I would like to revisit the trolley problem. A trolley on a track is out of control and headed to a place where the crash will kill 4 people. You can flip a switch and put it on a different track where the crash will kill only one person. Should you flip the switch?

It appears to be the consensus of poskim that you should not. It is not up to you to decide who lives and who dies, even in a one-life-versus-many situation.

I am not convinced this is the absolute rule and the final word. What if the trolley carries nuclear weapons and is headed for the heart of New York City, and you can redirect it to a place where far, far fewer people will die in the crash? (We are not talking war or terrorism here, only accidents.) Is this discussed anywhere? Judaism does not teach us to apply rules blindly.

  • 1
    Who says consensus of poskim is no? If I'm not mistaken, Chazon Ish says rerouting tracks is not a maaseh retzicha, based on the Gemara's definitions of "direct" vs. "indirect" murder. (Shooting someone and then throwing him onto the tracks would be different.)
    – Shalom
    May 6, 2021 at 20:46
  • Regardless -- what you're addressing is considered hatzalas rabbim (saving the masses) or even hatzalas kol yisrael (saving everybody ... or a good chunk of everybody); this discussion comes up in a context of gilui arayos -- we don't allow it to save one life, but a bigger crowd gets trickier. The Noda Bihuda addresses that one.
    – Shalom
    May 6, 2021 at 20:48
  • Thanks, but specific references would help May 6, 2021 at 21:22
  • And while earlier in the Holocaust there was the usual "never decide", by later it was understood that so, so many were good as dead; the thinking became "it's not an act of murder, it's an act of saving." (As heard in R' Rakefet's recording.)
    – Shalom
    May 6, 2021 at 22:28
  • 2
    You seem to ask the same question, just you've changed 5 to 8 million. May 7, 2021 at 7:25


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