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|Mitzvos to date:||409|
|That can be performed today:||172|
|Plus those that can be performed only in Israel:||20|
409. No Vigilante Justice: The prohibition against killing a murderer before he stands trialby Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
…the murderer shall not die before he stands before the assembly in judgment. (Numbers 35:12)
We are not allowed to take the law into our own hands by killing someone whom we see committing a capital offense. Rather, the offender is to be brought to the courts, who will judge him based upon the testimony of valid witnesses and proceed accordingly. Even if the members of the Sanhedrin – the Supreme Court – personally witnessed a murder, they could not just execute the offender. Rather, they would have to present themselves as witnesses in a lower court (see Baba Kama 90b and Makkos 12a).
The basis of this mitzvah is what we have stated before about the severity of capital punishment. Execution is not to be taken lightly by the courts and vigilante justice certainly has no place in the process. The accused has the right to due process and the community has the responsibility to deliver him safely to the courts for trial rather than “stringing him up” Old West style.
This law only applies after the crime has already been committed. If one person was chasing another to commit an act of murder or rape, he may be taken down by any means necessary to save the intended victim.
This mitzvah applies to both men and women in all times and places. In the Talmud, it is discussed in tractate Makkos on page 12a. This mitzvah is codified in the Mishneh Torah in the first chapter of Hilchos Rotzei’ach. It is #292 of the 365 negative mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos. This mitzvah is not listed in the Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar.