Does Halacha allow Jews to commit physical or psychological torture against their enemies when necessary (e.g. in a time of war, to get vital information from them, etc.) and to what extent is it allowed?

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    Check out this very interesting book about physical punishments meted out by Rabbinic authorities after the closing of the Talmud.
    – Gavriel
    Oct 16, 2014 at 19:40
  • @Emetv'Shalom, please edit the question post to include as much as you can of what you understand about it already and what sources you've considered. "Sharing your research helps everyone" including yourself.
    – Isaac Moses
    Oct 19, 2014 at 2:41
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    – Isaac Moses
    Oct 22, 2014 at 13:46
  • @Emet Are you looking only for purposefull torture? How about revenge meted out with mida kineged mida?
    – user6591
    Dec 18, 2014 at 0:33

2 Answers 2


The earliest source I found concerning physical torture is in Judges 1:6-7 (Book of Shoftim), where it says וַיָּנָס אֲדֹנִי בֶזֶק וַיִּרְדְּפוּ אַחֲרָיו וַיֹּאחֲזוּ אֹתוֹ וַיְקַצְּצוּ אֶת בְּהֹנוֹת יָדָיו וְרַגְלָיו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֲדֹנִי בֶזֶק שִׁבְעִים מְלָכִים בְּהֹנוֹת יְדֵיהֶם וְרַגְלֵיהֶם מְקֻצָּצִים הָיוּ מְלַקְּטִים תַּחַת שֻׁלְחָנִי כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִֹיתִי כֵּן שִׁלַּם לִי אֱלֹהִים וַיְבִיאֻהוּ יְרוּשָׁלַםִ וַיָּמָת שָׁם: Ralbag explains this was done to intimidate the Canannate rulers and also to punish Adoni-bezek measure for measure for what he did to his own victims. Retracting my previous assumption, I noticed that Ralbag implies that this was not commanded by God, but it was done by His will anyway. Malbim says that God put in their minds to do this to him.

I haven't seen a source for this, but it may be that God directly commanded them in a prophecy, through the Urim V'tumim, or that the leaders were divinely inspired to do this retribution (Malbim implies this last option). I look at it this way: First of all, this man was as good as dead in God's eyes because he was from the 7 nations. Also, the Jews repaid him measure for measure, without putting him through extra torture than necessary to accomplish their goals. They even let him live after he confessed his sins and he died in Jerusalem as the verse states (It may be though, that they let him live because that would show their control over Adoni-Bezek, and this privilege is not given to the average individual of the 7 nations even if he confesses).

This case is the only case of the sort I can find, so it seems that this measure is only allowed when: 1- the person is going to be killed anyway, 2- it supports the cause of an obligatory war (milchemet mitzvah), 3- It is done exactly measure for measure according to one's deeds, 4- It seems to require some form of divine sanction (but this point is not clear).

  • I found another related source in Judges chapters 7-8, where Gideon slashed (with thorns and the like) the people of Sukkoth as a punishment for not feeding his army when he was fighting Midian. That may be a form of lashes (malkut), yet it does seem quite harsh. I wonder if he was correct in doing that. Jan 3, 2016 at 20:46
  • There is no source, but I read in a sefer that if you need to extract information from suspects in order to protect people from getting killed, then torture is ok, because the one getting tortured is considered a rodef (pursuer). I guess that would make sense if the commonly used forms of torture aren't excessively painful. Experts would have to decide on what the limits should be, considering the importance of the case. It seems that you would only be allowed to use excessive torture if you are certain the suspect has the information needed to save lives Apr 26, 2016 at 19:51

The story of Yom Har Gerizim comes to mind. The 21st of Kislev was a holiday mentioned in Megilas Taanis and explained in Yoma 69a. Short version the Kusim slandered the Jews in an attempt to have the Beis Hamikdosh destroyed. Alexander the great famously meets Shimon Hatzadik, and hands the Kusim over to him to be done as seen fit. Their heels are punctured so as to be tied to the tails of horses and they are dragged to Har Gerizim which is subsequently razed and used for planting, as mida kineged mida for their plans to have this done to the Beis Hamikdosh.

  • Great Source! I understand that measure was done to deter others from following in their ways. Were they killed beforehand or were they still alive at the time of the dragging? Also, who actually killed them, the Jews or the Greek soldiers? Dec 19, 2014 at 21:07
  • @Emet the only one of those questions I would answer definitively is it was the Jews who did the torture and killing being that Alexander handed the Kusim over to them and said do as you see fit
    – user6591
    Dec 20, 2014 at 23:08

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