Tosafos on Sanhedrin 59a has the following discussion:

ועל העוברים דעובד כוכבים חייב וישראל פטור אע"ג דפטור מ"מ לא שרי מיהו קשה דאמרינן בפרק בן סורר ומורה (לקמן סנהדרין דף עב:) יצא ראשו אין נוגעין בו דאין דוחין נפש מפני נפש אבל קודם שיצא ראשו החי' פושטת ידה וחתכתו לאברים ומוציאה כדי להציל את אמו וכה"ג בעובד כוכבים אסור כיון שהוזהרו על העוברים וי"ל דהא נמי בישראל מצוה כדי להציל ואפשר דאפילו בעובד כוכבים שרי

Essentially, the gemarra says there's nothing that is forbidden for a non-Jew and permitted for a Jew. Tosafos addresses the fact that a Jew is exempt if they perform an abortion, whereas a non-Jew is executed. Tosafos clarifies that a Jew is also forbidden, just exempt from capital punishment.

However, the gemarra says that as long as the head didn't come out, it's permissible to abort a baby to save the mother's life. Tosafos assumes this isn't permitted for a non-Jew. This seems to break the rule that nothing is forbidden for a non-Jew and permitted for a Jew. Tosafos explains that this is an exemption to the rule, for this is a case where it's a mitzvah for the Jew to save the mother. Something can be forbidden for a non-Jew, yet a mitzvah for a Jew, as we see by Shabbos (see the earlier comments of Tosafos, which I didn't copy).

Tosafos then ends off that perhaps it's permitted for a non-Jew to abort the fetus to save the mother.

What exactly is Tosafos' doubt? I'm looking for Achronim who speak this out.

  • See Tosfos Harash that says since it’s not really a nefesh and only a gezeiras hakasuv that a goy is chayiv, then maybe here it’s mutar. He then says it’s a wonder
    – Chatzkel
    Sep 17, 2021 at 19:38
  • Well in brackets he writes (ותימה). It does add a bit of detail but still doesn't really answer what the doubt is.
    – robev
    Sep 17, 2021 at 19:46

1 Answer 1


I found the Minchas Chinuch in Mitzvah 296 (4-7) has a long debate about what exactly the status of an embryo is in relation to the laws of murder and how it relates to a Non-Jew. For a full background, see the whole piece. Relevant to this Tosfos here is what he says;

ואם רודף אחר עובר להרגו דהיינו דרודף אחר האם ורוצה להרוג העובר תליא במ"ש לעיל אם נקרא נפש כי ב"נ נהרג על העוברין רשאי חבירו להרוג אותו אבל כבר כ' שנ"ל דגם אצל ב"נ לא נקרא ש"ד אלא הוי כמו שאר עבירות אם כן אסור לחבירו להרגו כי לא מקרי רודף כנ"ל בעזה"י. ובישראל שרוצה להרוג עוברין פשיטא דלא מקרי רודף ואסור לחבירו להרוג עליו כי לאו בכלל נפש הוא. שוב מצאתי בתוס' סנהדרין נ"ט ע"א ד"ה ליכא מידעם שכתבו שם מתחלה דקודם שיצא ראשו דבישראל מותר לחתוך העובר ובב"נ אסור כיון דמוזהר על העוברין כצד הראשון שכתבנו ואח"ז כתבו דאפשר גם בב"נ שרי לחתוך העובר. נראה מדבריהם דספוקי מספקא להו דין הנ"ל וגם כתבו סתם דחיה יכולה לחתוך נראה דאף משום הצלת אחר מותר הב"נ ומכל מקום צ"ע בדינים אלו.

In short, the way he explains the "safek" of Tosfos is if we say that for a Non-Jew an unborn fetus is the same as a born one, or if we say that just like for a Jew it is not considered a Nefesh, so to for a Non-Jew, even if it is prohibited, it is not murder. The difference would be in a case of someone chasing after a woman to make an abortion, are they considered a rodef? If it is considered a Nefesh then the one performing the abortion is a Rodef, if not then they are just doing an aveira but are not a rodef. According to the second way of understanding, since it is not murder, it would be permitted in a case of saving a life. However, if it is considered murder, that is not permitted in order to save a life since regardless a life is being lost.

(As an aside, another point that is brought out from Tosfos, even if it is not murder, it is still assur. For a Jew all issurim are mutar for Pikuach Nefesh, however while a Non-Jew themselves can do all issurim to save their own life, it is not clear if another Non-Jew can perform an issur to save their life or only the person in sakana themselves. If it is assur for an outsider to perform an issur, it would be prohibbited for a non-jew to perform the abortion. Tosfos seems to say that a doctor would be allowed to perform the abortion if we say it is not a nefesh, even though they are doing it only to save someone else, not themselves. However he doesn't seem to indicate that this is the Safek of Tosfos, but rather a point that Tosfos holds).

  • Please translate the relevant parts, as that's the whole answer...
    – robev
    Sep 20, 2021 at 3:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .