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There is a famous Bava Metzia 62a paskens that in a case where there are two people and there is only enough water for one to survive, the owner of the water drinks it and lets the other die:

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

And Rabbi Yoḥanan, what does he do with this: “And your brother shall live with you”? He requires for that which is taught “two were walking on path and [there was] a jug of water in the possession of one of them. If both drink [both] die, but if one of them drinks, he will reach a settled area. Ben Petora taught: the preference is that both of them drink and die, and let neither one of them see the death of the other, until Rabbi Akiva came and taught “And your brother shall live with you,” (Vayikra 25:36) your life takes precedence over the life of the other.

The dispute in Nedarim 80b is even more surprising, which seems to bring the opinion of R' Yosei that if there is only enough water in a spring to wash your town's clothes or provide drinking water for another town, you are allowed to divert it to wash your clothes! However the following discussion seems to conclude that this is still an issue of life vs. life because dirty clothes are a pikuach nefesh in the long run.

I am currently trying to establish if there are exceptions to this. Based on the principle of Yoma 82b, "perhaps his blood is redder":

אמר לי מרי דוראי: קטליה לפלניא, ואי לא — קטילנא לך. אמר ליה: נקטלך ולא תקטול. מאי חזית דדמא דידך סומק טפי? דילמא דמא דההוא גברא סומק טפי

The master of the village said to me: Kill so-and-so, and if not I will kill you. [Rava] said to him: Let yourself be killed, and you should not kill. What did you see that your blood is redder? Perhaps the blood of that man is redder

It does seem more complicated than the original gemara. I believe there might be a Chazon Ish and/or an Iggerot Moshe on these halacot, does anyone know where they are?

I would like to know if there are any exceptions? Should one put the life of his wife and children first? Would it really be the case that if a husband and wife are in a desert and the husband has some water, he should drink it and... [can't type it, sorry]


I don't want to limit this question unnecessarily but it goes with my other question. I am trying to get to the bottom of whether we should love our fellow Jew more, less, or as much as Hashem, and what it practically means.

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  • @fulltimekollelguy ideally both. I am trying to determine if one is obligated to love ones spouse as much or more than Hashem, and what that practically means. See my second most recent question
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 31, 2023 at 11:40
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    The fundamental difference would seem to be actively killing versus letting someone die - the first item in R' Chaim's sefer on the Rambam notes that the distinction ought to fall naturally out of the idea that in the same way as their blood might be as "red" as yours, your blood might be as "red" as theirs, meaning doing nothing (though it is not simple to understand drinking your water as "doing nothing") is the correct approach in both cases (which raises the question of what R' Akiva/Ben Petura are disputing). See notes of the Chazon Ish there as well.
    – AKA
    Mar 31, 2023 at 12:06
  • @AKA I would absolutely love if you could craft an answer for me. Please be sure to read my whole question as well as the last part and see if you can gear the answer towards it comprehensively. No obligation of course.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 31, 2023 at 12:59
  • @שלום same to you achi
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 31, 2023 at 12:59
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    @MichaBerger bought it :) Will take a while to get to it, I've got quite the reading list but I'll be peeking it anyway looking forward
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 1, 2023 at 20:01

2 Answers 2

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One major exception is if you are ordered to kill or be killed you need to give up your own life rather than kill the other person. In contrast to the Gemara OP cites from Bava Metzia, Pesachim 25b says how can you kill the other person, maybe his blood is redder than yours? ושפיכות דמים גופיה מנלן? סברא הוא כי ההוא דאתא לקמיה דרבא. אמר ליה: מרי דוראי אמר לי "זיל קטליה לפלניא, ואי לא, קטלינא לך". אמר ליה: ליקטלוך, ולא תיקטול. מאי חזית? דדמא דידך סומק טפי?! דילמא דמא דההוא גברא סומק טפי

Many poskim also discuss if you are allowed, or possibly even required, to endanger your own life to save others. This article has a good overview. https://outorah.org/p/27309/. There is also some discussion whether you are permitted to give up your life for sure to save others. A gemara in Taanit 18b that concludes self-sacrifice is permissible, but see Tzitz Eliezer 15:70 who limits the principle to a case where the sacrificer would die anyway. I think there are some shutim about it in Rav Oshry's Mimaamakim. There is a book on the subject which I found on Google but have never seen. Nahum Rakover, Mesiruth Nefesh: Giving Up One to Save the Many (Jerusalem: Library of Jewish Law, 2000).

I have never heard anyone say that you need to sacrifice your own life for the sake of another individual person, for example that your spouse's or child's or rabbi's or king's life might come before your own.

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According to Teshuvos HaRadbaz (Volume 5, response 1582) the rule that your own life comes first, applies only in a situation where the risk of you being harmed is a chance of 50 percent - meaning that the chance of you being harmed is equal to the chance of you surviving.

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  • However, if there is a small chance (well below 50%) that you will die in the process of saving another, are you allowed to do nothing, or must you try? The majority says you must try. Mar 31, 2023 at 17:09
  • If a man is assaulting a woman, should the person intervene as he may be putting his life at risk because he may be armed or because he considers himself physically inferior to the aggressor? Calling the police would suffice in the matter of how much do you passively watch the episode?
    – Thales
    Apr 1, 2023 at 22:27

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