Although I am loath to ask a Covid 19 related question, one particular current debate caught my attention.

Most readers are probably aware of the gemara in Bava Metzia 62a where we find the rule one should utilize all his resources to save himself instead of dying along with his friend. See the quotation and translation from sefaria below.

Does this apply to a countries resources? Recently it has become publicly known that the President of the United States feels a certain company (3M) has no right to be selling masks to foreign countries when America is in dire need of them. As of now it seems the company is refusing to abide. This is not a question about American or international law. This is a question what would halacha dictate in this type of situation?

Part of the company's reason to refuse is international backlash, including loss of imports of other life saving devices. This seems to be happening already with Canada's response. Would this weigh in on applying Rabi Akiva's rule?

Also, according to halacha, would there be a difference if it were a natural resource vs a private company's product?

As usual with my questions, I don't require answers to be sourced, but if they exist, mah to u'ma na'im.

ורבי יוחנן האי וחי אחיך עמך מאי עביד ליה מבעי ליה לכדתניא שנים שהיו מהלכין בדרך וביד אחד מהן קיתון של מים אם שותין שניהם מתים ואם שותה אחד מהן מגיע לישוב דרש בן פטורא מוטב שישתו שניהם וימותו ואל יראה אחד מהם במיתתו של חבירו עד שבא ר' עקיבא ולימד וחי אחיך עמך חייך קודמים לחיי חבירך

The Gemara asks: And Rabbi Yoḥanan, what does he do with this verse: “And your brother shall live with you”? The Gemara answers: He requires the verse for that which is taught in a baraita: If two people were walking on a desolate path and there was a jug [kiton] of water in the possession of one of them, and the situation was such that if both drink from the jug, both will die, as there is not enough water, but if only one of them drinks, he will reach a settled area, there is a dispute as to the halakha. Ben Petora taught: It is preferable that both of them drink and die, and let neither one of them see the death of the other. This was the accepted opinion until Rabbi Akiva came and taught that the verse states: “And your brother shall live with you,” indicating that your life takes precedence over the life of the other.

  • This may or may not be addressed as far as families go. I personally don't think it is comparable to the rule of giving one's family tzedaka before giving to others, as there is no imminent death in whole or in part I that situation, but let's see what others have to say.
    – user6591
    Apr 5, 2020 at 13:18
  • Your question was from the inference of the verse vechai achicha imach, not the verse itself. I changed the title, but feel free to change it back it you disagree
    – robev
    Apr 5, 2020 at 14:33
  • That's fine @robev
    – user6591
    Apr 5, 2020 at 14:46
  • Assuming that all countries in question are Jewish?
    – DonielF
    Apr 5, 2020 at 14:59
  • @DonielF Not necessarily. Proving what non Jews would be required to do on personal level can be used to answer on a national level. While drashos revolving around the word achicha usually exclude non Jews, this one seems different. Maybe a non Jew rules like ben Patura, maybe not.
    – user6591
    Apr 5, 2020 at 15:24

1 Answer 1


Trump's logic that local communities come first is in line with Tractate Nedarim 80b:

מעיין של בני העיר חייהן וחיי אחרים חייהן קודמין לחיי אחרים

A spring in one town should be used for the local citizens drinking as their lives come before the lives of citizens of the other Towns.

Israel did exactly the same with its ventilators refusing to provide for other countries because they needed to save their own citizens lives first: https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/1849636/pm-netanyahu-refused-british-request-for-ventilators.html

Logical Mitvos like honouring parents even Gentiles would be commanded as Netziv* says in introduction to Ahavas Chesed regarding honouring parents. So since the President as part of his Job application has to protect American citizens from death, logically speaking (since there is no Mitzva of vechai Achicho - to save another country/person - for a Gentile which is why they are permitted to take interest on Loans) he should follow this law to save America's own citizens from death first before other Countries.

*כיבוד אב ואם הוא מצוה שדעת אדם נותן לה וגם אומות העולם מצווים עליה בחובת האדם ומקבלים עליה שכר כמו דמא בן נתינה מכל מקום צונו הקב'ה להזהירנו מצד חוקי התורה לבד מחובת האדם.

  • Is there a distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish towns?
    – DonielF
    Apr 5, 2020 at 16:05
  • 3
    This source is discussing a public resource not private property. No reason a private water storage owner needs to sell to his townsman first. It's just communities can restrict access to their own communally owned resources, just like individuals can restrict access to their own privately owned resources. Individuals and communities can always sell to whomever they prefer (subject to any arbitrary local laws of course).
    – Double AA
    Apr 5, 2020 at 16:13
  • 2
    +1 Nice! Ran there says this is based off the drasha in B.M. This would be a much better answer if it addressed the point @DonielF raised about Jews vs non Jews.
    – user6591
    Apr 5, 2020 at 16:13
  • 1
    @user6591 i have added why this would apply to gentile law, considering the governing body has a right to prevent exports and redirect to its own citizens in situations of life and death
    – user15464
    Apr 5, 2020 at 17:56
  • 1
    I think the fact that Rabbi Akiva had to use a drasha which is arguably a gzeiras hakasuv to prove his point would dictate we cannot call his rule 'logical'. Please keep in mind both sides of any debated matter believe their opinion is the logical one.
    – user6591
    Apr 5, 2020 at 19:14

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