Does Jewish Law Permit Torture?

December 15, 2014 | Shlomo Brody
About the author: Rabbi Shlomo Brody is the executive director of Ematai, an organization dedicated to helping Jews think about aging, end-of-life care, and organ donation. His newest book, Ethics of Our Fighters, was released at the end of 2023.

In the wake of the Senate report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation procedures, some Jewish organizations rushed to declare that torture always and in all forms conflicts with Jewish values. A handful of Orthodox rabbis and legal scholars have produced more nuanced views, as Shlomo Brody writes:

[Michael] Broyde, for example, has claimed that the “wholesale suspension of the sanctity of life that occurs in wartime also entails the suspension of such secondary human-rights issues as the notion of human dignity, the fear of the ethical decline of our soldiers, or even the historical fear of our ongoing victimhood.” This logic would justify water boarding and similar interrogative tactics. But Broyde is quick to note that just because some actions might be allowed under Jewish war ethics, that doesn’t make them strategically prudent or legal under national law or international accords. . .

Yet even if Broyde is correct regarding his broader claim about Jewish war ethics (a disputed argument), the particular implications of his “war-necessity” thesis for torture make many uneasy.

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