In Judaism, if a man walks into his wife having sex with another man, is he permitted to kill both, the other man and his wife, on the spot?

  • 3
    Providing the assumptions made in formulating this question would help
    – bondonk
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:43
  • Unlike this case, if the wife finds the husband cheating than the she may kill them, at least in some cases.
    – Double AA
    Sep 23, 2018 at 15:37
  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/73875/…
    – bondonk
    Sep 24, 2018 at 21:45
  • @DoubleAA Really? Where do we learn this?
    – SAH
    Oct 10, 2018 at 5:19
  • @SAH Numbers 25
    – Double AA
    Oct 10, 2018 at 11:29

3 Answers 3


Absolutely not.

If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with another man’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. (Vayikra 20:10) (see also Vayikra 18:20)

And the punishment for this is strangulation as Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Shaarei Tshuva (3:129-130)

The following sinners are executed by chenek (strangulation): [...] one who cohabits with a married woman.

However the only body that can sentence someone to death is the Sanhedrin which has ceased to exist (Sanhedrin 41a). The punishment nowadays is therefore left to God (see also Sanhedrin 82a)

Indeed the next sentence in Shaarei Tshuva is

Our Sages of blessed memory said: From the days the Temple was destroyed, even though the four death penalties of beit din have ceased, the punishment of the four death penalties has not ceased [i.e., the sinner dies in a manner similar to the penalty prescribed for him] [...] one is liable to chenek either drowns in a river or dies in a choking disease.

  • How do you square this with 'rodef'?
    – bondonk
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:45
  • 2
    What about קנאים פוגעים בו? You're answer is misleading in its simplicity
    – Double AA
    Sep 22, 2018 at 23:58
  • @bondonk That’s a special case, wherein the Torah says to kill a Rodef, even without him actually killing anyone and without him being judged in court. See Sanedrin 73a.
    – DonielF
    Sep 23, 2018 at 3:12
  • 1
    @mbloch why wouldn't it apply today? It doesn't need a sanhedrin by definition! It only applies to a Jewish man with gentile woman, not the other way around, so your answer is correct but the presentation that the idea is crazy isn't so accurate
    – Double AA
    Sep 23, 2018 at 4:00
  • 2
    @ShmuelBrin because I had it next to me on my table when I answered the question and because I had learned this the same afternoon. Thought the coincidence was worth leveraging. You are welcome to edit the source in the gemara if you wish
    – mbloch
    Sep 23, 2018 at 6:52

ABSOLUTELY NOT. The bystander is only allowed to use lethal force in halacha to PREVENT a murder or a rape; and even then, only if there is no non-lethal option to prevent it.

This is all spelled out quite clearly in Maimonides' Laws of the Murderer and Preservation of Life, Chapter 1:

Deut. 22:26 says we don't blame a married woman who was raped: "just like if someone was murdered, [you wouldn't blame the victim]; the woman cried out, but no one was there to save her." Jewish tradition reads that as saying *but if anyone was there to prevent the rape, there would have been no constraints vis-a-vis Jewish law from doing so", i.e. a bystander could use force -- up to lethal force, if necessary -- to prevent it. And because the verse is comparing rape to murder, the same applies to preventing a murder. [1:10]

"Prevention" means just that -- before a rape or murder has occurred. Witnesses and bystanders are not allowed to kill someone who has just committed a murder; that person needs to be tried by the courts, as Num. 35:12 states the murderer shall not die until he stands before the community for sentencing. The same applies to any capital crime -- no death penalty until tried by court. [1:5] The same applies to rape -- lethal force may only be used to prevent it from occurring in the first place. [1:12]

Lethal force is only authorized if non-lethal force won't do it. If a bystander could cut off the attacker's hand, break his foot, or blind him to prevent the rape/murder, do that instead. [1:7] If the bystander could actually have prevented the rape/murder non-lethally but said "eh why bother" and instead kills the attacker, such a bystander is considered a murderer in God's eyes! However the courts would not punish them. [1:13]

  • Who said I was talking about rape (as this is an entire different case)? Don't jump to conclusions. I was talking about a willful adultery.
    – user16556
    Sep 23, 2018 at 11:09
  • @Anonymous EXACTLY. There is ZERO authorization for anyone other than the courts to punish willfull crime, before or after it occurs.
    – Shalom
    Sep 23, 2018 at 11:23
  • @shalom the question wasn't about before or after, but rather during when there sometimes is such permission
    – Double AA
    Sep 23, 2018 at 11:44
  • @DoubleAA what such permission? During is the b'ferush case of 1:12, no?
    – Shalom
    Sep 23, 2018 at 15:31
  • @Shalom 1:12 is about a Jewish Ervah. If she is not Jewish than Issurei Biah chapter 12 is the operative law. It's not every case, but it's not like the OP's question is so foreign to Judaism and that your sources conclusively dismiss the possibility; it just isn't right for his exact case.
    – Double AA
    Sep 23, 2018 at 15:35

To elaborate mbloch's point, and answer your comments:

#1. AFAIK, there are only a couple of cases when one is allowed to kill a Jew without being killed himself (by the court):

  1. In the case of a Rodef (pursuer), one is allowed to kill him without bringing the pursuer to justice.

  2. In the case of one who was sentenced to death by the court and got away.

In all other cases, a transgressor(s) must be brought to justice. In other words, if you kill a person that violated any capital sin without a trial, you'll be sentenced to death (Of course, it requires witnesses and all the accepted procedures, but you ARE a murderer).

#2. Assuming the wife is Jewish, a man has no special rights toward his wife's body, and legally for him, she's just another person, not as his slave. The husband cannot beat her or injure her or force himself upon her or kill her (see below).

#3. Halachicly-wise it might be permitted to judge and execute a non-Jew

In your case, if you're interested in killing the person you should provide two independent witnesses that would testify what you saw. (THere's a dispute in Sanhedrin 5-6, I think, if a husband can testify against his wife - פלגא דיבורא?)

  • 3
    Why shouldn’t this be a comment?
    – DonielF
    Sep 23, 2018 at 3:13
  • @DonielF Which one? The whole answer? My answer addresses a more general idea that the OP addressed in my opinion and MB did not cover.
    – Al Berko
    Sep 23, 2018 at 9:26
  • 1
    What in the world does number 2 even mean? A man has 'no special rights toward his wife'? So there is no difference between a person's wife and some random woman on the street? (Everything in this answer happens to be ridiculous, but figured I'd ask on the most ridiculous one) Sep 23, 2018 at 13:47
  • @Salmononius2 I think he means in this particular context. It is in contrast to the nonJewish law that used to be in effect (and I think is still be in effect in Muslim countries) that a husband is allowed to beat his wife. I give this as an example. Also, it is possible that a man seeing a woman (not his wife) married to another Jew with a nonJew, may be able act like Pinchas with Zimri. Sep 23, 2018 at 19:40
  • @Salmononius2Maybe you're right, I need to elaborate on it a little. I meant that the fact that she's his wife does not allow him to beat/murder her as, for example, his slave.
    – Al Berko
    Sep 24, 2018 at 18:26

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