We know that it is permitted, in self-defense, to kill one who is trying to kill you, and I have heard that this applies to other people too (I see someone trying to kill someone else and I intervene). Is it ever permissible to kill an attacking person to defend one's animals? (For an attacking animal, see here.)

Presumably in the case of livestock the answer is no (he pays the value of the animal); suppose it is instead a prized, expensive racing horse, or a trained seeing-eye dog (trained for that specific person), or a beloved pet. Does everything non-human fall into the "property, thus financial settlement" category, or is it more complicated?

  • Prompted by this, though maybe a day late? Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 2:36

2 Answers 2


Lethal force is only authorized for the civilian bystander to prevent a rape or a murder. Not property damage. This assumes that whoever's attacking my property has a big sign on his forehead that says I'm here just to damage property and I definitely won't hurt any people.

The reason that we acquit someone who kills a home intruder is we assume the robber was prepared to kill the homeowner if needed. One contemporary rabbi actually was home at a time when most people wouldn't be, and found someone breaking in (who beat a hasty retreat). This robber was not prepared to use violence (he figured it would be an empty house), so the rabbi was not authorized to use any force (not that he likely would have anyhow).

Per Alex's answer on the above question, if your animal is attacked by another animal in a neutral space (or it invades your yard), if the only way to save your animal is to damage the attacking one, you aren't held liable. Thus I'd presume property is property. Of course we could have the funny case of a million-dollar throroughbred attacking my, Idunno, sixty-cent goldfish, and some evil genius has constructed a machine whereby if I don't push the button, it kills my goldfish; if I do push the button, it kills the horse; and those are my only two options -- save myself sixty cents, or cost the other guy a million dollars. As far as I know, strictly speaking if you pushed the button we can't charge you -- people panic when their property is threatened -- but I'd strongly assume meta-halacha would recommend that you don't.

  • 2
    Could you add a source for your first paragraph? Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 13:23

The following is from the Mishna (Sanhedrin 8:7):

ואלו הן שמצילין אותן בנפשן: הרודף אחר חברו להרגו, אחר הזכור ואחר הנערה המארסה. אבל הרודף אחר הבהמה, והמחלל את השבת, והעובד עבודה זרה - אין מצילין אותן בנפשן

These are the ones whom you may save with their lives [ie: these are the situations in which you may kill the pursuer]: one who is chasing after one's friend to kill him, [and one who is chasing] after a boy or after a betrothed girl [in order to have sexual intercourse with them, acc. to the gemara].

However, one who is chasing after an animal, [after] one who violates the Shabbat, or [after] one who worships idolatry - one does not save them with their [the pursuers'] lives.

  • 2
    The case there is where he is chasing after an animal to rape it (parallel to the maiden case, but since there is no real victim we don't kill the pursuer).
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 15:05
  • And you don't save a Sabbatgh breaker? That's pretty eye opening
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 23, 2020 at 18:32
  • 1
    @Aaron This translation of the Mishnah is incorrect. The Mishnah means that one doesn't kill someone in order to prevent that person from violating Shabbos or worshiping avoda zara
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 16:00

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