I understand that, as per the halakha, a Jew is absolutely obligated to save the life of a non-Jew, even if doing so requires of him that he desecrate Shabbat. (See, for example, this answer.) My question is specifically about the Mishna, Yoma 8:7.

The mishna in question reads as follows:

מי שנפלה עליו מפלת, ספק הוא שם ספק אינו שם, ספק חי ספק מת, ספק נכרי ספק ישראל - מפקחין עליו את הגל. מצאוהו חי - מפקחין עליו, ואם מת - יניחוהו

If a wall falls on somebody [on Shabbat] and it is uncertain whether or not he is there, whether he is alive or dead, or whether or not he is Jewish, we remove the rubble from him. If he is found to be alive, we continue removing it from him, but if he is dead we leave him.

Since the removal of rubble constitutes an activity that may be prohibited on Shabbat (perhaps the possibility of carrying four cubits in a public place), we don't do it if the only purpose it serves is to honour the dead. But in the event that it might enable us to save somebody's life (even if only for the briefest moment - Bartenura), we set aside Shabbat for the purpose of excavation.

It seems fairly obvious to me that the mishna's threefold formulation (there or not, alive or dead, Jew or gentile) is one in which the latter provisos would each render the search unnecessary if all doubt concerning them was removed. So, for example, if it is known for certain that the person is dead, we do not search through the rubble. If it is known for certain that the person is not there, we do not search through the rubble. If it is known for certain that the person is not Jewish, is not the implication likewise that we do not search through the rubble?

[Note: I reiterate that I am not asking a question about the halakha. The halakha mandates of us that we save a non-Jew's life on Shabbat. I am asking only about the correct historical interpretation of this mishna.]

  • Why assume otherwise?
    – sam
    Sep 12, 2013 at 3:19
  • @sam - you mean, why assume that the mishna might mandate saving a non-Jew's life in the first place?
    – Shimon bM
    Sep 12, 2013 at 3:49
  • @ShimonbM I think he means: what other implication could you draw from the Mishna?
    – Double AA
    Sep 13, 2013 at 5:39
  • lukeford.net/blog/?p=2595 "We talk about breaking the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew." See what Marc Shapiro has to say
    – barlop
    Jul 31, 2016 at 22:12

2 Answers 2


The question is based on contemporary belief but in truth according to the strict letter of Halacha saving a non-Jews life on Shabbos by doing a Melacha (forbidden acts) is not permitted; I'll simply quote the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 92:1 who says "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).

The link (in the question) that tries to portray a resounding 'yes', 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". - This is a far cry from "halakha mandates of us that we save a non-Jew's life on Shabbat".

For a short synopsis of some of that link's "sources" 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.

  • 1
    How does this answer the question?
    – Double AA
    Sep 13, 2013 at 5:49

Historically, it was not clear if you were allowed to violate the Sabbath even to save the life of a Jew, and it was not until fairly recently that the halacha has been formally reinterpreted to allow saving the life of a non-Jew if it requires violating the Sabbath.

For example, there is a story regarding how ( iirc ) in the time of either the Maccabi's or the Jewish revolt there were many Jews who were massacred because they refused to carry / use weapons on the Sabbath. I'd love if someone familiar with this could provide the source.

Regarding the historical prohibition on violating the Sabbath to save a non-Jew, there might be a difference made between an idolator and a bnai noach. For example, Rambam forbids providing medical care to an idolator at all times and even forbids saving their life if you see they fell in a hole or are drowning. However, if not helping the idolator could have repercussions for the Jewish community, he allows it, but only for payment.

This is the basic reasoning behind the modern interpretation, basically the non-Jews are strong and might attack us if we refused to provide them medical treatment on Shabbat, and so we treat them in order to indirectly save Jewish lives by preventing hate and violence.

So basically, the mishna you're looking at means exactly what it seems to mean in it's historical context.

  • 1
    Only your last sentence seems relevant.
    – Double AA
    Sep 1, 2014 at 17:32
  • The rest is to give the last sentence some context. Sep 2, 2014 at 20:27

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