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Do it to them first, or turn the other cheek?
Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18
by Rabbi Alex Greenbaum
Beth El Congregation of the South Hills
Feb 16, 2012 | 3103 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<i>Rabbi Alex Greenbaum</i>
Rabbi Alex Greenbaum
“Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.”

— Sgt. Stan Jablonski

(“Hill Street Blues,” 1981 TV series)


Sounds terrible, does it not? I remember when Sgt. Jablonski took over for Sgt. Phil Esterhaus and “Hey, let’s be careful out there” became “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.” Each and every show began with these words (the end of each of their daily morning announcements).

Now, that is not very politically correct, is it?  Would not “turn the other cheek” be better? According to the book of Matthew 5:38, Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

But, that is them and this is us. In Exodus 22:1 of Parashat Mishpatim we read, “If a thief is caught while breaking in and he is beaten to death, there is no blood-guilt.” This is the source for justifying self-defense under Jewish law. What is the reason one may kill a burglar? Because the thief must be thinking, “If I go in there, the owner may try to stop me, and if he does, I’ll kill him.” So this is how the Torah reasons, “If the thief has come to kill you, you must act first and kill him.” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72a)

We are not a religion of conscientious objectors. Life is sacred, our lives as well. Self-defense is not murder, even the defense of another. “The following must be prevented from committing their crime, even if they must be killed to do so: A person who pursues another to kill him or her.” (Sanhedrin 8:7)

I recently saw a bumper sticker that read “What Part of ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ Didn’t You Understand?” Understand this — the Ten Commandments never say, “Thou shalt not kill,” they say “Thou shalt not murder.” Some killing is commanded. You may even say that it is a mitzva (commandment) to kill, if it is in self-defense or in the defense of another. We are much more the religion of “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us” than “Turn the other cheek.”


(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)


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