Some Boston-area yeshivah students recently saved a man from drowning who they didn't know was a Nazi supporter. In a comment on the story, someone claimed that the Halakhah (i.e. Jewish law) says to let such a non-Jew drown. That doesn't sound right to me; but, I'm having trouble finding a source on the matter.

What do our sources say?

  • We're trying to be very careful disclosing our sources on an open site like this for "Anything we say can be used against us in court. The laws of מורידין ולא מעלין can be found here: he.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Al Berko
    Jun 10 '19 at 10:29
  • מורידים ולא מעלים, לא מורידים ולא מעלים
    – kouty
    Jun 10 '19 at 20:22
  • Would love to hear a follow up to that story. Did the nazi had a turn around? Did he learn something from that experience?
    – Ilja
    Jun 10 '19 at 21:16
  • I can only assume that he was most likely referencing the Rambam (Maimonides), specifically his magnum opus, the famous Mishneh Torah (Murderer, 4:11), but the latter lived during (medieval) times of rampant anti-Jewish persecution, and his reasoning was based on Leviticus 19:16, since saving an oppressor's life (obviously) endangers those whom he actively oppresses.
    – Lucian
    Jun 11 '19 at 1:15
  • You might also find this encyclopedic article relevant.
    – Lucian
    Jun 11 '19 at 1:36

This question is extremely confusing as it includes multiple contradicting considerations:

  1. Apriori, human life is of the highest priority, and saving it should be considered the greatest Mitzvah of them all (see Pikuach Nefesh that overrides Shabbos, and Rambam here)

  2. One should not endanger his own life to save another (better lose one than two). One should not jump to save a drowning man if he can't swim. But one should take all possible measures to do so, like calling for help or paying for it.

  3. While not saving a life (when possible) is a sin, one cannot be liable for it (Rambam ibid), because one does not do a real action.

  4. Our outlook on non-Jews is two-fold (unfortunately it is always black and white): either they are intrinsically good or bad (for us/for G-d).

    • If they rebel against G-d (idolaters) or seek to harm us (Jews) physically or economically, we don't see ourselves responsible for saving them, as we don't have an obligation to save a Jew that behaves that way (see Moser)

    • If they are righteous (regarding their Mitzvos) and benevolent for us (more or less the current approach in most countries), we should surely treat them accordingly. We can probably learn it from Yalkut Shimoni: "אמר הקב"ה מעשי ידי טובעים בים ואתם אומרים לפני שירה" (G-d felt sorry when the Egyptians - our worst enemies - drowned in the Red Sea), so we can learn Kal Vachomer that G-d feel sorry losing his righteous humans.

  5. In any way, one should be aware and cautious not to cause Hilul Hashem in a public place (mind street cameras!), where not taking measures for saving other's life can be interpreted furiously against the Jews and the Torah and lead to harm and even endangering of other Jews.

    On the other hand, saving a non-Jew in a place that values human life (currently most of the Western world), can lead to a huge Kiddush Hashem - honoring Jews for our devotion to our Torah values. Especially when contrasted by such ideological differences (saving a Nazi supporter) can have an enormous influence on public opinion and overall wellness of the Jewish community.

  • That was as good an answer as one could get. Upvote.
    – Turk Hill
    Jun 11 '19 at 18:53

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