Violating Torah to Save Your Life
An overarching principle in the Torah is that we do our utmost to preserve life even at the expense of negating a law of the Torah. There are three major exceptions where it is incumbent upon a person to give up his life in order to follow the halacha. Namely, to avoid murder, Avoda Zara, and illicit relations a person should give up his life rather than violate these critical mitzvot. Surrendering one's life in order to uphold the Torah when it is halachically prescribed is a [Kiddush Hashem]], sanctifying Hashem's name, of the highest order.
The Big Three
- If a person's life is threatened unless he violates murder, Avoda Zara, or illicit relations, he may not violate the law. Rather he should die in fulfillment of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's name. The bracha for dying to sanctify Hashem's name is Baruch Atta Hashem Elokenu Melech Haolam Asher Kideshanu Bmitzvotav Likadesh Shemo Brabbim - ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצוונו לקדש שמו ברבים (trans. Blessed is He, Hashem God of the world, who sanctified us with his mitzvot and commanded us to publicly sanctify His name.) .
- Many rishonim hold that even associated prohibitions to the big three prohibitions one should also give up one's life. In technical terms these are called avizrayhu (Heb. אביזריהו, lit. associated). For example, if one is threatened to give up one's life or hug one of the relatives forbidden to him he would have to give up his life.
- For these three sins one should give up one's life even if the terrorist is threatening one's life for his own benefit.
- A woman who is threatened to violate illicit relations does not have to give up her life since she is passive.
- A married woman should give up her life rather than have illicit relations with another man even if he is non-Jewish.
- A single woman should not give up her life if she is threatened by her life to have illicit relations or even marry a non-Jew since that relationship although terrible is not considered an illicit relation worthy of giving up one's life (hereg v'al yavor).
What's included in avizrayhu?
- Lifnei Iver is not included in avizrayhu since it is a general prohibition.
- Yichud is not considered something one needs to give up one's life.
- Instituting practices to imitate non-Jewish religious practices is a separate biblical prohibition (Devarim 12:30) but not considered avizrayhu of avoda zara.
- Entering a church is forbidden but not avizrayhu of avoda zara.
- Using something worshipped as avoda zara is considered avizrayhu of avoda zara unless it is given to the patient as a medicinal item and it isn't specified that it was worshipped as avoda zara.
- If someone's life is threatened unless he violates a prohibition if the terrorist threatening his life is doing so to negate the Torah if he's in the presence of ten Jews he should die for Kiddush Hashem. This applies to any prohibition and according to some opinions even for violating a minhag one should give up one's life.
- If the terrorist is doing it for his own benefit one shouldn't give up one's life. One may not be strict and instead one must violate the prohibition.
- In private one doesn't have to give up one's life. One may be strict to give up one's life.
- One does not have to give up one's life to fulfill a positive mitzvah.
- If a regime outlaws observing Torah or mitzvot a person must give up his life to observe Torah and mitzvot, even for minor mitzvot. This unfortunate state is called shaat hashmad (Heb. שעת השמד; lit. time of destruction) in halacha.
- If the government forbids Jews from observing mitzvot for their own benefit and not in order to destroy Judaism it is not considered a reason to give up one's life, instead one should violate the prohibition.
- Persecution that applies to Jews and other nationalities as well is not considered a shaat hashmad.
- Even at times of a shaat hashmad a person does not give up his life for a positive mitzvah.
Sacrificing to Do Mitzvot
- One does not have to give up his life in order to avoid violating a prohibition, aside from the big three described above. This principle is called pikuach nefesh (Heb. פיקוח נפש; lit. concern for life). In all cases of a concern for a loss of life it is permitted to violate the Torah, whether it be that the threat is from a terrorist trying to cause a person to violate the mitzvah, a life threatening situation caused by a person, animal, or illness. In all cases the halacha is clear that to protect life it is permitted to violate the Torah.
- For example, pikuach nefesh allows for violating Shabbat. See Medicine on Shabbat for details.
- If one's limb is in danger (Heb. סכנת אבר; trans. sakanat ever) is it permissible to violate a prohibition? If a loss of limb is considered like a loss of money then it is necessary to upkeep the Torah even at the expense of the health of one's limb. If a loss of limb is considered like a loss of life then it is permitted to violate the prohibition to save one's limb. The conclusion of the poskim regarding other prohibitions, besides Shabbat, is to judge loss of limb like loss and life and it is permitted to violate a prohibition.
- To avoid violating a prohibition one has to spend all of one's money. Some say that to avoid violating a prohibition passively one needs to give up up to one fifth of his money and not all of his money.
- In order to fulfill a positive mitzvah one only has to spend a fifth of one's money.
- To avoid a rabbinic prohibition a person should give up all of his money.
- It is permitted to eat forbidden foods in order to save one's life. Nonetheless, one may not have intent to benefit from the food.
Sacrificing an Individual to Save a Group
- If terrorists threaten a group of women that if they don't give up one of them to be violated they will all be violated, chas vshalom, they can't give up a single woman even if they specified which one they want.
- If the terrorists threaten a group of women that if they don’t give up one of them to be violated they will all be killed they may give up one woman.
- It is forbidden to give up one life to save another and even to save an entire group. If the individual that they specify is liable to death by a legal system they can be given over. Even when the person is culpable to death and it is permitted to give him over to be killed to save the group, a rabbi should avoid giving such a verdict directly and avoid doing it himself. A person must try to find any option possible to avoid this.
- Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 5:1-7, Maharam Chalavah Pesachim 25a. See Baal Hameor (Pesachim 6a s.v. nimsa) who seems to subscribe to this approach as well.
- Gemara Pesachim 25a, Sanhedrin 74b, Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 5:2, Rosh Sanhedrin :3, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 157:1
- Pitchei Teshuva 157:6 citing Shlah (end of Aleph)
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 157:1. Ran Pesachim 6a s.v. bchol, Rabbenu Dovid Pesachim 25a s.v. bchol, Maharam Chalavah Pesachim 25a s.v. bchol, and Ritva Avoda Zara 6b s.v. vaf, 27b s.v. aval all hold of the concept of avizrayhu and have two proofs: 1) It is forbidden to heal oneself with asheira wood (Pesachim 25a) and 2) It is forbidden even to speak to a married woman even if that's the only way to heal his illness (Gemara Sanhedrin 75a).
- The Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 155:2 records a dispute between Tosfot and the Ran whether one should give up their life as opposed to being healed with Avoda Zara branches that aren't specified that they are Avoda Zara. Tosfot is lenient since it doesn't cause himself and others to follow Avoda Zara, while the Ran disagrees since it is avizrayhu of Avoda Zara. Shulchan Aruch's first and main opinion is like Tosfot. Shach 155:11 in facts says that the agreement of the poskim is like Tosfot. However, in Rama Y.D. 157:1 it is evident that the Rama holds like the Ran and avizrahu are worthy for a person to give up one's life. Gra 155:14 and Minchat Chinuch 296:15 s.v. heneh botam pose this issues and leave it unresolved.
- Ramban Pesachim 6a, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 157:1
- Tosfot Ketubot 3b, Tosfot Pesachim 25b s.v. af, Rama Y.D. 157:1
- Rabbenu Tam cited by Ketubot 3b s.v. lidrosh posits that even a married woman does not have to give up her life in order to avoid being violated by a non-Jew since relations with a non-Jew is not considered illicit relations. The majority of rishonim and poskim disagree. Ramban, Baal Hameor, and
- Ran Pesachim 6a s.v. chutz, Ritva Avoda Zara 6b s.v. vaf, Maharam Chalavah 25b s.v. af, Rama YD 157:1, Taz 157:5, Shach 157:11
- Torat Yichud 10:5. See, however, Tuv Taam Vdaat 192 and Shem Aryeh who consider it avizrahu.
- Maharam Shik 165
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 157:3
- Yerushalmi Shabbat 14:4, Tosfot Pesachim 25a s.v. chutz, Ritva Pesachim 25a, Rashba Avoda Zara 27b s.v. vim, Rashba teshuva cited by Bet Yosef YD 123:2. Ran Pesachim 5b s.v. bchol disagrees. Ritva quotes the Raah who is also strict. Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 155:2 quotes the Tosfot as the main opinion.
- Shach 157:4 notes that in fact even if ten Jews aren't present but are aware of the occurrence it is considered public. This is evident in Sanhedrin 74b.
- Rashi Sanhedrin 74b explains that the small mitzvah described is changing the color of one's shoelaces because it is breaking the minhag of Jews to have modest clothing. However, the Rif Sanhedrin 17b explains that the gemara described a case where one changed one's shoelaces and violated lo tilbash, mimicking non-Jewish ways. Bet Yosef 157:1 interprets the Rambam in line with the Rif. Shach 157:5 cites both Rashi and Rif.
- Gemara Sanhedrin 74b
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 157:2, Rabbenu Yerucham 18:3 cited by Bet Yosef 157:1
- Bet Yosef 157:1 quotes many who subscribe to the opinion that one could be strict if one wants to. These include the Tur 157:1, Smak 3, Ran Shabbat 22b s.v. umakshu, Rosh Avoda Zara 2:9, and Rabbenu Yerucham 18:3. He also cites Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 5:4 and Ramban (Torat Haadam Sakana s.v. vlinyan) who forbid being strict. Nemukei Yosef Sanhedrin 18a generally forbids being strict unless one is a great distinguished individual and his actions will inspires others and the generation needs his extreme action.
- Nemukei Yosef Sanhedrin 18a, Ran Shabbat 22b cited by Bet Yosef 157:1
- Gemara Sanhedrin 74b
- Taz 157:3 clarifies that any intent other than to destroy Judaism is considered intending for their own benefit.
- Shach 157:7 cites the Bach who thinks that whereas in public if the terrorist is threatening a Jew's life for his own benefit the Jew should violate the halacha, because there is no kiddush Hashem when the Jew is doing it for his own benefit, that doesn't apply to shaat hashmad. When there is a shaat hashmad the reason that a Jew has to give up his life is because the regime is destroying Judaism and it is incumbent for Jews to stand up for Torah even by giving up their life. Even if the government is doing it for their own benefit it is still necessary to give up one's life since it isn't a question of Kiddush Hashem. However, the Shach 157:7 disagrees based on Rashi and the Hagahot Ashri Ketubot ch. 1 who is unsure about this point. Since there is a doubt about this case, the Shach concludes that it is better to violate the Torah to save your life. Ran Sanhedrin 74a s.v. aval also assumes that when the government is doing it for their benefit one shouldn't give up one's life and quotes Rabbenu Dovid who agrees, but concludes that the Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 5 implies that it isn't the case. Taz 157:3 agrees with the Shach based on Rashi, Ran, and Nemukei Yosef. See Igeret Taiman and Rambam Sefer Hamitzvot.
- Shach 157:6 based on Nemukei Yosef
- The Ran Shabbat 22b s.v. vmakshu and Nemukei Yosef Sanhedrin 17b cited by Bet Yosef 157:1 explain that one does not give up his life for a positive mitzvah since one is only passively not fulfilling it. Furthermore, the terrorist could forcibly stop him from doing the mitzvah and keep him alive, so there is no reason to give up your life. Whereas for a prohibition the terrorist can't forcibly cause him to violate the prohibition in most cases and it is better to give up your life than violate it. Rama 157:1 and Taz 157:4 codify this approach.
- Although the Pitchei Teshuva YD 157:2 cites the Mishnat Chachamim (Intro to Avoda Zara) who is unsure about this point, whether pikuach nefesh permits violating the Torah if the danger is caused by a person and it isn't a terrorist trying to cause him to violate the Torah, his opinion is dismissed. The Pitchei Teshuva also cites the Taz 179:4 and Hafalah Ketubot 19a s.v. tosfot s.v. damar who permitted violating the Torah for pikuach nefesh even when caused by a person. Gilyon Maharsha YD 179 agrees with the Taz but is unsure why it was even a question. Minchat Chinuch 295:2 agrees with the Taz and Haflah.
- Gemara Brachot 33a, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 104:3, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 179:7, Taz 179:4, Taz 157:6
- Gemara Pesachim 25a, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 155:3
- Shach 157:3 citing Rivash 387 and O.C. 328:17. See Radvaz 3:627 who seems to hold a similar position.
- Ran Sukkah 16a cited by Darkei Moshe 157:1 and Rama 157:1. The Mahariv 156 disagrees and thinks that only to avoid avoda zara does one need to spend all of one's money.
- Pitchei Teshuva 157:4 quotes the Pri Megadim in Teyvat Gomeh who was unsure about this. He also cites the Mishnat Chacham (Intro to Yesodei Hatorah) who thought that certainly he does not have to give up more than a fifth of your money for passive violation of a prohibition and the Chomat Yerushalayim 196 who holds the opposite. Rashba (cited by Shita Mikubeset Bava Kama 9a s.v. vlo) implies like the Mishnat Chachamim that it all depends on whether it is active or passive.
- Rama O.C. 652, Shach 157:3
- Pitchei Teshuva 157:4 quotes the Pri Megadim who was unsure about this. Chavot Yair 183 says you do, while in Chavot Yair 182 contradicts this. Radvaz 1:145 also holds that to avoid a rabbinic prohibition one should give up all of his money. Igrot Moshe EH 1:57, Gra 157:4, Chafetz Chaim (Klal Rechilut Bear Mayim Chayim 1:12) concur.
- Rambam Machalot Asurot 14:12, Even Haezel Shabbat 1:5 s.v. ivra
- Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 5:5. Taz 157:9 that according to the opinion that anytime one is specified to be killed that person could be given over to save everyone else, the same would apply to the case of women being violated. However, according to the Rambam and the halacha that we can't give up someone even if they're specified unless they're sentenced to death by some legal system then for woman being violated that is never relevant and always forbidden to give up one woman.
- Taz 157:9 explains that it is permitted to give up a woman to be violated in order to save their lives since a woman being violated passively isn’t considered hereg v’al yavor.
- Taz 157:8 explains that even if the person isn't liable to death by Bet Din and only by the government even a non-Jewish government they can be given over.
- The Mishna Trumot 8:12 states that if terrorists threaten an entire group that if they don't give up one of them to be killed all of them will die, they may not give up any of them. If the terrorists specify one of them then they may give him up to save the group. The Yerushalmi Trumot 8:4 cites a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish as to how to understand the halacha. Rabbi Yochanan says that as long as the person is specified he can be given over, while according to Reish Lakish he can only be given over if he is liable to death. Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 5:5 rules like Reish Lakish, and Hagahot Maimoniyot (Yesodei Hatorah 5:6) disputes this and accepts Rabbi Yochanan. Rama 157:1 cites both opinions. Taz 157:7 follows the Rambam.
- Taz 157:7 ponders the meaning of the Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 5:5 who concludes that a rabbi shouldn't initially render a ruling to give over a person to save the masses even if that individual is culpable to death. He says that it is not a pious measure to rule the opposite and cause everyone to die but it is advisable that he not do so himself. The prooftext for the Rambam is the Yerushalmi Trumot 8:4 which states that in such a situation Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi gave over a Jew even though it was permitted, Eliyahu Hanavi stopped visiting him because of it. Taz interprets this to mean that he shouldn't have done it himself. Bet Yakov 107 disputes the Taz because it isn't a worthy pious act to sacrifice the community for that individual. Rather it means that it most proper not to give asylum to a criminal which might later lead to having to give him up. It is better not to take him in the first place since it might cause you to have to give him over to death.
- Darkei Moshe 157:4 citing Hagahot Maimoniyot (Constantinople edition, Yesodei Hatorah 5:6), Shach 157:15