Is it permissible to kill a thief who breaks into your home?

[Opening words of Ha-Rav to his radio show]

Every child in nursery school should know that it is permissible to kill a thief if he is discovered while sneaking into one's home, since he may be willing to murder in order to carry out his plan (Shemot 22:1-2). It had already happened in the world. When the Torah says, "If the sun shone on him, there is blood-guilt," it means that if one is sure that the thief will not murder, then it is not permitted to kill him. It is not that you are permitted to kill him if you think he might murder, but the opposite – the presumption is that the thief will murder. After all, a thief is not the most righteous person of the generation. According to Halachah, it is therefore permissible to shoot a thief provided that there is not any contradictory evidence that he will not kill.

One can ask: Why don't we just give the thief the money and that is it? Will you kill someone to save money? The answer appears in Sefer Ha-Chinuch (mitzvah 338). The mitzvah being discussed there is not our issue of theft, but the issue of insults. If someone insults me, am I obligated to take it or can I respond in kind? Answer: It is permissible to respond in kind for two reasons: 1. In order to protect yourself. If he insults me and I remain quiet, he will continue to insult me. If I yell back, he will stop. 2. The Torah does not require a person to sit like a stone. He can respond. This is referred to as "his heart is hot." My heart is hot and I am permitted to insult or strike back. This is not revenge. Revenge is cold and calculated. This is in the heat of passion. It is true that the Gemara in Yoma (23a) says, "Those who are insulted but do not insult back, who hear themselves slandered but do not respond, who act with love and rejoice in suffering, of them the Tanach says, ‘Those who love Him are like the sun rising with all its might’ (Shoftim 5:31), and keep it in one’s heart." Everyone understands from the style of our Sages that this is an act of piety. One is not obligated to act in this way, it is a very high level and a personal decision. A student of the Chafetz Chaim stood trial, and the Chafetz Chaim testified as a character witness. The student's lawyer said: "Honored judges, do you know who has stood before you to provide testimony as a character witness? This Rabbi once heard noises in his courtyard. There were thieves! In order to save the thieves from committing a sin, he yelled: "Hefker – everything is ownerless!" The judge said to the lawyer: "My educated friend, do you believe this story?" He responded: "No." The judge said: "My educated friend, if you do not believe this story why are you telling it to relate this Rabbi's character?" The lawyer said: "They do not tell stories like this about the honorable judge." He meant that even if the story about the Chaftez Chaim is not true, based on the fact that they tell stories such as this about him, it shows how righteous he is and that you can rely on him. This is an act of piety, however, and one is not obligated to act in this manner. I am not obligation to be insulted just as I am not obligated to have my money stolen. Money does not grow on trees. It is therefore permitted to kill a thief. If it is possible to injure the thief without killing him, that is certainly good. A person does not have to give up his possessions. He works hard and it belongs to him. Yaakov Avinu forgot some small jars and went back to get them because the money of the righteous is dear to them. This is because they earn their money honestly through hard work (Rashi to Bereshit 32:25 based on Chullin 91a). It is therefore permissible for someone to protect himself and his property and to shoot an intruder.