By Yair Hoffman
Her name is “Charcoal,” and she is a highly regarded female sniper in Ukraine right now. Indeed, she is so popular that the Ukrainian army has posted her picture and about her abilities on its Facebook page. She is even more admired now that the New York Times has proven (with satellite imaging) that it was the Russians who were responsible for torturing and shooting civilians in the back of their heads and leaving their bodies to rot in the streets.
The Kremlin had previously explained that the Ukrainians were the ones who had murdered their own citizens. Not too many Ukrainians had believed the Kremlin’s explanation.
Our question, however, has to do with halachah. What is the halachah regarding women becoming ace snipers? Most people who have attended Jewish schools are aware of the 23rd chapter of Shoftim wherein Yael kills the enemy’s top general, Sisera, with a carefully placed tent peg through his skull.
Why she did not use a knife instead is because of a Torah prohibition against women adorning themselves with weapons: “lo yiheye kli gever al ishah.” This is discussed in the Targum on the Navi as well as in Rashi in Maseches Nazir 59a. It is also cited in the Midrash Yalkut Shimoni (Shoftim 5:51).
Before we continue, we must distinguish between cases involving pikuach nefesh, life and death, and those not involving pikuach nefesh. It is clear that when it is a situation of pikuach nefesh, the prohibition of wearing clothing of the opposite gender is set aside, as there are only three things that pikuach nefesh does not set aside (see Terumas HaDeshen #196; Sha’arei Knesses HaGedolah Y.D. 192). Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, also writes (Igros Moshe O.C. Vol. IV #75) that in places of danger, it is permitted. If that is the case, the question arises as to why Yael used a tent peg and not a regular weapon.
Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt’l (Yechaveh Da’as Vol. V #55), explains that since Sisera was unconscious it was easy to do away with him with a tent peg, but in a situation where time is of the essence, such as terrorist attack, there is no question that a full-fledged weapon should be used.
In An Army Situation
On the other hand, in Yalkut Yosef (Kibud Av V’Eim Vol. II p. 265) it is clear that Rav Ovadia’s opinion is that this is not the case in an army situation. In a modern secular army, the mixing of genders has caused a reality that is fraught with improper behaviors. He ruled that it is forbidden for women, who are enjoined to keep the laws of purity and holiness, to be involved with an army even in the form of auxiliary assistance.
In Dangerous Areas
But what about modern times in Eretz Yisrael? As far as women carrying guns in the State of Israel, it seems that the opinion of most poskim is to allow guns for females who live in the dangerous shetachim or who travel through dangerous areas. Otherwise, they advise observant Jews to be machmir and not carry such weapons. But, clearly, there will be times when the reality changes. The question is at what point that reality changes.
In Current Times
There has been, unfortunately, a new spate of terrorist attacks throughout Israel. In each of these horrific incidents, many innocent citizens were murdered in cold blood. At this point, Prime Minister Bennett has announced that all Israeli citizens who have gun permits should be carrying guns with them. This week, the rosh yeshiva of the Mir in Yerushalayim advised against yeshiva bachurim venturing out in the Old City. He stated that the best protection is learning Torah in the beis midrash.
A Parallel Debate
I would like to suggest that there may be a parallel debate that might impact upon the question as to whether women who do not live in the shetachim, per se, should be allowed to carry weapons on account of the new spate of terror attacks.
There is a fascinating debate between Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, in his Igros Moshe (C.M. I 427:90) and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, zt’l, in his Teshuvos Achiezer (Vol. I #23) as to how halachah views taking actions that involve various risk levels.
But first, some background. There is a halachic concept based upon a verse in Tehillim (116) known as “shomer p’sa’im Hashem—Hashem watches over fools.” The Talmud (Shabbos 129b, Yevamos 1b) uses this idea to permit certain behaviors that would otherwise be considered dangerous. It is utilized in combination with the idea of “keivan d’dashu bei rabim—since the masses have already treaded there.” We apply the idea of “Hashem watches over fools” and permit the item under discussion in terms of halachah.
Rav Feinstein, zt’l, seems to interpret this concept as social acceptability—if the danger is not one that is socially acceptable, then the danger is not halachically permitted, because the verse of “v’chai bahem” comes into play and the person would be in halachic violation of endangering himself if he would take said action. For example, traveling 62 miles an hour in a 55 MPH zone may be silly, foolish, illegal, and dangerous, but according to Rav Feinstein’s parameters it would not be a violation of placing oneself in danger if it was socially acceptable. Traveling 90 MPH in a 55 MPH zone is not socially acceptable behavior and would therefore be a full violation of halachah as well.
According to Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, zt’l, the concept of “shomer p’sa’im Hashem” was only applied in the Talmud to remote concerns and a situation where there is only a small percentage of a small percentage of danger. It seems to this author that Rav Chaim Ozer is taking into account empirical data in the halachic definition of what constitutes a danger much more so than Rav Feinstein does. Rav Feinstein’s halachic definition is predicated more upon the public perception of the danger.
Perhaps this very same debate could be applied to how we might determine when and under what circumstances it would be permitted for women to start carrying guns in the streets. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, the parameters that would redefine a “new reality” would be the social acceptability of it. According to the Achiezer (Volume I #23) it might be the statistical need for it.
True, the original context of this debate centered around what constitutes a danger that would be a violation of halachah. But it may very well be extended to this area as well. It would be interesting to hear what gedolei ha’poskim might have to say on this issue.
May we all have a chag kasher v’sameach, filled with safety for all of Klal Yisrael. Amen!
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.