Forward Thinking

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and Din Rodef

By Forward Staff

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images

It’s rare that Saturday nights and Sunday mornings in America are so focused on a court decision. But since last night’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin, it seems that all of America is talking about the verdict reached by six anonymous female jury members in Florida.

Individuals and groups reeling from the decision have taken to the streets, Twitter and Facebook to express their anger and grief. “Today, justice failed Trayvon Martin and his family,” Roslyn Brock, who chairs the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement.

Others took to social media to call for calm but thoughtful reactions. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson tweeted: “Avoid violence, it will lead to more tragedies. Find a way for self construction not deconstruction in this time of despair.”

In the spring of 2012 an editorial in the Forward about the case said “we would do well to consult [Jewish idea of] the ‘din rodef’” and that is even more true today.

Din rodef means, literally, ‘the case of the pursuer,’ although it might be more idiomatically translated into English as ‘the right of self-defense.’ It refers to the rabbinic precept that…says: ‘Every Jew is obligated to save a pursued person from his pursuer, even if this means killing the pursuer.’ A ‘pursuer,’ in the rabbinic context, is someone who is a threat to someone’s life. If you see a mugger with a knife running after someone in the street, for example, he is a rodef and it is your duty, if you can carry it out without risk to your own life, to stop him in any way you can — even by shooting him with the gun you are carrying.”

The enforcement of the idea however poses challenges (the concept was used by Yigal Amir to justify his killing of Yitzchak Rabin) and has been “molded to circumstance” throughout Jewish history. The editorial continues:

As Philologos reminded us: “Rodef, as the rabbis came to think of it, need not be someone actually threatening you with a weapon; it can be anyone endangering you at all.”

But that very elasticity became a recognized danger in rabbinic law precisely because it is so situationally ambiguous.

“How does one perceive a threat?” that is something each of us must answer, but the editorial reminds us that “The din rodef is to be applied in only the rarest of circumstances, and only when every other alternative has been attempted.” While Jewish law differs immensely from American law, this final point is something the jury would have been wise to consider when making their decision about Zimmerman’s actions.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: george zimmerman, trayvon martin

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.