There are many instances where the Bible allows the prophets to commit certain acts contrary to Torah law. Thus the Midrash Sifrei Deuteronomy 175 and the Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 90b, exempts these acts as an exception to the rule. This exception is called hora’at sha’ah, which means the “extraordinary needs of the time.”

Deuteronomy 18:15, commands the Jews to obey whatever the prophets tell you. The Midrash and the Talmud captures this idea, stating that:

“even if he [a prophet] directs you to violate one of the commands recorded in the Torah – just as Elijah on Mount Carmel [in I Kings 18] – obey him in every respect in accordance with the needs of the hour (lefi sha’ah).”

According to Moshe, one way we can tell if a prophet is legit is if he preaches the same Torah as Moshe. How do we reconcile the two?


Maimonides addresses the lefi sha’ah and hora’at sha’ah and hasha’ah tzrikhah. In his Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 9:3, he says that the concept of the exceptional rule does not only apply to a prophet but to the whole Jewish community (or court) as a whole. He cites a Midrash and the Talmuds as an example. The Jewish court rules that:

“When a prophet…tells us to violate one or many of the Torah mitzvot…it is a mitzvah to listen to him. We learned this from the early sages, who had it as a part of oral law…we must accept his [the prophet’s] decree in all things except idol worship according to the needs of the hour [lefi sha’ah]. For example, Elijah [in I Kings 18] sacrificed on Mount Carmel, outside the Temple premises.”

In his Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Mamrim 2:4, Maimonides derives this ruling from Deuteronomy 18:15, writing that a Torah law may be abolished temporarily. That is to say, that this temporal ruling follows under the extraordinary need of the hour, a hora’at sha’ah. Thus, if the court finds it necessary to nullify biblical enactments as sanctioned by the Torah law, it is permitted but its effects are only done in a temporary measure. For example, a doctor may see fit to amputate an arm or a leg if necessary to save the life of a person. This runs reminiscent to the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b:

"one should desecrate a single Sabbath to save a person’s life and make it possible for him to observe many Sabbaths."

The Babylonian Talmud, Nidah 61b, writes of the opinion of Rabbi Joseph:

“The mitzvot [commandments] will be abolished in the time to come.”

The medieval (fourteenth century) Rabbi Joseph Albo wrote in his Sefer Ha-ikkarim that a future prophet may abolish or nullify all the biblical enactments save the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments).

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