Judaism separates itself from the other Abrahamic faiths in that we are extremely serious about preserving life. In other faiths, martyrdom isn't something which just occurs due to circumstance but is an action you can willingly take on and be rewarded for.

In Judaism, the opposite seems to be the case. While we do recognize martyrdom in Jews who were murdered sanctifying Hashem's name and laws, a Jew is not encouraged to pursue death. It is better to live than to die outside of a handful of exceptions.

My question is how this philosophy fits into a war mindset? How are Jewish soldiers expected to act on the battlefield when we know that God ultimately does not want anyone to put themselves in a situation where they might die?

Is there any Halacha which discusses this topic?

  • "God ultimately does not want anyone to put themselves in a situation where they might die" There doesn't seem to be any basis for this claim.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 28 at 1:32
  • Short answer -- yes, the commentaries note that going to war means risking life in ways that we wouldn't in times of peace.
    – Shalom
    Commented Feb 28 at 1:58
  • @DoubleAA I can cite you plenty of examples of this being the case in Jewish law. Simplest being Pikuach Nefesh. Life is so important that it literally supersedes observance. The idea of installing guardrails on the roofs of new dwellings being that we must all actively work to prevent a loss of life. The fact that the only listed exceptions (could be more if I'm mistaken) are forced participation in idolatry, sexual misconduct and murder (murder as in should you be ordered to take another's life, it is better you allow yourself to be slain than to murder.) I can go further with these.
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 28 at 2:56
  • 1
    @DoubleAA I'd love to know an example of people God wants to die. Certainly open to it.
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 28 at 4:03
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    You just gave me examples. Why are you pretending you don't know any??
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 28 at 11:49

1 Answer 1


There is an article from R’ Melamed on this topic that addresses your question at length, from all angles and is worth reading in its entirety. I will quote one paragraph that specifically addresses the crux of your question:

Indeed, there is no commandment to endanger oneself in a situation where it is probable that the would-be rescuer will be killed in order to save individual Jewish lives. However, during wartime, when it is necessary to endanger soldiers in order to win the battle, soldiers must be willing to enter situations where the danger outweighs the potential rescue. As Maran HaRav Kook wrote, the principle of “ve’chai ba’hem” (‘and you shall live by them’, i.e., the words of the Torah), from which we learn that pikuach nefesh (saving lives) overrides all commandments in the Torah, does not apply during warfare, since the laws for the public differ from those for the individual. And for the sake of sustaining the public, individuals must be willing to enter danger (Mishpat Kohen 143). Based on this, the responsa Tzitz Eliezer (13:100) wrote that also the principle of “chayecha kodmim le’chayeh chavercha” (“your life takes precedence over your friend’s life”) does not apply during warfare, “rather, all war recruits are obligated, together as one person, to sacrifice, each one his soul, for the sake of saving the life of his fellow. And this too is included in the laws of the public, and under the guidelines of national conduct and ordinances.”

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