The Torah seems to allow many instances of killing. Genocide is sometimes okay if you give fair warning. So is the execution of a convicted murderer, or even those who break the Sabbath.

It does prohibit murder, and some say murder means "ninja like" killing. (You can be a samurai, but you can't be a ninja.)

This question is not asking whether it's morally wrong to assassinate terrorists. It's about whether it breaks G-d's commandment or not.

I am just wondering, is it allowed by Torah? If it's allowed, what does, "Thou shall not murder" mean anyway? It seems that all are fair game.

Does it simply mean not murdering fellow Jews?

Note: I am not asking whether jews are evil or not. I don't think so. At least not more than the rest of the world. I am just curious what the laws really mean.

Anyway, speaking of genocide:

Deuteronomy 20:10-14

 As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace.

If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.

Now I understand that other tribes at that time were not more merciful either.

I am just curious on what kill/murder means in ten commandment. Does it apply to kittens too, for example?

My understanding is from biblical passages and answers around here:

So on what cases killing is okay and killing is not and well, the original question is whether mossad assassination is okay.

Again, I am not saying it's wrong. I understand the other side would pull the same thing too. I am just wondering if it's halakha or not.

  • 1
    Can you clarify what you mean in some of the cases where you say killing seems to be ok? What do you mean by genocide? Where is your source that says you must give "fair warning"?
    – Seth J
    Feb 28, 2012 at 15:08
  • 6
    ...And who/what/when/where is the source for that statement about ninjas and samurais???
    – Seth J
    Feb 28, 2012 at 16:00
  • there is a discussion in christian groups. It says that thou shall not kill means you shall not kill silently. I think muslims believe the same thing. Islam bin Ali, for example, refused to kill a governer because "murder" is sin. The result is the governer that's pro Yazid crucified him and Islam is split into sunni and syiah till now. So I thought it's what it means.
    – user4951
    Feb 29, 2012 at 8:05
  • 1
    Jim, the story of Ya'el is a silent killing that is celebrated, and no "fair warning" is given.
    – Seth J
    Feb 29, 2012 at 13:15
  • 2
    @JimThio not from a Jewish perspective, no.
    – yoel
    Mar 1, 2012 at 22:22

3 Answers 3


הבא להורגך השכם להורגו

That means that if you know that someone wants to kill you, you must precede and kill him before he kills you. Otherwise, "Thou shall not murder" applies.

More info could be found on Hebrew wiki page about this topic.

  • I think this Gemara is found in Sanhedrin 72a. Feb 28, 2012 at 14:04
  • 1
    When I see בא להרגך I think showing up at my door with a gun, now. How clear is it that this would apply to preemptively selecting and killing a likely murderer? I think the supra-halachic precedent of killing societal troublemakers is more promising for this case.
    – yitznewton
    Feb 28, 2012 at 14:19
  • 3
    @yitznewton I think the Halachah has been extended (as evidenced by many episodes in Na"Ch in particular) to include those plotting or engaged in a campaign to annihilate and/or conquer the Jewish people as a whole (or a large segment thereof).
    – Seth J
    Feb 28, 2012 at 14:29
  • @SethJ that's what I was referencing, but my impression is that those are supra-halachic solutions. IOW to my ear, halachos of murder deal with the individual, and discretion was taken by societal leaders to eliminate threats to the public, e.g. taking out murderers who couldn't be convicted via edim ve-hasraah. Halachah never really entered into it. That's just my impression though. I haven't read through the teshuvos of Ezra ha-Sofer lately :P unfortunately.
    – yitznewton
    Feb 28, 2012 at 16:46
  • 1
    @yitznewton, See my answer. As you suggest, I don't think Halachah had anything to do with it, so much as Halachic justifications were provided after the fact. In a case of major national urgency, it seems "Halachic" public policy is to judge each case on a case by case basis and hope for the best possible outcome.
    – Seth J
    Feb 28, 2012 at 17:17

There is no question that war, self-defense, official executions and certain other cases of para-Halachic killings are either sanctioned, required, or otherwise allowed after the fact (and even rewarded).

The questions as to why are not answered in a generality; there has been much discussion about each case, with separate explanations for each.

As to your question relating to the prohibition against murder, the answer is that this is a general rule about taking an innocent life without just cause. {Free translation of link: "Whosoever kills a person among Israel violates a negative commandment, as it is said, 'Do not murder' (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16). And if he murdered intentionally before witnesses, his death is carried out with a blade, as it is said, 'He shall surely be revenged.' (Ex. 21:20) From the implication the sages learned that this is referring to death by blade; regardless of whether he killed his fellow with iron or burned him to death by fire, his death is by blade." -- Maimonides, Laws of A Murderer and Protecting Life, 1:1}

  • You mean without a "just" cause? Because wanting his wallet is a cause too. But then again, just is quite controversial. So this is pretty much very open to interpretation isn't it? Well, maybe not.
    – user4951
    Feb 28, 2012 at 14:59
  • @JimThio, yes, I mean just cause. I'll edit my answer. Thank you. (By the way, in Western, or at least American, English, the expression, "without cause" means without just cause.)
    – Seth J
    Feb 28, 2012 at 15:06
  • That's pretty confusing. I was thinking that perhaps God does sanction the weak to pay up to the strong. That's why He prohibit stealing but not robbing. Looks like it's similar with all other anti murder laws evolving independently on all other cultures. Yap. It's general normal rule. Like all similar rule, it's vague though. Anyone can justify that his cause is just if he has power, precisely because he killed a lot. David is one of them.
    – user4951
    Mar 1, 2012 at 9:40
  • I can't read mechon-mamre.org/i/b501.htm#1 At least not yet. Hopefully hebrew is easier than mandarin.
    – user4951
    Mar 1, 2012 at 9:41
  • @JimThio I've added a loose translation for you.
    – Seth J
    Mar 1, 2012 at 16:12

I see several questions in your post. I'll try to answer them one by one.

what does, "Thou shall not murder" mean anyway?

It means that human life is holy, and Torah prohibits taking any human life. Pretty similar to how most people generally think about killing.

The Torah seems to allow many instances of killing

Original question author didn't ask about this, but for those reading this who do, currently there are two exceptions to the general rule of "Thou shall not murder":

  1. Killing someone who is about to commit a murder.
  2. Some rabbis's opinion is that war declaration is also permitted under some circumstances.

(At the time of Jewish kings and Sanhedrin court (B.C.E.), additional exceptions existed - the king could declare war and kill those violating his kingship, and the rabbinical court could kill someone in violation of certain Torah laws, and the genocide of one specific nation (Amalek, the seven nations in the land of Canaan) was allowed. Currently all those exceptions aren't in effect.)

You can be a samurai, but you can't be a ninja

From Torah point of view "brave" murder is no less murder than "treacherous" one.

Does it simply mean not murdering fellow Jews?

No, it doesn't. Killing people of any nation is forbidden.

Is Mossad Assasination allowed in Torah? :

  1. This question by itself is excellent. I don't even think there is a simple single answer, probably each case is individual. Clearly, there's a reason to consider it allowed because it is kind of self-defence, and there's also a reason not to allow such assasination because not always there's a proof that someone will commit murder and also I'm not sure if Torah permits killing a commander which is not going to kill anybody by himself but rather gives orders to others, but that's just two points in this rather complicated question.

  2. Mossad assasination has very little to do with Torah, as Mossad is not guided by Torah laws (at least not officially. There is still a possibility that some Mossad officers take Torah laws into account when making their decisions). Mossad reports to the Israeli government and is subject to laws of State of Israel, which have little to do with Torah laws.

  • 3
    Sandman4, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for your comprehensive treatment of this question! I look forward to seeing you around. Your answer would be even more valuable if you could edit in some sources for your various assertions and opinions.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 28, 2012 at 22:30
  • I do not ask whether Torah or Jews are evil :) Don't worry about it. As a taoist I sort of see that some evil is necessary (like death penalty) as long as it's not excessive. Torah is actually pretty good for something written 6k years ago where every body is killing every body else anyway. I am just pondering about the detail as I am pondering on God's existence my self. Why do you think I think jews are evil? I hang out just fine here with jews. You don't burn church, you don't stone women, and you don't make porn illegal. You're not evil, at least not relatively compared to others.
    – user4951
    Feb 29, 2012 at 1:42
  • 3
    You're an interesting dude, @JimThio.
    – Seth J
    Feb 29, 2012 at 15:32
  • 1
    @Jim Thio I think it's better to delete the "evil" part of my question, would you agree ?
    – Sandman4
    Mar 1, 2012 at 12:21
  • 1
    @Sandman4 I would go ahead and do so. Even if the question was obviously asking these things subtextually (we certainly get some on here who do, but I doubt it's so in this case), we should dan lchaf zchus and only answer the questions as asked.
    – yoel
    Mar 1, 2012 at 16:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .