After learning the סוגיא of בא במחתרת I was filled with a bunch of questions regarding what is a בא במחתרת.

The Gemara סנהדרין דף עב ע״ב seems to answer my question by telling us that the reason anyone is allowed to kill for בא במחתרת is because he (the בא במחתרת) is a רודף.

If that's true,

1) What is the reason for the differences between a רודף and a בא במחתרת?
If you see a רודף, you are obligated to kill him/her, whereas if you see a בא במחתרת it would seem according to Rashi you have the option to kill him/her if you desire but you have no obligation to.

2) Why does Rambam place a בא במחתרת in the גניבה section in his משנה תורה? Whereas רודף is in רוצח.

3) There are commentaries that say (cannot recall who right now) that there's a difference between a רודף and a בא במחתרת since they have different intentions (one's to kill, one's to steal) therefore a בא במחתרת is one that isn't out to kill you per say but if he sees you, he will. He will not seek you out though. Whereas a רודף is looking and perusing you to kill you.

4) A רודף we kill because of what he's doing right now, where a בא במחתרת is killed for his further sins.

5) If you can save the נרדף in any way other than killing the רודף, you must (according to most). Is that the same in a case of בא במחתרת? One commentator states that it wouldn't apply in this case because it's dark and therefore since the בא במחתרת is just popping out of the tunnel, the homeowner doesn't have time to think if there's a way to save his life without killing the הא במחתרת and therefore he's allowed to just kill him.

6) Finally, why does the Gemara use the rule:

הבא להורגך השכם להורגו

Why wouldn't it say the reason you may kill the בא במחתרת is because he is a רודף?

So with all these questions, although the Gemara says the reason anyone is allowed to kill his is because he a רודף, is he really a רודף? Maybe not a full רודף?

How could one answer all these questions and make this idea of a בא במחתרת make sense?

  • 2
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, huddie96, and thanks for bringing us your well-thought out question (+1). These welcome messages usually include some links to useful starting points on the site, but I'm not at my computer right now so I'll leave that for someone else. :)
    – Scimonster
    Feb 3, 2016 at 20:55
  • 2
    Could you (or anybody else) please add a translation of the texts in Hebrew?
    – Gabriel12
    Feb 3, 2016 at 21:17
  • 1
    "if you see a בא במחתרת it would seem according to Rashi you have the option to kill him/her if you desire but you have no obligation to"; "Rambam place a בא במחתרת in the גניבה in his משנה תורה. Where רודף is in רוצח": can you cite these?
    – msh210
    Feb 3, 2016 at 23:53
  • And, welcome to Mi Yodeya! You seem to have been active on SO already, so you know the drill. I hope to see you around.
    – msh210
    Feb 3, 2016 at 23:53
  • Welcome! consider breaking these up into multiple questions, even though one answer, could answer all of them.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 4, 2016 at 1:23

3 Answers 3


I'm afraid I don't understand how 3) is a question. If anything, it seems to be the answer to 1) and 2). Which is to say:

  1. It is human nature for a man to defend his property even at risk of life. The ba bamachteres knows this and still pursues the theft. The assumption is that he would murder the homeowner if confronted. As such, the chidush is that he is indeed treated as a murderous rodef (pursuer), even though that is not his actual goal. Nonetheless, while it is human nature to defend one's property (and as noted by @pcoz) it is also one's right, there is no obligation to confront or kill the thief if one could forfeit one's own property without threatening anyone's life. (Self-defense of property is a right, not an obligation.)

  2. For this very reason, the Rambam brings these halachoth separately. The primary law of rodef is one of murder and belongs in hilchoth retzicha. Ba bamachtereth, while indeed understood to be based on the concept of rodef, is both biblically and conceptually a law related to theft and its intentions.

  3. (See above.)

  4. Again, I'm not sure what you mean. Both are being killed for what they will likely do. The murderer intends to murder and the thief intends to murder if necessary.

  5. The concept of yachol l'hatzilo b'echad mei'eivarav - he could save him by (injuring) one of his limbs (without needing to actually kill him) is applicable in both cases. In other words, in a case where the end of saving the victim could be accomplished by other means than actually killing the rodef, then to kill the rodef would itself qualify as murder. Again though, the key distinction is that the homeowner has the right to defend his own property even with the life of the rodef.

  6. Finally, הבא להורגך השכם להורגו - "If one comes to kill you, rise early to kill him" is actually a statement of Chazal (connected to במדבר כ"ה:יז-יח) that indeed explicates the principle of the rodef (seeבמדבר רבה פרשה כא פסקה ד and מדרש תנחומא פנחס פרק ג‏).

  • All these including 3 are just different ways to see that בא במחתרת and רוגף are different. The opposing side is that the Gemara clearly states a בא במחתרת is a רודף. Also are you concluding they are the same? Different? One is a subset of the other? How are you classifying a בא במחתרת?
    – huddie96
    Feb 4, 2016 at 6:42
  • Also can you re-type the bamidbar source, it's hard to understand because it's getting reformatted. Possibility a seporated line or block quote
    – huddie96
    Feb 4, 2016 at 6:54
  • 4) their main intent is different though. One is coming to steal and IF you get in his way okay he'll kill you, but until then, he is coming to steal. A רודף is coming to kill you, that's all. 5) You mention רודף a lot but didn't exactly answer the question of if and why homeowner is required to injure the tunneler if he can stop him that way. Unless you hold a בא במחתרת is a רודף
    – huddie96
    Feb 4, 2016 at 7:46
  • 5) If האם בא להורגך.. Shows a בא במחתרת is a רודף, what's the reason we need the פסוק ״והוכה״ to teach us that anyone can kill the בא במחתרת and that he's a רודף? - source: סנהדרין עב ע״ב
    – huddie96
    Feb 4, 2016 at 7:51

1) One is not obligated to kill a "רודף", when there are better ways to save the "נרדף" (for example, if you can save him by only harming the "רודף", then you must do so, instead of killing him).

2) The reason the gemara allows a person to kill a "בא במחתרת" (or at least, one is not punished if he does kill) is because "הבא להרגך השכם להורגו" - self-defense.
The Rambam explains that this is similar to a "רודף", since we can think of the "בא במחתרת" as one who will indeed kill the homeowner if he confronts him.

5) The gemara says explicitly that if you know for sure that the intruder will not kill you, you are not allowed to kill him. The Rambam gives an example of a father who is the robber. The son knows that the father will not kill him, so he may not kill the father (and we would not consider him a "רודף" in this case).

6) The official reason is "הבא להרגך - השכם להורגו". The Rambam explains that this is similar to "רודף", in order to understand the reasoning behind this halacha. One can think of this as a special case of a "רודף".

  • 5) I'm speaking of a case you know he wants to kill you (like a Rodef) 6)If that's the official reason why does the Gemara state on דף עב ע״ב that he Is A רודף?
    – huddie96
    Feb 4, 2016 at 5:49
  • 1) whether or not you end up killing the רודף you are responsible to stop him ( kill him or whatever) Rashi seems to say in a case of בא במחתרת that it's ר שות / מותרaka you could let him good if you wanted. 2)Im aware the rambam is implying here that a בא במחתרת is not a רודף, my problem is that the Gemara clearly states that he is עב ע״ב.
    – huddie96
    Feb 4, 2016 at 5:53

Reb Elchonon asks, why are you not obliged to let the ba be'machteres steal your money in which case you won't have to kill him?

He says, you are not obliged to let anyone steal your money. The fact that the resulting situation will result in death is not your problem.

I.e. the halacha does not work backwards. You do not feed the end result into the input for the shaalah in order to ameliorate the outcome.

  • The same is stated by the Rav in the notes to Kol Dodi Dofeq (IIRC).
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 4, 2016 at 1:24
  • Can you share the source to where Reb Elchonon says this? Thanks
    – Binyomin
    May 6, 2021 at 21:06

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