by Roi Sharon – National Journal published 21/11/2009
When is it permissible to kill non-Jews? The book “Torat ha-Melekh” [The King's Teaching - INT], which was just published, was written by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the dean of the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in the community of Yitzhar near Nablus, together with another rabbi from the yeshiva, Yossi Elitzur. The book contains no fewer than 230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guide for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.
Although the book is not being distributed by the leading book companies, it has already received warm recommendations from right-wing elements, including recommendations from important rabbis such as Yitzhak Ginsburg, Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef, that were printed at the beginning of the book. The book is being distributed via the Internet and through the yeshiva, and at this stage the introductory price is NIS 30 per copy. At the memorial ceremony that was held over the weekend in Jerusalem for Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was killed nineteen years ago, copies of the book were sold.
Throughout the book, the authors deal with in-depth theoretical questions in Jewish religious law regarding the killing of non-Jews. The words “Arabs” and “Palestinians” are not mentioned even indirectly, and the authors are careful to avoid making explicit statements in favor of an individual taking the law into his own hands. The book includes hundreds of sources from the Bible and religious law. The book includes quotes from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the fathers of religious Zionism, and from Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, one of the deans of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, the stronghold of national-religious Zionism that is located in Jerusalem.
The book opens with a prohibition against killing non-Jews and justifies it, among other things, on the grounds of preventing hostility and any desecration of God’s name. But very quickly, the authors move from prohibition to permission, to the various dispensations for harming non-Jews, with the central reason being their obligation to uphold the seven Noahide laws, which every human being on earth must follow. Among these commandments are prohibitions on theft, bloodshed and idolatry. [The seven Noahide laws prohibit idolatry, murder, theft, illicit sexual relations, blasphemy and eating the flesh of a live animal, and require societies to institute just laws and law courts - INT]
“When we approach a non-Jew who has violated the seven Noahide laws and kill him out of concern for upholding these seven laws, no prohibition has been violated,” states the book, which emphasizes that killing is forbidden unless it is done in obedience to a court ruling. But later on, the authors limit the prohibition, noting that it applies only to a “proper system that deals with non-Jews who violate the seven Noahide commandments.”
The book includes another conclusion that explains when a non-Jew may be killed even if he is not an enemy of the Jews. “In any situation in which a non-Jew’s presence endangers Jewish lives, the non-Jew may be killed even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all guilty for the situation that has been created,” the authors state. “When a non-Jew assists a murderer of Jews and causes the death of one, he may be killed, and in any case where a non-Jew’s presence causes danger to Jews, the non-Jew may be killed.”
One of the dispensations for killing non-Jews, according to religious law, applies in a case of din rodef [the law of the "pursuer," according to which one who is pursuing another with murderous intent may be killed extrajudicially] even when the pursuer is a civilian. “The dispensation applies even when the pursuer is not threatening to kill directly, but only indirectly,” the book states. “Even a civilian who assists combat fighters is considered a pursuer and may be killed. Anyone who assists the army of the wicked in any way is strengthening murderers and is considered a pursuer. A civilian who encourages the war gives the king and his soldiers the strength to continue. Therefore, any citizen of the state that opposes us who encourages the combat soldiers or expresses satisfaction over their actions is considered a pursuer and may be killed. Also, anyone who weakens our own state by word or similar action is considered a pursuer.”
Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur determine that children may also be harmed because they are “hindrances.” The rabbis write as follows: “Hindrances – babies are found many times in this situation. They block the way to rescue by their presence and do so completely by force. Nevertheless, they may be killed because their presence aids murder. There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
In addition, the children of the leader may be harmed in order to apply pressure to him. If attacking the children of a wicked ruler will influence him not to behave wickedly, they may be harmed. “It is better to kill the pursuers than to kill others,” the authors state.
In a chapter entitled “Deliberate harm to innocents,” the book explains that war is directly mainly against the pursuers, but those who belong to the enemy nation are also considered the enemy because they are assisting murderers.
Retaliation also has a place and purpose in this book by Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur. “In order to defeat the enemy, we must behave toward them in a spirit of retaliation and measure for measure,” they state. “Retaliation is absolutely necessary in order to render such wickedness not worthwhile. Therefore, sometimes we do cruel deeds in order to create the proper balance of terror.”
In one of the footnotes, the two rabbis write in such a way that appears to permit individuals to act on their own, outside of any decision by the government or the army.
“A decision by the nation is not necessary to permit shedding the blood of the evil kingdom,” the rabbis write. “Even individuals from the nation being attacked may harm them.”
Unlike books of religious law that are published by yeshivas, this time the rabbis added a chapter containing the book’s conclusions. Each of the six chapters is summarized into main points of several lines, which state, among other things: “In religious law, we have found that non-Jews are generally suspected of shedding Jewish blood, and in war, this suspicion becomes a great deal stronger. One must consider killing even babies, who have not violated the seven Noahide laws, because of the future danger that will be caused if they are allowed to grow up to be as wicked as their parents.”
Even though the authors are careful, as stated, to use the term “non-Jews,” there are certainly those who could interpret the nationality of the “non-Jews” who are liable to endanger the Jewish people. This is strengthened by the leaflet “The Jewish Voice,” which is published on the Internet from Yitzhar, which comments on the book: “It is superfluous to note that nowhere in the book is it written that the statements are directly only to the ancient non-Jews.” The leaflet’s editors did not omit a stinging remark directed at the GSS, who will certainly take the trouble to get themselves a copy. “The editors suggest to the GSS that they award the prize for Israel’s security to the authors,” the leaflet states, “who gave the detectives the option of reading the summarized conclusions without any need for in-depth study of the entire book.”
One student of the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in Yitzhar explained, from his point of view, where Rabbis Shapira and Elitzur got the courage to speak so freely on a subject such as the killing of non-Jews. “The rabbis aren’t afraid of prosecution because in that case, Maimonides [Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135–1204] and Nahmanides [Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, 1194–1270] would have to stand trial too, and anyway, this is research on religious law,” the yeshiva student said. “In a Jewish state, nobody sits in jail for studying Torah.