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I cannot remember where, but somewhere in gemara it mentions that when confronted with doing a positive mitzva or keeping a negative mitzva, one should do a positive mitzva. How far does this go though? What are some negative mitzvot that one cannot do (outside of those three cardinal sins) that one may break in order to do a positive mitzva?

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The rule is עשה דוחה לא תעשה - a positive commandment pushes away a negative commandment. Basically this is in fact quite limited, but in theory if something is simply forbidden by a negative commandment but a Mitzvah comes along that requires violating it in order to fulfill it, then we go ahead and do the Mitzvah if there is no way to avoid the negative commandment. (If it could have been avoided previously but can't be right now when it is time to do it is a subject of dispute).

Not all negative commandments are included in this dispensation however, and sometimes Chazal forbid it (as the case of a Yibbum where there is a negative commandment involved in the relationship).

Examples of excluded negative commandments include theft, things which are forbidden by a positive as well as a negative commandment, as well as possibly including things which have a death penalty associated with them, where there are two negative commandments involved simultaneously, and other such exceptions.

  • Also the concept of aveirah gorreres aveirah implies that now the aveirah is done leshaim mitzvah but could lead to an aveirah in and of itself. See the commentaries on Yosef and Aishes Potiphar and the possibility that her original motive was "leshaim mitzvah". Also some of the commentaries on Yael and Sisrah. – sabbahillel Jul 31 '14 at 9:55
  • Are all mitzvot d'rabanan allowed to be broken if they're unavoidable in doing a positive mitzva? – rosenjcb Jul 31 '14 at 12:52
  • @rosenjcb, no. The Rambam lists mitzvot d'rabanan as a postive commandment (#174) as well as a negative one (#312). So that would be "forbidden by a positive and a negative commandment." – Yishai Jul 31 '14 at 13:28
  • @Yishai Oh yeah, I forgot about Rambam's classification of mitzvot d'rabanan. – rosenjcb Jul 31 '14 at 13:35

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