Theoretically, if (Gd forbid) ISIS took over Israel, and the Jew in question was not immediately killed because he was Jewish and was not in the financial situation to pay the required taxes, should the Jew allow himself to be executed or become a practicing Muslim?

  • What about in chutz la'aretz? Aug 17, 2014 at 1:23
  • What is chutz? I need to brush up on my Hebrew. Aug 17, 2014 at 1:31
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    @ElyBeauEastman "chutz" means "outside." "Chutz la'aretz" means "outside the land of Israel." The question would [presumably] be the same if some random hapless Jew got lost and wandered into the wrong part of Iraq.
    – Shalom
    Aug 17, 2014 at 1:47
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    I can imagine that the requirement to refuse conversion could be stronger in Israel, where -- in addition to the usual factors -- there's the very public presumption that Israelis are Jews so there's potentially a bigger "PR" aspect (for the nations, I mean). So while the answer might be the same as in the diaspora (chutz la'aretz), I think a more-specific question here is valid. Aug 17, 2014 at 2:44
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    Wikipedia says that non-muslims convert to Islam by saying the Shahada meaning, "There is no g-d but G-d, Muhammad is the messenger of G-d.". Obviously the first clause is equivalent to the Shema, the second would mean that you accept the Quran as revealed on the same level as the Torah, which would be hard for just about every Jew I have ever met. Still, I vote for paying lip-service and staying alive. @Michael-Meir is right when he says it is not idolatry.
    – Mike
    Aug 17, 2014 at 3:09

3 Answers 3


As Mark Twain (supposedly) said, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

Lo and behold, there was Islamic extremism 800 years ago, when Rabbi Moses Maimonides was alive -- and he left a paper trail.

If you were to open up the Yad HaChazaka (his code of law), it would appear that if there is a time when there is a concerted effort to wipe out Judaism, then we would demand a Jew give up his life even for small things -- which would mean he couldn't claim to convert to another faith. (Now ask an interesting question, is a group like ISIS considered "a time of concerted effort", or just a band of individual rogues -- my sense is that if some poor hapless Jewish tourist got lost and found himself in the middle of ISIS-controlled Iraq, he could claim he bumped into some rogues and preserve his own life; whereas if God forbid an extremist Islamic group took over Israel, I'd call that "a time of concerted effort against our faith.") Yet in Maimonides' letters to Jews actually in such situations, of massive forced conversions to Islam (it was in Yemen then, I believe?), he told them to do whatever they needed to stay alive. There are some suggestions on how to resolve this, but at first glance, there may be a theoretical law on the books, but practically we recommend that people stay alive.

Note that the Jews of medieval France and Germany chose death over conversion to Christianity, whereas many from Spain a few centuries later chose to become crypto-Jews. It's been observed that the Ashkenazic vs. Spanish commentaries on the Binding of Isaac actually mirror these differing attitudes towards martrydom.

  • So, in theory, better for Jews to die as Jews than to eliminate Jews by conversion and have them forgotten. However, in reality people usually choose to stay alive? Aug 17, 2014 at 3:26
  • I don't know the history in depth but I think that in the case of Igerret Teiman no one was neither killed or converted as the RamBam was able to put a stop to the decree. As mentioned above Igerret HaSHamad would be the more appropriate source for the answer.
    – eramm
    Aug 19, 2014 at 14:09
  • @eramm thank you. To whom was Igeret HaShmad addressed?
    – Shalom
    Aug 19, 2014 at 16:00
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    It's unknown. The impetus for Maimonides to write Igeret HaShmad was a particular rabbi living outside Spain who wrote a letter condemning the Spanish Jewish community for converting to Islam. The letter was written in response to a question by a secret Spanish Jew on the status of forced Jewish converts to Islam.
    – eramm
    Aug 19, 2014 at 16:09
  • could be there are other factors involved today. this is a question for the highest halachic authorities of our times
    – ray
    Oct 3, 2014 at 13:39

The rambam wrote responsa concerning this. See igeres hashmad where he clearly says choose islam not death, as apposed to Christianity which is complete heresy, where one must give up their life for kiddush Hashem.

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    This was mentioned in the other answer already
    – Double AA
    Aug 19, 2014 at 14:11
  • For a full review of the Igerret HaShmad see ajewishvoice.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/…
    – eramm
    Aug 19, 2014 at 14:18
  • @ Aa- I saw that but from all the superfluous wordage and ideas thrown around, it seemed the intent of the letter to the Morrocan Jews was not portrayed properly. Especially pointing to martyrs of Cristian violence as if that was somehow contrary to the letter.
    – user6591
    Aug 19, 2014 at 15:09

Convert to Islam and practice Islam outwardly without getting caught.

Rambam himself was a victim of such an ISIS like group, he feigned conversion when in danger.

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    Was he living in Israel at the time? Any reason to think that does or doesn't make a difference? Oct 3, 2014 at 12:57
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    I'd never heard that about the Rambam before. Do you have a better source for that than some person's blog?
    – MTL
    Oct 13, 2014 at 3:40

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