In a Sabbath homily over the weekend, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said Israelis should not fear courts or the opinions of security chiefs when encountering terrorists, but should kill them outright.
“If a terrorist shows up with a knife, it is commanded [by Jewish law] to kill him,” Yosef said at the Yazadim Synagogue in Jerusalem during Saturday morning prayers, according to the Haredi news site Kikar Hashabbat.
“You shouldn’t be afraid,” he insisted, quoting the ancient rabbinic exhortation, “He who comes to kill you, arise to kill him [first].”
Yosef then cautioned Israelis not to be concerned by what he suggested were the vicissitudes of judges or generals. When faced with an armed assailant, “don’t start worrying that someone will take you to the High Court of Justice, or that some [IDF] chief of staff will say otherwise.”
According to the report, Yosef suggested the terrorist’s death served as a deterrent to future attacks, and not just as a means of neutralizing an immediate threat.
“As soon as the terrorist knows that [if] he comes at you with a knife he doesn’t return from that alive, it will deter them. Therefore it is a mitzvah [commandment] to kill him.”
Yosef went on to warn against killing a terrorist who no longer posed a threat, however, saying the not-yet arrived Messiah was the only arbiter who could sentence a non-threatening enemy to death.
“If he no longer has a knife, then he should be given a life sentence — until Messiah comes and tells us who is Amalek” – the Biblical tribe the Jews are commanded to annihilate – “and only then we can kill them.”
Yosef’s reference to the chief of staff followed comments made by IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot last month urging soldiers to remain calm during terror attacks, and not to respond with unnecessary force.
Speaking at a high school in the coastal city of Bat Yam on February 17, Eisenkot said a soldier must shoot to kill perpetrators of terrorist attacks only if there is an immediate threat to human life, as stipulated in the army’s rules of engagement.
He would not want to see a situation in which a soldier emptied a full magazine “at a girl holding scissors.”
“When there’s a 13-year-old girl holding scissors or a knife and there is some distance between her and the soldiers, I don’t want to see a soldier open fire and empty his magazine at a girl like that, even if she is committing a very serious act,” Eisenkot said. “Rather he should use the force necessary to fulfill the objective.
“The army can not speak in slogans such as ‘kill or be killed,’” he said in response to a student’s question on the IDF’s “lenient” rules of engagement.
The comments, quoted only in part by national media, elicited a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers and others who suggested Eisenkot had minimized the threat from Palestinian terrorists in the latest wave of attacks against Israelis, or had slandered IDF soldiers by claiming they were responding with unjustified force to those attacks. In his talk, however, Eisenkot used the scenario to describe a situation that he said was not part of the army’s response, arguing that soldiers had thus far responded to the attacks appropriately.
Twenty nine Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in an ongoing wave of Palestinian stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks since October. An estimated 180 Palestinians have died in the same period, more than two thirds of them in the course of attacking Israelis, and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops, according to the IDF.