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There are few legal ideas as basic as the principle of legitimate self-defense. Every individual, it is said, has the right to defend his or her person, property or living space against wrongful aggression and, if necessary, to kill the aggressor. This principle is so deeply ingrained in our legal thinking that it is difficult to imagine a legal system that did not acknowledge it. The concept of having rights would be virtually toothless unless we could use force to vindicate our rights against aggression.

The notion of having rights is less well-accepted in Jewish law than are the ideas of self-defense and defense of others. The Talmud presents us with a legal system based not on rights but on duties to others and ultimately duties to God. Yet, self-defense and defense of others emerge in the Talmud as central and unquestioned aspects of legal life in a Jewish community.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Law