Is it OK to knock out a Nazi?
It’s a debate that’s been revived with unusual vigor since an unidentified assailant socked the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer right in the face last week, on camera.
Now, a Hillel rabbi has entered the fray with a source sheet of biblical texts on the matter. The answer? Depends which source you consult, of course.
Rabbi Joshua Bolton, a senior Jewish education at Penn Hillel, has published a source sheet on the website Sefaria on the question, “Is One Permitted to Punch a White Supremacist in the Face?”
Bolton drew together sources from the Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, and Pirkei Avot. In one selection, Bolton quotes a passage in Exodus that decrees, “If the thief is seized while tunneling, and he is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in his case.”
Yet elsewhere, Bolton quotes Pirkei Avot, in which an ancient sage is reported to have said: “Who is the mighty one? He who overpowers his inclination, as it says, ‘slowness to anger is better than a mighty person and the ruler of his spirit than the conqueror of a city.’”
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Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.
Ask a Rabbi: Is it OK to Punch a Nazi?