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The reason we allow someone to violate shabbos to save a life is because of the principle "let him void one shabbat so that many future shabbosos will be kept". What are the parameters for this dispensation? Is one allowed to save an avowed atheist? May one violate shabbos for a non-life threatening situation that may lead to additional sabbath observance (in other words can I break shabbos for kiruv purposes)? Why do we not apply this logic to other mitzvot (let him worship idols one time...)?

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Partial duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/17044/… . You could improve this question by documenting where you've seen this rule set down/quoted. Also, it seems to me that the last sub-question deserves to be split off into its own question, since it doesn't fall under the "what are the parameters" heading that the other sub-questions do. –  Isaac Moses Oct 15 '12 at 21:26
    
@IsaacMoses It's not an exact duplicate, that question is asking about a non-Shabbos observer, this is about an atheist (denies Torah/G-d). There are differences in Halacha. –  Michoel Oct 15 '12 at 22:55
    
@Michoel Maybe. judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/17234/… –  Double AA Oct 15 '12 at 23:18
    
@DoubleAA See my answer to that question –  Michoel Oct 15 '12 at 23:55
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Is one allowed to save an avowed atheist?

The Mishna Berura (OC 329:9) writes (my own translation):

A Jew who transgresses averos for his own pleasure, as long as he does not deny the Torah - it seems that we would desecrate Shabbos in order to save him. However if he does so specifically to anger - it is forbidden to save his life even on a weekday, and certainly not on Shabbos.

May one violate shabbos for a non-life threatening situation that may lead to additional sabbath observance (in other words can I break shabbos for kiruv purposes)?

At times we can; Rambam (Mamrim 2:4):

Similarly, if they saw that temporarily it was necessary to nullify a positive commandment or violate a negative commandment in order to bring people at large back to the Jewish faith or to prevent many Jews from transgressing in other matters, they may do what is necessary at that time. To explain by analogy: Just like a doctor may amputate a person's hand or foot so that the person as a whole will live; so, too, at times, the court may rule to temporarily violate some of the commandments so that they will later keep all of them. In this vein, the Sages of the previous generations said: "Desecrate one Sabbath for a person's sake so that he will keep many Sabbaths."

However it seems this dispensation is reserved for Beis Din.

Why do we not apply this logic to other mitzvot (let him worship idols one time...)?

Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi (author of Shulchan Aruch Harav) explains in Tanya Chapter 24 that the specific averos considered yehareg ve'al ya'avor are a g'zeras hakasuv" (Scriptural decree). He proves this by showing how Shabbos in certain aspects is a more grave offense than sexual offences yet consideration of life overides Shabbos but not sexual prohibtions.

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But what about "Let him hit his father one time so that he doesn't hit him again"? That's also Sekilah (ie more grave than most sexual offenses) but isn't yehareig v'al ya'avor. –  Double AA Oct 15 '12 at 23:14
    
@DoubleAA I'm not sure what you mean? The proof is that we don't judge by severity but only three specific sins are do not override life by Divine decree. –  Michoel Oct 15 '12 at 23:22
    
It's only a proof for things of lesser severity than Shabbat. Think of the Kal Vachomer: If Shabbat which is Chamur (Sekilah) is Kal (life beats it), other Aveirot which are Kal (less than Sekilah) all the more so are Kal (life beats it)! If something is on the same level as Shabbat then we don't know if we should compare to it or to eg. Avoda Zara which is also Sekilah. –  Double AA Oct 15 '12 at 23:25
    
Moreover I'm confused. Are you saying that the baseline is we never die instead of sinning and then we are told to die in 3 instances, or the baseline is we always die instead of sinning and then we learn a special heter from Shabbat? If the former why learn from Shabbat; if the latter why call the Big 3 "Gezeirot Haktuv"? –  Double AA Oct 15 '12 at 23:40
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@DoubleAA: The Baal HaTanya points out that there are 3 mitzvot that one must die rather than transgress. While halachically, habitual shabbat desecration is on par with one of the 3 (Avodah Zarah), it is not on par with another one of the 3 (Gilui Arayot), since one who habitually transgresses Gilui Arayot is not considered as a "Mumar l'davar Acher", only for that thing. If so, it would seem shabbat is more strict than gilui arayot. Yet, one may transgress shabbat rather when life is on the line, but one may not transgress gilui arayot when life is on the line. ... –  Menachem Oct 16 '12 at 17:24
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