Chief Rabbi Invokes Scripture, Tells Israelis to Kill Terrorists Who Attack Them

"Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."

Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, son of the late Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, told listeners of a Torah class Saturday evening that it is a good deed to kill a terrorist in self-defense. 

The Chief Rabbi explained that when in imminent danger, people should not think twice before defending themselves against a terrorist even if it means killing the attacker. He also instructed people to refrain from thinking about the legal ramifications that might later ensue over their actions.

“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,’” he continued, 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.”

The Chief Rabbi made his comments in reference to Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who in February said the IDF should not operate according to this religious tenet or philosophy. "A soldier should not empty a magazine of ammunition into a girl holding scissors," he said. 

Lt.-Gen Eisenko was referring to an incident in November in which two Palestinian female teenagers attacked a 70-year-old Arab man (believing he was Jewish) by stabbing him in the head with a pair of scissors. Ultimately, one of the attackers was killed and another wounded by Israeli security officers. 

It should be noted that Rabbi Yosef was clear to state the boundaries of this rule. And he instructed listeners that if a terrorist is rendered subdued and unarmed, then he or she must be subject to the law of the land instead:    

“If he [the terrorist] doesn’t have the knife anymore, then he needs to be given a life sentence.”

Last Thursday, Ramat Gan Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel made a similar ruling, prohibiting the killing of terrorists once they have been neutralized and pose no threat.

Chief Rabbi Yosef is just the latest addition to a growing list or rabbis in Israel who are speaking openly about killing terrorists on the basis of Jewish law. 

To expand slightly -- Christians and Jews follow a certain set of commandments (or mitzvahs as they are referred to in Judaism), ten of which are well known to all Judeo-Christian societies. Among those primary ten commandments is the infamous: "Thou shalt not kill." But that is not really the commandment. The actual commandment, or mitzvah, is: "Thou shalt not murder."

There is, of course, an important distinction between the two and it is from this distinction that Rabbi Yosef's instruction derives. 

Judaism advocates self-defense and yes, that includes killing those who would commit great evil through murder. That is why it is often said that if one could go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler it would be considered a great deed.

The basis for this belief is derived from the Talmud -- the central text of Rabbinic Judaism -- with the quote: "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."