Is a Jew allowed to violate shabbos to save a non-Jew's life?
Yes. To quote R' Moshe Feinsten, "A refusal to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath would be totally unacceptable... (Igrot Moshe, Orah Hayyim 4:79; Additional sources below for this ruling can be found below.)
There are several reasons:
- The one that is most cited is "to prevent the Gentiles from hating and persecuting us (מישום איבה)," for if it happened that a Gentile died and it became known that a Jew refused to save him, they would not be too happy (for obvious reasons).
- Another reason is based on Nachmanides (Ramban), who rules based on Leviticus 25:35 that a Jew is obligated to save a Righteous Gentile (גר תושב), even on Shabbat. (Additions to Sefer Hamitzvot, "Positive Commandments that the Rambam Neglected," 16. Cf. R. Shimon ben Zemah Duran, Zohar HaRakia, 81 n. 39. Cf. also Meiri Yoma 84b.) This is ruling is then extended to include all Gentiles. (See "Laws of Medical Treatment on Shabbat" by R' Dov Karrol for more details about this approach.)
- In addition, many Rabbis nowadays feel that we have an extremely strong moral and ethical obligation as well, based on the overarching principles of "all people are created in the Image of God" and Tikkun Olam, "Sanctifying God's name," and "Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”
Sources: R. Moshe Sofer, Responsa Hatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 131, Hoshen Mishpat 194; R. Yisrael Lifschitz, Tiferet Yisrael, Avodah Zarah 2:6; R. Hayim Halberstam, Responsa Divrei Hayim vol. 2 Orah Hayim 25; R. Shalom David Ungvar, Responsa Yad Shalom 57; R. Mordekhai Ya'akov Breisch, Responsa Helkat Ya'akov vol. 2 54; R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe vol. 4, 49; R. Yitzhak Ya'akov Weiss, Responsa Minhat Yitzhak, vol. 1 53, vol. 3 20, vol. 10 31:14; R. Eliezer Yehudah Waldenburg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 8 15:6; R. Ovadia Yosef, Responsa Yabia Omer, vol. 8 Orah Hayim 38; R. Shlomo Zalman Braun, She'arim Metzuyanim Bahalakhah, 92:1; R. Zvi Hirsch Shapira, Darkhei Teshuvah, 158:3; R. Yehoshua Yishayahu Neuwirth, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah ch. 40 n. 42; R. Simhah Benzion Rabinowitz, Piskei Teshuvot, 390:2 (Courtesy R' Gil Student.)
For additional information, please see:
According to the strict letter of Halacha saving a non-Jews life on Shabbos by doing a Melacha (forbidden acts) is not permitted; To quote the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 92:1 "Shabbos is pushed aside for Sakonas Nefoshos (life & death situations).. therefore it is a Mitzvah to desecrate Shaboss for a Kosher person (even if he sometimes does sins) who is in mortal danger" (See also the uncensored Shulchan Aruch Yore Dei'ah 158:1).
One of the answers above misrepresented R. M. Feinstein's words by saying "To quote R' Moshe Feinsten, "A refusal to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath would be totally unacceptable...", the impression is that is is Halachikly unacceptable when in reality he's saying that it is socially unacceptable. In the Teshuvah itself RMF says to try to avoid the situation and he's only talking about a doctor who by law has the obligation to heal the sick or otherwise face repercussions. In the end he concludes with the words "one can rule that it (inaction by a doctor) is like a Sakanah (danger) and therefore one may permit it".
For a short synopsis of some of the sources mentioned in the aforementioned answer, see Shearim Metzuyanim Bahalacha 92:1, 1) He brings an argument between the Pri Megadim who says we do not desecrate Shabbos for one who doesn't keep Shabbos Litai'ovon (for convenience reasons) and the Maharam Shik who is not sure about it. 2) He quotes the Pri Megadim who says that we do not desecrate Shabbos for a non-Jew and for one who doesn't keep Shabbos Lihach'is ('to anger G-d'). 3) He quotes the Chassam Sofer who says it is probably Halachakly permissible nowadays to ride in a wagon driven by a non-Jew to heal a non-Jew since inaction will cause the non-Jews to hate us for it and it may lead to danger for Jews. 4) He quotes the Divrei Chaim who says that a doctor is only allowed to desecrate Shabbos by doing actions prohibited by the sages but not by doing actions forbidden by Torah law. 5) He quotes the Yad Sholom who says that if by government law the doctor must desecrate Shabbos even by doing actions forbidden by Torah law, it may be permitted.
The halachic permission to break the Sabbath to save someone's life is because a)the passuk says God gave the Jews the mitzvah's to "live by" and b)we break one Shabbos so others will be kept.
Yet, the Divrei Chaim rules that to save a non-Jew's is permitted, even though the mechanisms which allow us to violate Shabbos to save a life wouldn't apply there are other reasons to permit it.
Yes. See Shmuel L's answer.
I write here to add a bit of perspective, or maybe apologetics.
One might have thought that one cannot save either a Jew's life or a non-Jew's life on Shabbos. Perhaps the Shabbos, which attests to Hashem's creation of us all, and is so serious and important that its deliberate violation (under certain circumstances) merits the death penalty, should also not be violated even if it means dying.
Indeed, in the time of Antiochus, the "Chasidim" maintained precisely this position. They refused to fight on Shabbos, and so were slaughtered. But Matisyahu allowed fighting on Shabbos.
Is this a "loophole"? Not really. It is a derasha in a perhaps evolving system. (One can innovate a new derasha. For instance, the Biblical permission to marry Ammonite and Moabite woman, but maintaining the prohibition to marry Ammonite and Moabite men, was a derasha from the time of Boaz.)
Within this system, at certain stages, perhaps the loophole did not cover every person and every case. If that meant that e.g. an idolatrous non-Jew was not included in the exception, that does not mean that one life was valued over another life. It meant that Shabbos was still so important, and the requirements for the exclusion (for the sake of being able to keep more Shabbats) were not met.
Then, other "loopholes" which are not loopholes emerged, to include other other persons. See the several reasons above, in Shmuel L's answer. But one should not take offense that these are technical 'loopholes', or that it is only משום איבה, etc. If so, one should take equal offense at the first exception.