Generally speaking, Judaism doesn't take the same mindset for self-sacrifice as modern society. While we can have great respect for individuals who have given up their lives to save others, Jewish practice teaches that we aren't supposed to do such things and that sacrificing any life, including your own, isn't acceptable practice. It isn't your life to give.

My question is a simple one.

Much of Judaism has a huge emphasis on children and raising children. This makes sense considering how much of Judaism is centered around community and family life. Children are essential to this.

My question, does Jewish law differentiate self-sacrifice for a stranger or other adult individual vs a parent self-sacrificing for their own children?

While I suspect the same rule of "it's not your life to give" applies, I have to wonder if the Rabbis differentiate slightly because of the primal and deep connection one has to their children.

Your children are as much your future as they are their own. An aspect of yourself lives on through your children on a certain level. So is there not an act of self-preservation occurring in the sense that a parent is sacrificing themselves to keep their children alive?


1 Answer 1


In the classic works discussing this topic I do not remember anyone making a distinction between one's children versus other people. (See here including the answer there for a nice survey of the sources.)

If anything the opposite would be true. In his work "Of Parents and Penguins" Rav Moshe Eisemann cogently presents the opposite argument. We in general do not subscribe to the idea that parents should sacrifice their lives for their children. Parents have an equally important life to be lived as their children. In fact we find the opposite- if a parent and child both need to study and the father's resources only permit one, with all else equal the father takes precedence. (Maseches Kiddushin Daf 30).

This is in stark contrast with much of the animal kingdom which views continuation of the species as the highest need, often resulting in animals literally sacrificing their lives to help their children.

Here's a link to a short introduction Rav Eisemann gave to this book explaining this concept.