The Prohibition Against Murdering Gentiles

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Netzavim Veyelech 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

(Published ten years ago, leaflet number #175, but, unfortunately, still needs to be published today).

(In answer to the question of whether or not it is permitted to murder non-Jews): I was caused great sorrow and shame by your very question of whether or not it is permissible to murder a non-Jew. The very fact of posing such a disreputable question is a mark of spiritual weakness and loss of direction. From four perspectives, each sufficient in and of itself, we can understand it is a severe, absolute prohibition.
1. From the perspective of faith in G-d, murdering an Arab, as if to advance the renaissance of our Nation in its Land, constitutes lack of faith in G-d. We believe that G-d is returning His Divine Presence to Zion and restoring Israel to its Land, accompanied by ups and downs, light and darkness. With all of the problems and difficulties, we do not struggle out of despair, but as warriors certain of victory. We therefore are not dragged down into wild, corrupt deeds. Rather, our fight over our Land must always be full of caution and integrity. We must not lose our heads. We must be aware that this is not what G-d demands of us, but rather that we be partners in the rebuilding of our Land.
2. From the moral perspective, harming one’s fellow man is immoral, let alone murdering him. One’s absolute duty to avoid such acts is part of the universal morality that encompasses every person on earth. This morality was not nullified for Jews by the Sinai Revelation. Quite the contrary, the Torah places us on a higher moral plane than any nation on earth. As the Mechilta teaches, “Prior to the Sinai Revelation, we were admonished against bloodshed. Following the Sinai Revelation, when our laws became more severe, could the laws of bloodshed have become more lenient?” (Quoted in Kesef Mishnah on Rambam, Hilchot Rotzeach U-Shemirat Ha-Nefesh 2:11).
3. From the legal perspective, the Talmud and our legal decisors state explicitly the prohibition against shedding the non-Jew’s blood (Sanhedrin 57a and Rambam ibid.). This prohibition is from the Torah (Bet Meir, Even Ha-Ezer 17:3). As for the question of why the punishment to the person who murders the non-Jew is “given over to Heaven” -- to the Heavenly tribunal – rather than to an earthly tribunal (Rambam ibid.), Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk explains, in his second interpretation, that this is because besides the sin of murder involved, there is also the severe sin of Chilul Hashem, the desecration of G-d’s name, for which there is no repentance. Neither Yom Kippur nor suffering atone for this sin, but only death. Therefore, execution by a human tribunal would not atone for his sin of murder (Meshech Chochmah, Shemot 21:14).
I do not believe that there is a Rabbi who has permitted the murder of Arabs. Perhaps he expressed such an idea as figurative hyperbole, but even by doing so he violated the dictum of “Sages, be cautious in your words” (Avot 1:11). If, however, it should become clear, G-d forbid, that a Rabbi gave a practical ruling to do such a thing, it would become retroactively clear that that Rabbi, with all of his importance, is unworthy of the title "Moreh Hora’ah," “Teacher of the Law.” As a rule, one must be aware that regarding such grave questions, not every Rabbi is entitled to render decisions, but only the great luminaries who lead our generation.
4. From the perspective of pure nationalism, partisan murder of a non-Jew brings harm to our country. In the early days before the establishment of our state, various Jewish undergrounds carried out sentence against non-Jews in accordance with the reality of those times, yet our own times are not like those were. Now we have an army and a police force who risk their lives day and night for the nation’s security, and it is they, and no one else, who are appointed by the whole Nation to punish the enemies of our people. No private individual is entitled to engage in anti-Arab terrorism, to weaken the government and to perform, in the name of the Nation, any acts as a result of which the whole Nation will suffer.
Let us rid ourselves of the desecration of G-d’s name inherent in such painful, insulting questions. Let us devote our educational efforts to explaining that this shameful path stands in opposition to the essence of the Jewish Torah and its morality, and further causes real harm to the Nation and State of Israel. We must fortify ourselves with patience, and we must remain aware that salvation comes gradually. Let us become stronger to overcome our difficulties. If we proceed with wisdom and understanding then in the end we will emerge victorious.