Culture, Justice, Politics, Religion

Atlanta Rabbi: Torture is allowed under Halacha

Michael J. Broyde is a law professor at Emory University and rabbi of the Young Israel synagogue in Atlanta. In the July 7th issue of The Jewish Week, Professor Broyde has written an essay on torture and its permissibility under Halacha (Jewish religious law). In his essay he discusses such techniques as “…take five prisoners up in a helicopter and ask one of them a question. If he refused to answer, he was summarily pushed out of the helicopter and the next prisoner was questioned. This method, however brutal it seems to us civilians, produced the needed results.”
Professor Broyde writes:

In a recent monograph published by the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College as well as a forthcoming chapter in an Orthodox Forum volume, I have shown that torture is permissible and consistent with halacha in all situations where there is a proper, thoughtful military chain of command (the higher up a decision goes, the more thought tends to be put in) and no other reasonable alternative is available.

So what do our resident halacha scholars have to say about this?

11 thoughts on “Atlanta Rabbi: Torture is allowed under Halacha

  1. And if it is? Rape only carries a 50-silver-piece fine. Our standards of morality are not governed by halakha – which probably wouldn’t even know what to say in this case.

  2. What I don’t get is the obvious response – we kow that torture doen’t work. It doesn’t actually get acurate information – neither positive information, nor negative (i.e. people will make up things to avoid torture, so you get information that asserts something is happening that isn’t; people will also not give accurate information about things they do know are happening). In other words, as an information gathering practice, it’s completely unreliable. Study after study after study shows this. so what possible justification halachic or otherwise could support such a thing – other than the fact that people like to inflict it because it gives a power rush?
    Vile! Vile! Vile!

  3. KRG – The examples Broyde gives prove your point – he speaks not of torture but of execution in France and North Veitnam and then he posits a stroy of some Al-Qaeda operative and asks a few questions about what is ‘over the line’. He fails to provide an example where torture – not execution – saved lives. It seems to me to be a very un-halachic justification for brutalizing the enemy.

  4. I always thought that the laws of kashruth (or at least my mother’s interpretation of them — especially her infamous boiled chickens) were a form of torture.

  5. Sorry, Rabbi Broyde is not the first to have made a similar argument. Back at least 7-10 years ago, Rabbi Joel Zaiman at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Baltimore propounded a similar point of view in a Sabbath sermon.
    I susepct if there were no State of Israel or no Zahal, these rabbis would be singing a different tune.

  6. I think the very fascist – sounding Broyde needs to really study Torah. And, I wonder how much money he gave to the Bush/Cheney campaign…

  7. the idea that torture doesn’t work sounds to me like the only convincing halachic reason why orture would be forgiven. I like that one.
    Because halacha might be mainly concerned with expedience rather than morality, especially in life or death scenarios, where the need for info is immediate or something. it might be easy enough, especially if the combatants are from another tribe?
    Alternately, it might be easier to justify torture on jews, because there is no danger of chilul hashem or screwing up relations with our neighbors… although, for the life of me, I can’t remember any instances of punitive torture in the tanach, except by G-d. some fair amount of killing, yes, but torture? don’t seem to recall. sounds more like a Roman tradition.
    Oh, right! There is that “neighbor as yourself ” rule. I guess anyone who wouldn’t mind being tortured for information is allowed to torture others?

  8. This prominent Orthodox scholar has been writing on this theme for a long time, giving a hechsher to torture. He gave a lecture at Queens College in Nov. 2004, published as a pamphlet, “The Bounds of Wartime Military Conduct in Jewish Law” An Expansive Conception” (about 40 pages) which is available at

    And the ever-reliable Jewschool has commented on Rabbi Broyde before:

    See, for a contrary view, T’ruah’s “Stop Torture Now: A Rabbinic Sourcebook” by Rabbi Melissa Weintraub includes (apparently) parts of her 2005 extensive publication and links to longer articles.

    Plus ca change….

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