Correction: Do Not Murder
by Steven Feuerstein

Published originally on FeuerThoughts, an eGroup distribution list to which you can subscribe by sending an email to or by visiting

I recently wrote a statement entitled "Why I Am Here Today" that explained why I had decided (felt "compelled") to take a public stance calling on Israel to stop killing and brutalizing Palestinians.  A central part of my argument was that "the Torah does not say: Thou shalt not kill."

This statement was distributed widely on the Internet, generating lots of responses, many positive and many negative.  One strain of criticism was very interesting and exposed a seeming hole in my Jewish education.  As Yitzhak S wrote to me:

"I am not an expert in Oracle PL/SQL computer language, but I am an expert on the Middle East, and I speak Hebrew very well.  So, if I was writing computer code and got the semantics mixed up, that would probably screw up the program to some degree.  Right? So it is with understanding Torah.  I don't want to squabble over semantics, but the Torah in no place says "Thou shalt not kill." What the Torah says in what Christians call the "Ten Commandments" but knowledgeable Jews know as the Ten Utterances (there being 613 commandments, or mitzvoth in the Torah) is the following: 'Lo tirtzah.' Which means, literally, 'do not murder.' Killing is morally justified in Jewish law in cases of self-defense.  For instance, in the case of "'in rodef' or the 'law of the pursuer' which allows for taking a life when your life or the life of your fellow is in danger.  Jews are not Quakers, and Torah recognizes that violence is, at times, unfortunately necessary.  I say this because in reading your speech, you clearly don't have a grasp on Judaism, yet you are speaking as if you do."

Now, I will say that I have heard that there is apparently some difference of opinion as to whether the earliest, orally-based recordings of the "Ten Utterances" really did talk about killing or murdering, but the above interpretation does seem to be a common understanding among Hebraic scholars today.  So let's assume that DO NOT MURDER is a more accurate translation of the "utterance" that is usually offered up as THOU SHALT NOT KILL.  Is it then time to reconsider my position and to shift my support to the actions of the IDF in particular and the Israeli government in general? Should I let the IDF and world Jewry "off the hook", in terms of that very solemn and unbreakable "utterance", since they are not murdering (so it is argued to me), but acting in self-defense or to defend others?

Before making such momentous decisions, I decided to do a little research and a bunch of thinking.  I first visited to get some definitions:

The unlawful killing of one human being by another, especially with premeditated malice.

To deprive of life

I also checked my "old technology" 25 pound dictionary and came up with roughly the same thing:

To kill
is to deprive of life (without any qualifications)

To murder
is to kill in an unlawful manner

Well, there certainly is a difference there, and the most crucial aspect of that difference is summed up very nicely by the Clash, in their song "Know Your Rights":

"Murder is a crime, except when it's done by a policeman."

Since governments (national and local) get to write the laws, they get to decide what sorts of killing are legal and illegal—within their jurisdictions.

This leads to situations like that found in the United States, where there has been a virtual epidemic of police killings of citizens, most of them people of color.  All a cop has to do is say "I saw him reach into his pocket and pull out something shiny.  I thought it was a gun.  I had no choice but to shoot." Right.  And the more this is allowed to happen, the more the overall system degenerates and public support for the enforcement agencies decreases.  You end up with, well, the Chicago and Los Angeles police departments, where it has become common-place to torture suspects until they sign confessions and put innocent people on death row.

So, in general, basing a "top ten" Utterance or Commandment on whatever is the current legal system, is a pretty iffy proposition.  The situation in Israel is, however, even more compromised than that.

Israel, according to U.N. Security Council resolutions, according to whatever international law exists, including the Geneva Conventions, according to its own agreements with the Palestine Authority (growing out of the Oslo accords), does not—or should not, if it kept its promises—even have legal jurisdiction over Palestinians.

And yet it is currently engaged in massive and deadly military action against a civilian population within areas that should be under the control of the Palestinian Authority—or against its own citizens, those who have the misfortune to not be Jewish, in any case.

Israel has spent the last seven years aggressively building settlements in precisely those places it supposedly was handing over to Palestinians.  This was in direct violation of (just to point out one supposedly binding agreement) Article 31, Paragraph 7, Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, 28 September 1995:

"Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations."

So Israel plants (illegally) these provocative, extremist, heavily-armed and well-protected (by IDF) settlers in the midst of millions of Palestinians, and then uses their presence as justification for armed attacks against a largely unarmed population, over which Israel has no legal authority.

What do I conclude from all this? That the Israel Defense Force is not only killing Palestinian men, women and children, it is also murdering them.

Hey, and even if you have legal jurisdiction over hundreds of thousands of children, I still say that when a child throws a rock, or a dozen rocks, and you respond by shooting him in the head, then when that child dies, you have murdered him.

In conclusion: I very much thank the many Hebraic scholars who have deepened my understanding of the Torah.  And I very much hope that their nuanced perspectives on killing and murdering do not allow them to rest easily as they support the continued, deadly IDF attacks on Palestinian children.