In Samuel I chapter 11, David commands Yo'av to place Uriah the Hittite in the middle of a battle so that, inevitably, the enemy would kill him while he is unprotected. Yo'av carries out the command.

Is Yo'av considered a murderer, halachically?

Considerations / Questions:

  • Yo'av himself did not kill Uriah, but he intentionally placed him in danger so that it was highly likely that he would have been killed. It was also clear, that Yoav's intent was to have him killed, but by someone else. In general, if someone intentionally places another in a place where death to that person is certain, does that make him liable for murder?

  • David was the king. If the king commands you to kill someone and you disobey the king, the king has a right to kill you for being a rebel against the kingdom. Yo'av did not know why David wanted Uriah killed. He was just a messaneger. So, even if Yo'av had killed Uriah himself, would that excuse him from being a murderer, because he is carrying out the king's command?

  • Remember that King David commands Yoav's death in Melachim II 2:5. Maybe there's a connection?
    – ezra
    Jul 10, 2017 at 3:02
  • On your second bullet, see the question to Rabba near the bottom of Sanhedrin 74a where a king commanded someone to kill or be killed. Jul 10, 2017 at 13:02

2 Answers 2


Kiddushin 43a:

האומר לשלוחו צא הרוג את הנפש הוא חייב ושולחיו פטור שמאי הזקן אומר משום חגי הנביא שולחיו חייב שנא' (שמואל ב יב, ט) אותו הרגת בחרב בני עמון

One who says to his agent: "Go and kill someone" - he is liable, but his sender is not. Shamai the Elder said in the name of Chagai the prophet that his sender is liable, as it says (Shmuel 2:12:9), "[Uriah] you (David) have killed with the sword of the Children of Amon."

The Gemara proceeds to do a technical analysis of the two opinions based on the preceding daf regarding the general principle that one is not liable for his agent's sins performed on his behalf (ein shliach l'devar aveirah). It presents several such expositions; I will quote just the last one, which is relevant to the passuk quoted above:

ואיבעית אימא שאני התם דגלי רחמנא אותו הרגת בחרב בני עמון

ואידך הרי לך כחרב בני עמון מה חרב בני עמון אין אתה נענש עליו אף אוריה החתי אי אתה נענש עליו

מאי טעמא מורד במלכות הוה דקאמר ליה (שמואל ב יא, יא) ואדוני יואב וכל עבדי אדוני על פני השדה חונים

If you rather, I can say [to explain Shamai's opinion] that the passuk specifies "he you have killed with the sword of the Children of Amon."

And [the Tanna Kama]? [Uriah's murder] is to you like the sword of the Children of Amon - just as you are not liable for the sword of the Children of Amon, so, too, for Uriah the Chiti you are not liable.

Why not? He rebelled against the kingdom, as it says (Shmuel 2:11:11): "My master, Yoav, and all the servants of my master [are] encamped on the face of the field." [Uriah is speaking to David in this passuk - the second reference to "my master" is David, not Yoav. As he referred to Yoav as his master before David, it was considered an affront to the kingdom and was tantamount to rebelling. Thus explains Rashi.]

In short: everyone holds Yoav was liable. For further reading on David's liability, see Avodah Zarah 5a and Shabbos 56a. For practical halacha in case you want to hire a mercenary yourself, see the full Gemara in Kiddushin, 42b through the above Gemaras, then see Rambam, Hilchos Rotzeiach 2:2-3.

  • Thanks. I didn't realize how complex this question is!
    – DanF
    Jul 10, 2017 at 16:59
  • In any case you haven't answered the second question whether Yoav can be guilty of murder since he was innocent and unaware of David's evil intentions. This is a strong argument indeed. Neither did you answer the first!
    – Bach
    Jul 13, 2017 at 14:29
  • "The Tanna Kama (whom we follow - Rambam Hil. Rotzeiach 2:2-3) holds that Yoav is not liable, while Shamai the Elder, quoting Chagai the prophet, holds that Yoav is liable." Wrong! It is the other way around! האומר לשלוחו צא הרוג את הנפש הוא חייב ושולחיו פטור שמאי הזקן אומר משום חגי הנביא שולחיו חייב. Tanna Kama holds sender is not liable but agent is. Shammai holds sender is also liable. שולחיו means the sender, not the agent! Anyways you see that according to both agent is always liable, the argument is only whether the sender is liable as well!
    – Bach
    Jul 13, 2017 at 14:37
  • @Bach Sorry. You are absolutely correct. Let me make that edit now. That should have been obvious to me from the passuk Shamai quoted. :/
    – DonielF
    Jul 13, 2017 at 17:22
  • + your answer now :) though i disagree with you regarding Yoav's liability as you can see from my post
    – Bach
    Jul 13, 2017 at 20:15

Good point Dan. Neither Yoav nor David can be sentenced to death by the sanhedrin since there was no act of murder (though there are some who disagree with the above thinking that there was a direct act of murder, but this is not the simple understanding of the narrative in Tanach), only an indirect cause of murder (גרמא), and there can be no death penalty. However, a person can be guilty of murder even in such a case (בדיני שמים). see rambam Rotzeach 2:2.

From the gemara in kiddushin 43a it is evident that the agent is always guilty of murder and may be sentenced to death (provided that it was direct murder) but regarding the sender there is disagreement between the sages. So in our case Yoav the agent would be guilty of murder (but not sentenced to death since it was indirect), but regarding David there would be a disagreement between the sages if he is guilty as well. However, as you already pointed out, it is likely that Yoav was unaware of David's evil intentions. In such a case there would be no doubt that Yoav is a Shogeg at worst and not guilty of the crime.

P.s. there is no indication in kiddushin whether Yoav was guilty or not, they only argue whether king David was guilty as a sender.

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