The Torah permits a person to neutralize an attacker if his life is threatened. This concept is known in halacha as Rodef (heb. רודף; lit. a chaser). When necessary it is even permissible to kill a rodef in order to save the intended victim.
Saving the life of a victim
- When an attacker is chasing his victim in order to kill him, it is permissible and a mitzvah to save the victim from death, even if that necessitates killing the attacker.
- However, two criteria that need to be met in order to kill a rodef are:
- The rodef is warned that the victim he is chasing is Jewish and if he tries to kill him, he is culpable of death. Some poskim hold that this warning is only necessary when there is time and it is possible, but when impossible it isn't necessary.
- If it is at all possible the savior should try to neutralize the rodef without killing the rodef. If incapacitating him by injuring one of his limbs or in another manner is possible those means must be resorted to before killing the rodef. If the savior kills the rodef without trying to neutralize the rodef without killing him, he is culpable for his murder.
- Some poskim make a distinction between the intended victim and someone else coming to save the intended victim. The intended victim may kill the rodef without first trying to neutralize the rodef by incapacitating him in another fashion. However, someone else coming to save the intended victim must first try to neutralize the rodef before resorting to kill him. However, most poskim reject this distinction and require even the intended victim to try to neutralize the rodef without killing him if at all possible.
- It is possible to kill a rodef even if he's a minor.
- Sanhedrin 73a, Rambam (Rotze'ach 1:6), Shulchan Aruch C.M. 425:1
- Rambam (Rotze'ach 1:7), Tur and Shulchan Aruch C.M. 425:1
- Sma 425:3 writes that the entire warning is only necessary initially, but after the fact it isn't necessary. Bach 425:4 s.v. ma shkatuv keysad implies that the formal hatrah warning necessary for bet din punishments isn't necessary except initially for Rambam. However, informing the rodef that the victim is Jewish and he will be culpable for killing him is necessary, seemingly even after the fact. See RJJ article by Rabbi Bechofer (p. 11 fnt. 38) where he quotes R' Ari Federgrun, who questioned Sma's proof.
- Sanhedrin 57a-b, Rambam (Rotze'ach 1:13), Shulchan Aruch C.M. 425:1, Aruch Hashulchan 425:6
- Hagahot Mishna Lmelech (Chovel Umazik 8:10) quoting one answer in Rivash 238
- Rabbi Bechhofer in RJJ article (p. 4 fnt. 18) presents that Brisker Rav (Griz on Rambam Chovel 8:10), Rav Kook (Mishpat Kohen 139), Rashi (Sanhedrin 57a s.v. vyachol), Yad Ramah (Sanhedrin 57a), and Rosh (Bava Kama 3:13) do not hold of any distinction between the nitzal and matzil. Rabbi Bechhofer presents an argument that Rambam does hold like this distinction.
- Sanhedrin 72b, Rambam (Rotze'ach 1:6), Shulchan Aruch C.M. 425:1