The Talmud in Avoda Zara 10b states:

ה"ל ההיא נקרתא דהוה עיילא מביתיה לבית רבי כל יומא הוה מייתי תרי עבדי חד קטליה אבבא דבי רבי וחד קטליה אבבא דביתיה א"ל בעידנא דאתינא לא נשכח גבר קמך

The Gemara relates an anecdote involving Antoninus. Antoninus had a certain underground cave from which there was a tunnel that went from his house to the house of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Every day he would bring two servants to serve him. He would kill one at the entrance of the house of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, and would kill the other one at the entrance of his house, so that no living person would know that he had visited Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. He said to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi: When I come to visit, let no man be found before you.

Antoninus thus wished to study Torah daily with Rebbe and keep the rendezvous top secret.

Tosofot asks why these murders were permitted:

חד קטיל אבבא דבי רבי - וא"ת והלא שפיכות דמים הוא משבע מצות ואפילו לישראל אסור דהא תניא (לקמן עבודה זרה כו.) העובדי כוכבים ורועי בהמה דקה לא היו מעלין ולא מורידין וי"ל שהיה ירא פן יודיעו הדבר אל השרים והיו גורמין להרגו ואמרינן אם בא להרגך השכם להרגו

He would kill one at the entrance of the house of Rabbi: And if you will say (ask): And is not the spilling of blood (murder) one of the seven [universal] commandments? And it is even forbidden to a Jew, for behold it was taught (below, Avodah Zarah 26a), "Idolaters and shepherds of small domesticated animals - we do not raise them [out of a pit], but we don't lower them [into it]." It can be said (answered) that he was afraid lest they would make the thing known to the ministers and they would cause him to be killed; and we say if someone comes to kill you, arise early to kill him.

That's rich. Apparently Antoninus was the victim, and the servants were the would-be murderers!

There is something unsavory about this whole logic - he 'couldn't' be without his attendants, and he felt 'compelled' perhaps to study Torah through a secret tunnel and thus was left with 'no choice' but to murder a new pair of servants daily rather than be indirectly murdered by them - sounds like an extreme take on אם בא להרגך השכם להרגו

In the end, Antoninus preplanned and gave rise to his own Rodef scenario! This worked-out-in-advance Rodef dynamic doesn't seem to change the halachik Rodef calculus per Tosofot. How far does this go?

Can a person regularly go to a synagogue in a very dangerous part of town with a high per capita rate of violent crime, encounter a 'Rodef', and then avail his- or her- self of Rodef logic? Arguably, Antoninus' situation was much safer because he was able to control the risk through careful planning.

The most ironic aspect of this, which may play a huge factor and make Antoninus' case sui generis, is that in a sense there was no danger to Antoninus at all once he put his plan into motion. The danger to life was more or less gone.

  • 1
    Please edit to clearly express a request for information.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 4 at 0:18
  • 1
    It's a good question, but it does need some trimming down (eg briefly quote the Gemara, Tosafos and then ask if your analogous case of the rough part of town would also be permitted)
    – AKA
    Feb 4 at 14:34
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    Lichorah the answer to this question is that it was a different Antoninus who left his palace than the Antoninus who arrived at Rebbi's house.
    – The GRAPKE
    Feb 4 at 15:28

2 Answers 2


I think you might have misunderstood the Tosfos' point, that comes after where you cut the quote.

חד קטיל אבבא דבי רבי - וא"ת והלא שפיכות דמים הוא משבע מצות ואפילו לישראל אסור דהא תניא העובדי כוכבים ורועי בהמה דקה לא היו מעלין ולא מורידין וי"ל שהיה ירא פן יודיעו הדבר אל השרים והיו גורמין להרגו ואמרינן אם בא להרגך השכם להרגו עי"ל שהיה בורר המינים והמסורות דאע"ג דאין מינים באומות לענין קבלת קרבן מידם לענין הורדה איכא כדפריך בפ"ק דחולין השתא דישראל היו מורידין דעובדי כוכבים מיבעיא

In my own translation of the bolded part:

Also you have to be medakdek that he would select minim and mosrim, because even though there aren't minim by the goyim in regard to accepting korbanos from them, when it comes to horada there are, as in the pircha in Chullin "now that you say that we are morid a Jewish [min], do you even have to say [that we are morid] a non-Jewish [min]?"

Meaning, he would select two slaves that are non-Jewish minim, by whom we say "moridim velo maalin", meaning that we lower them into a pit (so that they will die) and do not raise them. This concept is what Tosfos calls horada (lowering). And although the Gemara in Chullin (see daf 13b) learns out that we do not exclude non-Jewish minim from bringing korbanos (unlike Jewish minim, who we do exclude from bringing), we do hold that there is such a concept as a non-Jewish min in regard to horada.

And although horada doesn't give Antoninus a right to kill these two non-Jewish min slaves outright, I would argue that the Tosfos views the deliberate putting of the slaves in a rodef-style situation is akin to the indirect killing otherwise achieved by lowering them into a pit that they can't get out of.

Therefore, Antoninus was allowed to kill these two non-Jewish min slaves.

  • 1
    Interesting - I assume the OP assumed that Tosefos gave two independent answers, so that the first one works even if the second one didn't apply.
    – MichoelR
    Feb 5 at 19:18
  • @ malkizedek. Thx. I disagree. I read the עי"ל as an abbreviation for עוד יש לומר and thus it begins a separate, independent answer.
    – GratefulD
    Feb 5 at 21:03

After giving it some thought ... the Yerushalmi Megilah 3:2 posits that it is possible to say that Antoninus converted.

Thus, notwithstanding the mortal danger, per his destiny, Antoninus had to study Torah and embrace Judaism (this was not an optional activity). We can say that per Tosofot the daily servants that attended Antoninus were must-have lookouts. It was of paramount importance that no one new learn of his secret and that no one live to tell the tale - Antonius reasonably felt that he would be executed by the Romans if his secret got out. Moreover, he could not make his servant(s) swear to never reveal his secret ... who can trust that?

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