Ibn Ezra

Ibn Ezra: Many Ways to Murder (Yitro)

The Torah Text

The Ten Commandments include the prohibition on murder. While this has often been translation as “thou shalt not kill” and provoked numerous discussions on the difference between murder, killing in self-defense, killing in battle, etc., Ibn Ezra is more interested in laying out a number of specific ways that one might accomplish murder.

Ibn Ezra’s Teaching

לא תרצח. בידך או בלשונך להעיד עליו שקר להמיתו. או להיותך רכיל או לתת עצה רעה בזדון שתדע שיהרג. או שנגלה לך סוד שתוכל להצילו מן המות אם תגלהו לו. ואם לא גלית. אתה כמו רוצח

With your hand or your tongue, that is, by giving false testimony which results in having someone executed, or by tale bearing, or by wickedly giving someone counsel which you know will result in his death, or by not revealing a secret which you are aware of , to someone who would be saved if he knew what you know. If you do not reveal the secret, you are like a murderer. (Translation adapted from Strickman and Silver)

Reflections for the Path

Ibn Ezra’s contribution to understanding the accusation of murder here is to clarify that you don’t have to pull the trigger yourself, so to speak, but can cause someone’s death through sharing or withholding words. Ibn Ezra’s argument is undercut slightly by suggesting that verbal machination mean you are “like” a murderer, implying you are not a “real” murderer. In fact, in Strickman and Silver’s translation they omit the word “like”. Nonetheless, the point remains valid that when we have influence over the life and death of someone, we also have significant responsibility and must be held accountable for misuse of that power.

For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.

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