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Halacha and Hashkafa on Self-Defense in a Dangerous World. Rabbi Shay Tahan

Written by שי טחן, 6/3/2024


Defending the Faith: Halacha and Hashkafa on Self-Defense in a Dangerous World.

Rabbi Shay Tahan


In light of recent events and the growing demand within the Jewish community to seek gun permits, there are several halachic considerations that need to be addressed.


Armed with Halacha: Women, Weapons, and Self-Defense.

Firstly, let's examine the question of whether women are permitted to carry a gun.

The Torah prohibits men from wearing women's clothing and vice versa(לא יהיה כלי גבר על אשה, ולא ילבש גבר שמלת אשה- דברים כה, ב) .

One example is brought down in the Gemara (נזיר נט, א): From where do we derive that a woman should not go out to battle with weapons? The Torah says, 'A man's attire shall not be on a woman.' And the Rambam specifies this as stated in the halacha (שולחן ערוך יו״ד סימן קפב ס״ה): "A woman may not clothe herself in men's clothing, e.g., put on her head a mitre or helmet, or wear armor, and so on." The rationale behind this is as the Gemara states (קדושין ב, ב): men are the ones who engage in warfare, not women; therefore, arms are designated for men, and women should not carry them under this restriction.

Of course, the primary allowance for a woman to be armed is for protection. When Chazal initially prohibited her from carrying a gun, it was not in situations of danger, as in such cases almost all the mitzvot of the Torah are overridden to save one's life. Therefore, if a woman lives in a dangerous area or travels through such places, she must be able to protect herself if needed.

Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid writes in Sefer Chassidim (סימן ר’): "Women who are traveling on the road and are concerned lest gentiles encounter them, it is permissible for them to walk in foreign clothing and to gird themselves with a sword."

However, there are some more leniencies for women to carry a gun, as discussed by Rav Moshe Feinstein(אגרות משה או״ח ח״ד סימן עה אות ג’)  and Harav Ovadia Yosef (יוח״ד ח״ה סימן נה).

They explain that the prohibition mentioned applies only to those who wear clothing of the opposite gender in order to appear as if they are of that gender or to look pretty (ט״ז, ש״ך סימן קפב). However, if the clothing is worn for a different purpose, such as a person who wears a women's hat to protect themselves from the sun or cold weather (when they do not have a men's hat available), then they do not violate this prohibition. Accordingly, a gun, which is not for the purpose of looking good or appearing as a man, would be permitted.

Although halacha initially prohibited women from carrying guns, it was due to the historical context where men carried guns to show off and appear strong, which falls under the category of "for beauty."




Carrying Guns on Shabbat.

Let's now explore the issue of carrying a gun on Shabbat.

The question here is divided into two parts. One question: there is an issue of Muktzeh (items that are forbidden to handle on Shabbat), whether it is permitted to move a weapon in general. And the second question is a matter of transferring an object from a private domain to a public domain where there is no Eruv (an enclosure that allows carrying on Shabbat).

Rav Elyashiv (קובץ תשובות ח״ג סימן נא) writes that a weapon's status is like a tool whose primary function is forbidden(כלי שמלאכתו לאיסור) , therefore, although one should not move it without reason, it is permissible to move it for its own sake and its place. There are other opinions as well that hold that one's weapon is not muktse at all and may be carried without restrictions, as it is permitted also because it helps for deterrence(הגרש״ז אורבעך מובא בארחות שבת ח״ב עמוד לג) .

Let us explain the matter.

The Rambam writes: "The Sages prohibited moving certain things on Shabbat in the manner that one does during the week. And why did they touch upon this prohibition? They said, 'If the prophets warned and commanded that your walking on Shabbat should not be like your walking during the week, and not your conversation on Shabbat like your conversation during the week, as it says: 'ודבר דבר', all the more so, your carrying on Shabbat should not be like your carrying during the week, so that it not be like a weekday in your eyes, and one will come to carry [objects] and to repair vessels from place to place or from house to house, or to build walls.' And similarly [concerning] seeking things to involve oneself with, and he will find that he did not observe the Sabbath, and he nullified the reason stated in the Torah: 'So that you will rest."

The Ra'aved added that they decreed this due to concern lest one forget and carry the item that is being moved from one's hand to a public domain.

Now, there are several categories of Muktzeh, and for each category, there are different laws and regulations, and they are divided into three types, although there are more.

One of those categories of Muktse is a utensil whose primary function is forbidden, which is a tool designed for use in a forbidden manner on Shabbat. This type of Muktzeh is permissible to move for its own sake and its place. Meaning, let's take for example scissors, which are considered muktse. Although one isn't allowed to use them for their primary use, such as cutting paper or fabric, using them to cut vegetables is permissible.

Let’s return to our matter. As we explained above, a weapon is a tool whose primary function is forbidden, still it is permitted to move it for its own sake, and included in this is carrying it so that it is available for use in a time of emergency, chas veshalom, and also for the purpose of deterrence.


Regarding the law of carrying into a public domain, the Shulchan Aruch writes (או״ח סימן שא ס״ז): "A man may not go out with a sword, a bow, a shield, a spear or with any item that is not an adornment". So it turns out that it is prohibited to go out with weapons since they are taken out in a way that is not the normal manner of dress.

None the less the Aruch Hashulchan (או״ח סימן שא סעיף נא) explains that this prohibition was stated only for ordinary people, but a soldier, a police officer, and the like are permitted to carry weapons since they are considered part of their clothing. However, Rav Elyashiv disagreed with this opinion, so there is no permission for this.


Therefore the only permission to carry the weapon in a place with no eruv is where there may be danger or risk of terrorism, then certainly for the purpose of saving lives one is permitted to do whatever is necessary. However, in a city with an Eruv, there is no prohibition against carrying the weapon for self-defense.

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