DeFunding the Police: A Halachic Analysis

    Protesters rally near the edge of Times Square in New York, Sunday, June 7, 2020. New York City lifted the curfew spurred by protests against police brutality ahead of schedule Sunday after a peaceful night, free of the clashes or ransacking of stores that rocked the city days earlier. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

    First it was the city council of the city of Minneapolis.  Then it was the mayor of New York.  And now it is in two dozen other states.  Shockingly enough, the Defund The Police movement, is gaining traction in numerous venues.  It is to the point that an article about the halachic ramifications of anarchism seems to be a timely topic.  Rachmana litzlan.

    A CNN reporter asked Lisa Bender the president of Minneapolis’s city cancel the following question:  Do you understand that the word “dismantle” or “police free” also makes some people nervous? For instance, what if in the middle of the night, my home is broken into who do I call?

    She responded:  Yes. I mean, I, I hear that loud and clear from a lot of my neighbors and I know that that comes from a place of privilege..”

    Although Lisa Bender does not plan to completely eliminate police, some of the proponents of the “Defunding the Police” movement are actually attempting to eliminate the entire concept of policing.  They are also trying to eliminate the entire idea of arrests. In other words, they are advocating utter and complete anarchy.

    Make no mistake, anarchism was actually a political movement in the past and has experienced a resurgence in the very far left circles.  Anarchism grew in Tsarist-era Russia and played a significant role in the Spanish Civil War in 1939 – when the fascists crushed them.  It was such a significant movement in the early 20th century that anyone who wished to become a US citizen had to swear that he or she was not an anarchist.  The first semi-modern person to declare himself an anarchist was the French person known as Pierre Joseph Proudhon.

    According to Mark Rupert, in his Globalization and International Political Economy (2006), anarchism has been growing in popularity since the year 2000, and plays a central role in the anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalization movements.

    We may not put two and two together in the news, but it was the anarchists who protested against the meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle.  They also protested against the Group of Eight, and the World Economic Forum.  There are currently hundreds of thousands of paid members of various groups promoting anarchism.  As a society we must ensure that the anarchist movement not take over the important conversation of standing up for the rights of blacks in our community and the very clear need to ensure the safety of anyone that is being confronted by the police.


    The anarchist movement is clearly anti-halachic, and was, of course, presciently addressed by Chazal  in Pirkei Avos 3:2 – Rabbi Chanina the Sgan haKohanim said: pray for the welfare of the malchus – for without its fear – each man would swallow his friend alive.

    Of course, there are also halachic limitations on how police officers can treat its citizens.  Every person was created b’tzelem elokim in Hashem’s Divine Image and cannot be abused.  We as a society must take steps to ensure everyone’s safety as well as their civil rights.  Even a past criminal record cannot be used to justify abuse of rights and the snuffing out of life.


    The writings of Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zatzal (1873-1936, Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland) in his Daas Torah (Shmos, p. 201) addresses this issue in such a manner that one might have thought he was talking about contemporary times:

    Rav Yeruchem writes: “A person does not appreciate that the only reason that a person can sleep peacefully at night is because there are police in the city.  He is certain that if people would attack him or steal something from him – that the police will pounce upon him.  Nonetheless, he still locks his house door and his store door at night with strong locks, and he is afraid to go out at night because who knows what can happen.  He writes when everything is normal – people do not think about it.  However, in times of danger, when entire governments changed hands they would feel the grave danger when the city was left for a short while without police.  When they, however, see an armed soldier, oy and oy vey to life that is dependent upon a rifle!”


    Although we do not find a direct discussion in the Talmud about arresting people, the Rivash in responsum 236 writes that it is permitted to arrest an individual for one of three reasons:

    1.       To ensure that the culprit not run away prior to his arraignment before a court of law.

    2.       To ensure that justice be carried out.

    3.       To ensure that a dangerous felon not be walking the streets.

    Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Bar Illan adds that one could extrapolate from the Rivash’s three reasons two additional rationales for arrest:  To hold someone in order to properly investigate criminal charges and to hold someone in order to extradite him or her if they are in the country illegally.


    Rabbi Shaul Yisroeli, a talmid of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer in Slutz and a Rosh Yeshiva in Merkaz HaRav writes in his sefer “Amud Hayemini” of the parameters of human rights and that these rights must be observed and respected in orderly societies.  Rav Elyashiv zt”l has ruled a number of times of the need for respecting human rights in regard to all medical issues.  It is not a significant leap to extend this thinking to policing tactics as well.  There are, of course, issues of horas shaah and the potential for serious human injury and death in a crowd can justify the use in some instances of crowd control protocols.


    Clearly, George Floyd was viciously murdered.  The police officer in question knew him previously in the capacity of working with him at a night club when he was off-duty, hated him according to his co-workers, and clearly had a personal agenda in trying to snuff out his life.  He succeeded.

    The issue of saving lives is something that could be adopted by adopting en masse one of the two technologies that do not use guns, tasers, or chokeholds.  These are the Bolawrap and the Arma 100.  Every police department in the country should obtain these devices and train their officers in their use.  To save human life we should not Defund Police.  We should increase funding and obtain these devices so that all life can be treated with dignity.

    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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    1. “1939 Fascist crushed Anarchy” – Thanks for the History lesson. It sounds to me that anarch might have saved 6 million kodayshim. I like anarchy much more than Fascism. Hatzolah, Shomrim etc answers your halachic concerns. We trust Hatzolah, Shomrim more (much much more) than 911 or the Police (They don’t show up in time only to close Yeshivos, cheders , stores etc.) We can work with anarchy (With our own resources) but not with Fascism.

    2. Rabbi, is it still a chiyuv to be maaser on a fellow Yid if he decides to recklessly daven with a safe legal Minyan? After all, is it worth being oiver Vinishmartem if even one person may perhaps catch the Coronavirus and die?!

    3. Defund the police is primarily about reallocating funds towards social initiatives rather than over-reliance on police. There are plenty of arguments that social initiatives improving the mental health, education, income of poorer people reduces crime significantly. The object of defund the police, other than that of some anarchists, is not to get rid of police so crime can foster.


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