The Gemara Sanhedrin 74b reads:

נכרי דאמר ליה להאי ישראל קטול אספסתא בשבתא ושדי לחיותא ואי לא קטילנא לך ליקטיל ולא לקטליה שדי לנהרא ליקטליה ולא ליקטול מ"ט לעבורי מילתא קא בעי

If a non-Jew tells a Jew: cut this plant on Shabbos and throw it to [my] animals, or else I'll kill you -- cut it and don't be killed. But [cut it and] throw it into the river! -- be killed rather than cut; why? He seeks to make the Jew transgress.

(Codified in Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 5:2)

What about a case such as what sometimes happened with the Nazis? They imprisoned, killed, and tortured Jews no matter what the Jew said or believed. It didn't matter if someone renounced their faith or professed another one. And yet there were times when they'd threaten to kill observant Jews if they didn't break shabbos or yom kippur, spit on the rabbi, or the like -- not because they would have been satisfied if Jews gave up Judaism, but just out of sadism.

Does that qualify as they are attempting to make Jews transgress? (I know there's a story in the Yated's obituary of Rabbi Joseph Elias zt'l where as a young student he felt this was, but is this discussed in the rabbinic literature?)

  • 2
    Unclear what you're asking - what else were they trying to do if not stamp out the faith and the entire nation with it????????? Nov 26, 2019 at 11:50
  • I fail to see the argument. Since Jews who had converted were also killed. It's apparently a racial / genetic thing, and not religion. Already commented on an answer, here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/109957#comment369079_109960 Nov 26, 2019 at 14:56

1 Answer 1


quoting from this website:

ההכרעה אם המציאות בתקופת השואה היא בגדר "פיקוח נפש" או "שעת השמד" הייתה קשה מכיוון שהכרזה על שעה כ"שעת השמד" מחייבת ידיעה של כוונת המלכות, קרי כוונות הנאצים. אם הנאצים הכריזו מלחמת כליה על העם היהודי, הרי שזוהי שעה של "פיקוח נפש" בו שמירת החיים קודמת לשמירת המצוות, אך אם לצד ההשמדה הפיזית ביקשו הנאצים לקיים גם מאבק רוחני שמטרתו היא עקירת דת ישראל והיהדות מהעולם, אזי מבחינה הלכתית זוהי "שעת השמד". הוויכוח על דרך תפיסת המציאות והגדרתה התנהל, למעשה, בין רבנים שונים במשך כל ימי השואה...‏

Deciding if the holocaust was Pikauch Nefesh (Life danger situation that allows ignoring most of Mitzot) or Shaat Hashmad (Attempt to erase Judaism, where any individual should keep even the most minor Jewish custom, even with the cost of life) was difficult because it demands us to know the intention of the rulers - the Nazis. If they want just to kill all the Jews - It's Pikauch Nefesh, so life take precedence, but, if alongside of killing the Nazis also threw a spiritual struggle, that it's purpose is erasing Judaism, so it's Shaat Hashmad. Argument about view-points and definitions actually occurred among various Rabbis through the holocaust...

This article points to a book that may give a review of those Rabbis: Beseter Raam, Ester Farbstein pg 134-136 note 5

  • Someone with better English might translate the passage better. Nov 26, 2019 at 14:22
  • I don't see the difficulty. Jews who converted were equally slated for death. Pope John Paul II canonized Edith Stein as a saint. She died a Carmelite nun. From JP2's speech (official translation), "''Because she was Jewish, Edith Stein was deported with her sister Rosa and many other Jews. In celebrating now and later the memory of the new saint, we will be unable not to also remember year after year the Shoah, that savage plan to eliminate a people, which cost millions of our Jewish brothers and sisters their lives.'' Nov 26, 2019 at 14:54
  • @MichaBerger That's an obvious observation, but if will look closely into the passage, you will see that if it's both "killing all the Jews" and "erase Judaism", so it's Shaat Hashmad Nov 26, 2019 at 14:58
  • I see the passage. I just don't see anything in Nazi behavior or literature to validate it. AND, there is major problem declaring it millions of cases of formally dying al qiddush hasheim. There is strong precedent for the spouse of someone killed AQhS not to remarry! (Like the king's widow(s).) I would prefer thinking of those killed by the Nazis as qedoshim, but not killed al qiddush hasheim in the halachic sense. Nov 26, 2019 at 15:01
  • And, Dan Crystal doesn't mention a primary source, a rav who was there or in the aftermath, who had to make a ruling. So, I feel free to argue with the article. Nov 26, 2019 at 15:03

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