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In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, Portion 72, Verse 1, it says that if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.

During the entire episode of Purim, why didn't the Yidden, rise up and kill the bad guys first?

It also says, " And in every province, wherever the king's orders and his edict reached, there was great mourning for the Jews, and fasting and weeping and lamenting; sackcloth and ashes were put on the most prominent." The above doesn't indicate any sort of defensive action.

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  • Do we know for sure that they were not preparing to do so?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 12:35
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    They'd all have been killed by the cops.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 12:40
  • @RabbiKaii Can you show me where it says that they did prepare? If anything, it says that they cried out, which would indicate that they were just letting the situation flow which ever way it did. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 12:41
  • "For the Jews who were in Shushan gathered themselves together also on the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan" -Esther 9:15
    – Shmuel
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 12:43
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    It's best to not do anything stupid and try and find another way. I'm forever grateful they spent their 11 month warning thoughtfully and didn't just jump into a suicidal honor fight.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 12:52

1 Answer 1

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A few thoughts, if not a complete answer. First, who exactly were the Jews supposed to kill? The first edict said the Jews should be killed, but not who should kill them. Esther 3:13. And based on what eventually happened, it sounds like the decree just permitted anyone who didn't like the Jews to do so with impunity on the appointed day. See Esther 8:11, 9:1-2. Did the Jews know exactly who those people were? Even if they did, I don't think they can kill someone just for being an antisemite today because of what they might do in a year.

The principle OP cites appears to be based on the din of rodef--that one can use lethal force in self defense. Although Rava himself does not give a source for his principle that אם בא להורגך השכם להורגו, the surrounding discussion in the gemara is about rodef and the baraita on 72b specifically connects the case at issue--the burglar at night--to the din of rodef. That's also how the Rema understands it in Choshen Mishpat 425. The din of rodef usually only applies to a threat posed by a specific person. See the gemara there, see Choshen Mishpat 425. To be sure the threat can be indirect, such as the burglar who isn't out to kill but is willing to kill if you resist or a person who is likely to provoke government persecution (see Choshen Mishpat 388:12). But we don't generally see halakhic license to kill someone based on present attitudes that may make them inclined to violence a year from now.

(However, the rules may be different when dealing with a nationwide threat. Bamidbar Rabbah 21:4 says the commandment to harass the Midianites is based on a din preemptive action. And in general halakhah doesn't preclude preemptive military strikes on the basis that maybe the specific soldiers you kill wouldn't be involved in the attack. On the other hand, the rest of that section in Bamidbar Rabah and the next section imply that the treatment of the Midianites was atypical. There was a very light-on-sources debate in the pages of the Guardian in 2009 about whether military action would be justified against Hamas voters in Gaza. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/jan/12/judaism-gaza-israel-halachah. Also note that many authors say that the rules of military engagement don't fit neatly into the individual rules of self defense. That's definitely the shitah of Rav Chaim David HaLevi in Aseh Lkha Rav and other places. So tzarikh iyun whether there might be a more capacious concept of אם בא להורגך when you're talking about a national threat and how the Purim story would fit into such a framework.)

Second, even if someone is a rodef, lethal force is the last resort. Rambam in Hilchot Rotzeach 1:6 & 13 says you need to try to warn the rodef to stop and you need to use non-lethal force if possible. Based on this, if a person says "I'm going to kill you in a year" you cannot shoot him on the spot. You can try to call the police, try to talk him out of it, try to disable him or escape, etc. In light of that, beginning with tefilah and fasting and trying to change the King's mind first all seemed halakhically proper. While I agree with OP that the Jews didn't take immediate defensive action in the first few day (such as stockpiling weapons), that doesn't mean they wouldn't have fought in the end.

Third, as other commenters have said, the Jews needed to be pragmatic. Presumably if the Jews had started assassinating known anti-Semites, or Haman, or all the local officials there would have been harsh reprisals. The Jews would have been insanely outnumbered and there might have been even more public and government support for swiftly killing the Jews. Clearly the better course was to first try to change the decree. Peaceful protest sometimes works. See Bavli Rosh Hashanah 19 and, (l'havdil?) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Order_No._11_(1862).

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  • This is a good סברא Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 2:16

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