Personal self defense

Chanoch Ne’eman 29 Kislev 5775 Jerusalem (c)

I was at an Oneg Shabbat recently, and a quite genteel woman who made aliyah from England, was telling me, across the dessert table, that she started taking a self defense class. I was both surprised and glad and sad to hear it. She said they will eventually learn how to kill attackers, but, she demured, she really does not want to kill anyone; just get them down.

I said that I was just thinking to write a post about self defense. Of course we would rather not have need for these skills, but we have to be prepared. It is the price we pay as a society, for our failure to create a strong deterrence.

And it reminds me of those amusing episodes in the first tractate of the Talmud, Blessings, where it is recounted how several disciples went to bizarre lengths, to the point of spying on their masters in the privy or bedroom, to learn how they conducted themselves in various situations. When caught they defended their actions with the plea, “What can I do? It is Torah and I have to learn it!”

So too here, it is Torah, and we have to learn it. As our sages teach us, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up early and kill them first” (Sanhedrin 72). Let’s learn how, however contrary to our natures it may be.

One lesson I learned on a hike. It was one of the Shabbatons we went on in Machon Meir, a yeshiva I studied in. The English department went for Shabbat to the town of Elon Moreh, located in the Shomron, not far from Shechem (Nablus). We went on a Friday afternoon hike outside the settlement. We were about 25 or 30 people, including the Director of the dept., Menachem, and his young daughters. Before we started, our guide, a local resident, briefed us on security. I always think of his words. He said, if we are attacked by anyone, whether with rocks or knives, or guns, everyone run toward them and jump on them. They can not stop that many people, and that will be the safest thing for us, statistically.

This I believe, is true advice, and the more people who practice it, they safer we are. You can practice it with drills in your place of work, residence, study, or prayer. Whether it is on a hike, in a city street, on a bus or plane, when that lunatic or group of lunatics stand up and shout “Tootie Fruitie is The Best!”; a responding and instant shout should go up from the people present, “Get them!”, “On them!” And then you do your New York Giants pile-on impression.

I am not trying to speak glibly; and having never been in this situation, and hoping I never will, I do not know for myself if I would rise to this occasion. But I do believe this is the best way to respond. It follows a general rule of defense, namely, that the more we are prepared to risk ourselves to defend ourselves, the safer we are.

So what do you do when you get close to this lunatic attacker? Here we come to today’s second lesson. This I learned, not from the female hand-to-hand combat instructors we had in the IDF, but from my Cousin Bernie. Actually he is my father’s cousin, but that is what we call him. Bernard, as his wife calls him, was in the United States Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at age 19 in World War Two. He could speak extemporarily on any subject in the army. Later he was in Europe, and had three thousand men under him as military police when they occupied Paris.
By the way Cousin Bernie just had his ninetieth birthday, and is still sharp as a tack.

So he told me, I think it was at a Pesach Seder once, that if you want to kill someone, you can easily, using just your hands. One good way is simply to sink your finger deep into his eye. Now I am sure that is not pleasant, but what can you do? He told me some other ways too, but I do not remember them too well.

I personally find a simple stick, such as a broom stick, to be a tremendous weapon. Since here in Israel we live in spongeh land (stick for mopping floor with wet rag), one is usually not too far away. I find them unwieldy with the head on. But if you can’t unscrew them quickly, you can lean it against a wall and side kick it with your sole to break off the head, and you are ready to go. The stick is good also for the eye maneuver mentioned above, as well as knocking weapons from attacker’s hands, etc. Try practicing at home or in your garage.

I did not enjoy writing this post. But I felt obligated as a public service. May Hashem help us to live safely in our land, and may sins vanish from the earth, Amen.

This was first published on my Times of Israel blog.

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