Weapon for Self Defense

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Is it permissible for a woman to carry a weapon for self defense? Is this a violation of the prohibition of keli gever?

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Asked on November 26, 2023 10:59 am
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Yes, a woman may carry a weapon for self-defense.

Devarim 22:5 prohibits a woman having “male articles” upon her, but does not specify what those articles are. Targum Onkelos translates this as referring to “keli zayin”, which could mean weapons or armor, and in the midrash halacha (Sifri 226:5), Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov derives from this verse that a woman should not wear “keli zayin” and go out to war.

Nevertheless, eight hundred years ago Sefer Hasidim (200) teaches that it is permissible for women to go armed and even dressed fully as men if that will protect them from being raped.

In more recent times, both Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechave Da’at 5:55) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe Orach Chayim 4:75:3) have ruled that a woman may arm herself in self defense. Both rabbis’ responses appear to apply to any situation where a woman needs a weapon for self-defense.

According to Rav Moshe, one fundamental halachic consideration is that preserving one’s life trumps other laws. Rav Moshe adds that a woman need not desist from traveling to dangerous places in order to avoid the need to bear a weapon for self-defense. We learn from this that his response applies to any situation where there is a genuine risk to a woman, not just when she is already in a dangerous setting.

Rav Moshe notes that where there is a problem of self-defense, a weapon is not considered a “male article” at all, since the need in that case is equal for men and women. He also writes that small weapons like pistols are not the type of weapons used in war, so Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov’s statement about military weapons may not apply to them.

Rav Ovadya adds (as we quote here) that Bach (Yoreh Deah 182) permits cross-dressing when there is a significant practical reason for it, like protection from the elements. The case of protection from harm, as in self-defense, can also fall under this category, even if a woman is not in a bona fide war zone. For example, Rav Ovadya speaks about guard duty.

Please let us know if you have any more questions. May we hear besorot tovot!

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Answered on November 26, 2023 11:00 am