmen for the Israeli Right.
Nevertheless they are adamant that Prime Minister Rabin did
not have the status of a Rodef.
The Rules of Rodef
The Halacha of Rodef is similar to the Halacha of Ba
B’machteret that is presented in Shemot 22:1. The Torah in
that Pasuk teaches that one may kill a thief who is tunneling
into one's house since one may assume that the thief is
armed and constitutes a danger to life. The Torah permits the
householder to kill the thief in self-defense. Chazal
(Sanhedrin 72a) phrase this rule accordingly: “If someone
comes to kill you, act first and kill him.” The Gemara
(Sanhedrin 73a), in turn, presents the sources in the Torah
that teach that one must kill someone who is attempting to kill
another person. This rule applies not only to self-defense but
also to defending the lives of others. Moreover, it also applies
to someone who engages in sexual assault (Sanhedrin 73a).
Thus, one must kill (if no other alternative is available)
someone who is attempting to murder or rape. For a
discussion of the subtle distinctions between the cases of
Rodef and Ba B’machteret see my recently published (by
TABC) Rebbe-Talmid commentary on Sanhedrin entitled
Peninei Torah.
In the absence of a Sanhedrin sitting in proximity to
the Beit Hamikdash, the Halacha does not permit a Beit Din to
impose capital punishment. The rules of Rodef, however,
apply even in the absence of a Sanhedrin (Rambam Hilchot
Rotze’ach 1:6-13 and Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 425).
In fact, the Rama applies the Halacha of Rodef to one who
engages in forgeries. Government authorities in the past

imposed severe collective punishments (including executions) upon
the Jewish communities in which a Jewish forger resided. Thus, the
forger endangers the community and is treated with the severity of a
Rodef.
Yitzchak Rabin’s assassin claimed that Prime Minister
Rabin was a Rodef because the latter's policies regarding the Oslo
process endangered the Jewish community. We seek to
demonstrate that this was a mistaken assertion even if one believes
that Yitzchak Rabin's policies endangered the entire Jewish
community. One cannot draw a legitimate analogy between the late
Prime Minister and the forger discussed by the Rama.
Chazal Never Referred to a Jewish Government as a Rodef
Chazal criticize a variety of Jewish leaders and hold
them responsible for the destruction of the Beit
Hamikdash. Nevertheless, Chazal never classified any of
these leaders as a Rodef. For example, the Gemara
(Shabbat 56b) states that King Shlomo's marriage to the
daughter of Paroh initiated the process of the
destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Similarly, the
Gemara states that King Yeravam's introduction of two
golden calves to Beit El and Dan accelerated the
process of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.
Chazal, however, do not define either Shlomo or
Yeravam as a Rodef despite the serious damage to the
Jewish community caused by these kings. In addition, Rav
Shlomo Aviner notes that a careful examination of
Tanach reveals that King David never uttered a critical
word (and most certainly never acted) against King Saul
despite the enormous danger and hardship the former
caused the latter.
A reason for this, explains Professor
Schochetman, is that an objective of the Rodef law is to
save the lives of the innocent. However, killing (or even
verbally abusing) a king who is recognized as the
communal ruler is an extremely disruptive act that
causes chaos and anarchy in society. This in turn leads to
the disintegration of the society and to the death of
countless innocent individuals. For example, if the
government reduced the age one receives a driver's
license from seventeen to sixteen and experts
determined that this would lead to increased road
fatalities, would any sane person regard the
government as a Rodef? Although the government errs, one
would cause much greater harm by killing the
government ministers than by leaving them unharmed. Of
course, this does not exclude acting within legal means to
replace a Prime Minister or government that acts
recklessly.
Moreover, the Gemara (Shavuot 35b) cites
Shmuel who states that a king who causes the death of up
to one-sixth of his subjects is not punished. Tosafot (s.v.
Dikatla) explains that the context of Shmuel's statement is a
king who leads his country to a Milchemet Reshut (a
discretionary war). Accordingly, the legitimate ruler of the
country is authorized to enact policies that endanger the
population if the ruler feels that it is in the best interest of 

the country to do so. Accordingly, it is absurd to regard the
ruler as a Rodef for placing the community in danger if the
Halacha specifically permits the ruler to endanger the
community.
Rav Henkin cites Rav Kook (Teshuvot Mishpat
Kohen 144) and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Teshuvot Tzitz
Eliezer 10:1:14) who rule (based on Radvaz’s comment to the
Rambam Hilchot Melachim 3:8) that in the absence of a king
appointed by Hashem (a Navi such as Shmuel informs us of
Hashem’s choice), the right to elect a leader reverts to the
country's populace. Thus, Halacha recognizes the results of
a democratic election. Rav Henkin notes that Rav Kook and
Rav Waldenberg did not state that only Halachically
observant Jews are eligible participants in the elections.
These authorities believe that even non-observant Jews enjoy
the right to choose a leader. Accordingly, Yitzchak Rabin was
the legitimate political leader of the Jewish nation in Israel,
even though most observant Jews voted for his opponent in
the election. Thus, Prime Minister Rabin had the right to
enact a policy that would endanger the country since he felt
that it was in the best interest of the country to do so.
Consequently, it is a grievous error to categorize Yitzchak
Rabin as a Rodef.

Halachic Support of Prime Minister Rabin's Policy
Even if one believes that Prime Minister Rabin's
policy violated Halacha, one must concede the fact that some
noted Halachic authorities, such as Rav Ovadia Yosef and
Rav Yehuda Amital, supported the Oslo process as Yitzchak
Rabin conducted it. Moreover, some military and diplomatic
experts believed that it was prudent government policy to
engage in the Oslo process. Accordingly, even though it
appears that most Halachic authorities oppose the Oslo
process, Prime Minister Rabin had the Halachic right to follow
the minority opinion. How can one define Yitzchak Rabin as a
Rodef if he had the Halachic right to engage in the Oslo
process? Again, we emphasize that this approach does not
exclude using any and all legal means to remove an Oslo
supporter from office and replace him with a leader who will
conform with the majority rabbinical opinion that rejects
following the Oslo process.
Procedural Issues
Dayan Weiss (Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 8:148)
notes that only responsible Jewish leadership (i.e. a
recognized Beit Din) may determine that an individual
constitutes a danger to the community and is classified as a
Rodef. Similarly, the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo Bava
Kama 3:9) asserts that the Talmudic rule that one may
forcefully prevent individuals from violating Halacha applies
only to a Dayan or another recognized communal leader.
Otherwise, the Maharshal explains, Jewish life would be
chaotic and intolerable, as everyone would take the
Halacha into his own hands.
Rav Avraham Shapira (the former Ashkenazic chief
rabbi who is an outspoken critic of the Oslo process) has stated that it is absolutely forbidden to kill another Jew based on
disagreements concerning governmental policy. Rav Shapira
attributes the Rabin shooting to a lack of Halachic discipline. Rav
Shapira asserts that "youths who decide Halachic matters for
themselves have learned from those who disrespect rabbis and
leading Halachic authorities. Had these youths been educated to
submit to rabbinical authority and to recognize the appropriate
rabbinical hierarchy they would not have engaged in verbal violence,
much less physical violence" against the Prime Minister.
Conclusion
Rabin’s assassin had no Halachic basis to shoot Prime
Minister Rabin. Professor Schochetman notes that the shooting
caused grave damage to the opposition to the Oslo process.
Moreover, it caused a profound Chillul Hashem whose impact we
experience even nine years after the shooting. Professor
Schochetman (paraphrasing Teshuvot Chavot Yair 138) correctly
describes the shooting of Yitzchak Rabin as "an foreign, evil, and
bitter act." It is foreign to the Jewish people, it has no Halachic
basis, it is morally reprehensible, and it has had bitter ramifications
for Israeli society.

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