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Is a Jew allowed to violate shabbos to save a non-Jew's life?

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You may want to take a look at some of these posts by a doctor who is also an O. Rav: rationalistmedicalhalacha.blogspot.co.il/… – Robert S. Barnes Sep 8 '14 at 11:03
Can you possibly indicate why you might think one way or another? Maybe also include what prompted you to ask this question and what research you have done already on the matter. – Double AA Nov 25 '14 at 18:06

Yes. To quote R' Moshe Feinsten, "A refusal to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath would be totally unacceptable... (Igrot Moshe, Orah Hayyim 4:79; Additional sources below for this ruling can be found below.)

There are several reasons:

  1. The one that is most cited is "to prevent the Gentiles from hating and persecuting us (מישום איבה)," for if it happened that a Gentile died and it became known that a Jew refused to save him, they would not be too happy (for obvious reasons).
  2. Another reason is based on Nachmanides (Ramban), who rules based on Leviticus 25:35 that a Jew is obligated to save a Righteous Gentile (גר תושב), even on Shabbat. (Additions to Sefer Hamitzvot, "Positive Commandments that the Rambam Neglected," 16. Cf. R. Shimon ben Zemah Duran, Zohar HaRakia, 81 n. 39. Cf. also Meiri Yoma 84b.) This is ruling is then extended to include all Gentiles. (See "Laws of Medical Treatment on Shabbat" by R' Dov Karrol for more details about this approach.)
  3. In addition, many Rabbis nowadays feel that we have an extremely strong moral and ethical obligation as well, based on the overarching principles of "all people are created in the Image of God" and Tikkun Olam, "Sanctifying God's name," and "Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”

Sources: R. Moshe Sofer, Responsa Hatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 131, Hoshen Mishpat 194; R. Yisrael Lifschitz, Tiferet Yisrael, Avodah Zarah 2:6; R. Hayim Halberstam, Responsa Divrei Hayim vol. 2 Orah Hayim 25; R. Shalom David Ungvar, Responsa Yad Shalom 57; R. Mordekhai Ya'akov Breisch, Responsa Helkat Ya'akov vol. 2 54; R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe vol. 4, 49; R. Yitzhak Ya'akov Weiss, Responsa Minhat Yitzhak, vol. 1 53, vol. 3 20, vol. 10 31:14; R. Eliezer Yehudah Waldenburg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 8 15:6; R. Ovadia Yosef, Responsa Yabia Omer, vol. 8 Orah Hayim 38; R. Shlomo Zalman Braun, She'arim Metzuyanim Bahalakhah, 92:1; R. Zvi Hirsch Shapira, Darkhei Teshuvah, 158:3; R. Yehoshua Yishayahu Neuwirth, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah ch. 40 n. 42; R. Simhah Benzion Rabinowitz, Piskei Teshuvot, 390:2 (Courtesy R' Gil Student.)

For additional information, please see:

  1. Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, "A Halakhic View of the Non-Jew," Tradition
  2. Rabbi Ari Kahn, Saving Non-Jews on Shabbat
  3. Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, Pikuah Nefesh Part 3: Non-Jews on Shabbat
  4. Rabbi Hanan Balk, Saving a Life on Shabbos
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Impressive list of sources :) – jutky Jan 23 '12 at 22:16
It's a shame that he's not as authoritative as he really should have been, but Rav Menachem Meiri also emphasised the fact that non-Jews in the early rabbinic literature were very different to non-Jews "today". From a rabbinic perspective, that is. I only mention this because he's not included amongst Rabbi Gil Student's sources, but his Beit haBechirah is a text deserving of serious study, and for all that people say it hasn't influenced the development of the halakha, many of the ideas in it were somewhat groundbreaking. – Shimon bM Jul 15 '12 at 13:12
In fact, I would like to add to my last comment by saying that your third point above (image of God and "do not stand idly", etc) is heavily indebted to the writings of the Meiri. Al pi haTannaim, one is never obligated to save the life of an idol worshipper (the very last mishna in Sanhedrin 8, I believe), and much of this discussion therefore centres around the fact that non-Jews today are not automatically considered worshippers of idols. – Shimon bM Jul 16 '12 at 3:09
I bet all those sources are from Yabia Omer :) – Hacham Gabriel Feb 20 '13 at 3:46
It is unclear that mishum eivah means "because otherwise they'll hate us and there will be repercussions". R' Aharon Lichtenstein argued (citing Rambams as necessary) that it is a primary value -- to imitate G-d is to create peace, not enmity. – Micha Berger Aug 24 '15 at 16:06

According to the strict letter of Halacha saving a non-Jews life on Shabbos by doing a Melacha (forbidden acts) is not permitted; To quote the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 92:1 "Shabbos is pushed aside for Sakonas Nefoshos (life & death situations).. therefore it is a Mitzvah to desecrate Shaboss for a Kosher person (even if he sometimes does sins) who is in mortal danger" (See also the uncensored Shulchan Aruch Yore Dei'ah 158:1).

One of the answers above misrepresented R. M. Feinstein's words by saying "To quote R' Moshe Feinsten, "A refusal to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath would be totally unacceptable...", the impression is that is is Halachikly unacceptable when in reality he's saying that it is socially unacceptable. In the Teshuvah itself RMF says to try to avoid the situation and he's only talking about a doctor who by law has the obligation to heal the sick or otherwise face repercussions. In the end he concludes with the words "one can rule that it (inaction by a doctor) is like a Sakanah (danger) and therefore one may permit it".

For a short synopsis of some of the sources mentioned in the aforementioned answer, see Shearim Metzuyanim Bahalacha 92:1, 1) He brings an argument between the Pri Megadim who says we do not desecrate Shabbos for one who doesn't keep Shabbos Litai'ovon (for convenience reasons) and the Maharam Shik who is not sure about it. 2) He quotes the Pri Megadim who says that we do not desecrate Shabbos for a non-Jew and for one who doesn't keep Shabbos Lihach'is ('to anger G-d'). 3) He quotes the Chassam Sofer who says it is probably Halachakly permissible nowadays to ride in a wagon driven by a non-Jew to heal a non-Jew since inaction will cause the non-Jews to hate us for it and it may lead to danger for Jews. 4) He quotes the Divrei Chaim who says that a doctor is only allowed to desecrate Shabbos by doing actions prohibited by the sages but not by doing actions forbidden by Torah law. 5) He quotes the Yad Sholom who says that if by government law the doctor must desecrate Shabbos even by doing actions forbidden by Torah law, it may be permitted.

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The halachic permission to break the Sabbath to save someone's life is because a)the passuk says God gave the Jews the mitzvah's to "live by" and b)we break one Shabbos so others will be kept.

Yet, the Divrei Chaim rules that to save a non-Jew's is permitted, even though the mechanisms which allow us to violate Shabbos to save a life wouldn't apply there are other reasons to permit it.

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Whatever you mean by "regular loopholes," do not dare to stand asside while a human life is about to get lost. To save a life, Jewish or non-Jewish life is more important than the fulfilment of a commandment. – Ben Masada Dec 18 '10 at 0:16
"regular loopholes" - That's some unfortunate phrasing that makes it sound as if keeping shabbat is more important than saving a life, any life. Would you consider clarifying? – neilfein Nov 28 '11 at 6:05
What I mean, quite simply, is that (whether or not people are comfortable with it) the halachhic permission to break the Sabbath to save someone's life is because a)the passuk says God gave the Jews the mitzvah's to "live by" and b)we break one Shabbos so other's will be kept. These are specific halachic principles, not a generic "of course we break shabbos" outlook. Neither principle is applicable in our case, but the Poskim have brought down others. The question isn't what's our opinion about the issue, it is what is the halachah. – Yirmeyahu Jan 20 '12 at 9:53
Thanks for your clarification, I've edited it into your original answer. Also, I've removed the word "loophole", which seems to be unnecessary in this context as well as distracting from your point. However, if I've misinterpreted your intent, please revert my edit! – neilfein Jan 20 '12 at 15:11
From where is it known the reason why we break shabbos to save a Jew's life so that other shabbatot can be kept? – Adam Mosheh Feb 20 '12 at 2:13

It does not depend on if he is Jewish or not.

It depends on if they will keep more Mitzvos.

For a observant Jew and a Ger Toshav you have to violate Shabbos to save there life. Anyone else you cannot.


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-1 no comment??? – user6781 Aug 11 '14 at 16:43
-1 While your logic is theoretically correct, in practice we do violate Shabbat to save anyone's life, Jew or non-Jew, observant or non-observant. This is noted in the article you link to. – Shmuel Aug 11 '14 at 18:39
@Shmuel Can you show me in this article where it says taht? – user6781 Aug 11 '14 at 22:52
... theoretically , Shabbat may not be violated for a Gentile. While the ruling that allows violating Shabbat to save the life of a Gentile has been generally accepted – Shmuel Aug 13 '14 at 3:17

None of this is very impressive and doesn't address the fact that the Mishnah states that before one breaks shabbat by removing stones off a person one is obliged to inquire whether that person is Jewish or not. I would be grateful to receive the location of this Mishnah. I used to think it was in Sanhedrin, but am unable to find it.

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I don't know about Sanhedrin, but the Mishna in Yoma 8:5 says exactly the opposite: that we pull off the stones even if it is a safek if the person underneath is a Jew or a gentile. – Double AA Jun 13 '12 at 6:03
@DoubleAA IIRC its based around the ideas of "kol hakavu'a kimechtza al mechtza" and "kol deparish meruba parish." EDIT: See Rambam Shabbat 2:21 – Baal Shemot Tovot Jun 13 '12 at 6:11
johntyd, Your post contains the seed of an answer ("the Mishnah states...") but is written like a comment. To improve it, please reword it so that it is more of a stand-alone answer. Also, editing in a source would make this a useful answer, since right now it is just a vague "quote" of a Mishnah. – HodofHod Jun 13 '12 at 13:45
Welcome to the site, johntyd. I second what @HodofHod said and am writing just to add a welcome to the site and advice that you register your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. – msh210 Jun 13 '12 at 16:27
Actually, @DoubleAA, the Mishna doesn't say the opposite at all. By suggesting that you remove the stones even if it's doubtful whether or not they are Jewish, the mishna implies that if they're certainly not Jewish you don't remove the stones. Just as, with the other two examples in that mishna, you wouldn't remove the stones if they were certainly dead or certainly not there. – Shimon bM Jul 15 '12 at 13:09

Yes. See Shmuel L's answer.

I write here to add a bit of perspective, or maybe apologetics.

One might have thought that one cannot save either a Jew's life or a non-Jew's life on Shabbos. Perhaps the Shabbos, which attests to Hashem's creation of us all, and is so serious and important that its deliberate violation (under certain circumstances) merits the death penalty, should also not be violated even if it means dying.

Indeed, in the time of Antiochus, the "Chasidim" maintained precisely this position. They refused to fight on Shabbos, and so were slaughtered. But Matisyahu allowed fighting on Shabbos.

Is this a "loophole"? Not really. It is a derasha in a perhaps evolving system. (One can innovate a new derasha. For instance, the Biblical permission to marry Ammonite and Moabite woman, but maintaining the prohibition to marry Ammonite and Moabite men, was a derasha from the time of Boaz.)

Within this system, at certain stages, perhaps the loophole did not cover every person and every case. If that meant that e.g. an idolatrous non-Jew was not included in the exception, that does not mean that one life was valued over another life. It meant that Shabbos was still so important, and the requirements for the exclusion (for the sake of being able to keep more Shabbats) were not met.

Then, other "loopholes" which are not loopholes emerged, to include other other persons. See the several reasons above, in Shmuel L's answer. But one should not take offense that these are technical 'loopholes', or that it is only משום איבה, etc. If so, one should take equal offense at the first exception.

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So, are d'rashos invented or discovered? – jake Jun 13 '12 at 23:35
yes. :) if I had to choose between the two choices, for examples like Boaz, invented. this is derived from אין דבר חדש תחת השמם, but above the שמש = Torah, there is a דבר חדש. And that דבר חדש assumes the status of Biblical law. And beforehand, the derasha didn't exist and did not have that status. (Chazon Ish, iirc?) – josh waxman Jun 14 '12 at 2:35
Interesting. I have always entertained the possibility that all halachos were, for the most part, all known beforehand from Moshe. Then things were worked backwards to try and figure out how everything can possibly (if at all) be derived from the text. – jake Jun 14 '12 at 2:41
see here for an interesting discussion of the positions of Rishonim and Acharonim on the existence, or non-existence, of 'creative' derashos: torahmusings.com/2004/11/midrash-halakhah – josh waxman Jun 14 '12 at 2:57
Thanks. Very interesting article. – jake Jun 14 '12 at 4:14

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