In Parshas Chayei Sarah (23:2), Rashi quotes Bereishis Rabbah (58:5) that the reason the Parsha of Sarah's death is juxtaposed to Akeidas Yitzchak is:

לספוד לשרה ולבכתה: ונסמכה מיתת שרה לעקידת יצחק, לפי שעל ידי בשורת העקידה שנזדמן בנה לשחיטה וכמעט שלא נשחט, פרחה נשמתה ממנה ומתה

Someone told Sarah about what was happening to Yitzchak, and her Neshama left her, and she died.

This got me thinking: even though it appears that at least some Meforshim say that it was the satan who told Sarah, it appears that mere words have the power of causing a persons death.

So my question is, if a person should deliver bad information to another, resulting in the latter person's death, would the former be responsible?

  • Assuming there were in fact two witnesses that warned that person, would a Jewish court be able to punish him?
  • Even if there weren't witnesses, would he still be liable? Would it matter whether he knew what its effect would be or not?
  • And finally, if the answer to the above two is no, would he still be liable in the world to come (דיני שמים)?
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    Was it on purpose? An accident? Was the teller a human? an angel? a shoteh? Were there witnesses? warning? We have no details to work with here; how could anyone answer this?
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 17:17
  • 1
    @DoubleAA Oops. I just realized that it appears at least many say it was the Satan that told Yitzchak...
    – yydl
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 17:22
  • 3
    Can scaring someone to death ever carry misas beis din?
    – Fred
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 18:18
  • is it ever a certainty that mere words will cause a person's death? if no, then you cannot warn him.
    – ray
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 7:14
  • 1
    How about the Kushi who ran to tell David that Avshalom had died? Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 6:18

2 Answers 2


Rambam, Laws of one who Injures or Damages, 2:7:

ז המבעית את חברו--אף על פי שחלה מן הפחד, הרי זה פטור מדיני אדם; וחייב בדיני שמיים: והוא שלא נגע בו, אלא כגון שצעק מאחוריו או נתראה לו באפילה וכיוצא בזה. וכן אם צעק באוזנו, וחירשו--פטור מדיני אדם; וחייב בדיני שמיים. אחזו, ותקע באוזנו וחירשו, או שנגע בו, ודחפו בעת שהבעיתו, או שאחז בבגדיו וכיוצא בדברים אלו--חייב בתשלומין.

If one startles his fellow, even sickening him by fright: he is exempted from man's justice, but liable to Heaven. This assumes he never touched the person; rather, he yelled from behind him or suddenly appeared out of the darkness or the like. Similarly if he yelled in his ear and that deafened him, he is exempted from man's justice but liable to Heaven's accounting. If he grabbed him and yelled in his ear, deafening him; or touched him and pushed him when surprising him, or grabbed his clothing -- he would be obligated to pay restitution.

Throughout the discussion of damages in Halacha, courts can generally only punish for actions, not words. (Giving false testimony in court is the major exception.) The Talmud's examples of liability for "embarrassment" are spitting on someone, slapping them, or tearing off their clothes in public, not saying mean things to them. The Torah absolutely prohibits vicious speech as words can absolutely cut someone down, but we say that God will deal with such a person; it's not in the hands of our justice system.

If running up and yelling BOO! at someone, giving them a heart attack, is "guilty as far as God is concerned but not in our hands to punish", I'd strongly assume that delivering shockingly bad news is in the same category. Now God only knows what I was or wasn't thinking or intending when delivering the bad news; but it's not in the place of our courts to deal with such an act.

There is also discussion of whether killing someone by metaphysical means, e.g. calling out to God to strike them dead -- is considered murder vis-a-vis our courts. (For instance, the Midrashim that Moses killed the Egyptian assailant by invoking the name of God.) See section III of Rabbi JD Bleich's "Liability for Harm Caused by Metaphysical Forces", Tradition 46:1.


One of the baalei mussar was brought into shul by the Nazis and was told at gun-point to tear a sefer torah. He took the Torah in his hands, had a heart attack and died.

Lichorah this would pose a similar question, is the Nazi chayav misah bechi hai gavnah for putting someone in a situation they would have a heart attack.

The similarity would seem to be ti the din of metzamtzem, e.g. someone is in the sun already, but you tie them down so they can't move so die of dehydration, which is chayav misah.

Similarly here you placed the person is a situation where their emotions would backfire on them and kill them, so you are chayav.

There is no petur of grama with metzamtzem, so saying the person merely spoke would not exonerate them.

  • 1
    This is really a circular argument. The analogy of the Nazi depends on the assumption that one is liable in such a case. It only illustrates another example of your unsourced assumption regarding the OP's question. The only relevant part of the answer is the last sentence which remains unsourced, and together with the rest of the answer written in jargon, rather than clear English. Consider improving this.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 4:25
  • 1
    Major distinction physical action, e.g. tying someone down; and words.
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 11:26

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