There are classic examples of having to choose between two positive commandments (e.g. if one only has money for one, do you buy wine for Shabbas or candles), and there are known cases where a positive commandment comes up against a negative (e.g. stolen lulav, doing a brits on shabbas).

I was wondering if there was a classic example of someone who had to choose between transgressing on one of two "lavs" (negative commandments), and how you decide which to transgress.

  • 1
    You could always artificially construct one with someone putting a gun to someone's head and giving them options of 2 "lavs" Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 22:01
  • Don't sit idly by the blood of your brother - do you save your teacher or father if you could only save one? Also - the "big 3" vs. any other lavs. Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 20:36
  • @YEZ -- I suppose that's a way to do it. Obviously you always have the third option of taking the bullet, but we know the guidelines for that. Is there any source that discusses what to do in such a case?
    – Nic
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 15:17

2 Answers 2


R' Chanina and R' Yonasan were once faced with a fork road leading to either a non Jewish temple or a house of prostitution, proximity to both of which present potential temptation to sin (Avoda Zara 17a). It does not seem from the G'mara that they considered just turning around rather than passing by either one so this is tantamount to a forced choice.

The transgression in either case seems to derive from the same source (cf. Tosafos "nezil"), which is the pasuk in Mishlei 5:8,

הַרְחֵ֣ק מֵעָלֶ֣יהָ דַרְכֶּ֑ךָ וְאַל־תִּ֝קְרַ֗ב אֶל־פֶּ֥תַח בֵּיתָֽהּ׃

Keep yourself far away from her; Do not come near the doorway of her house

The actual prohibitions involved are at least mid'rabanan, with the prohibition of physically approaching an opportunity for sexual misconduct being mid'oraisa according to some (e.g. Ula). I'm not sure what the status of physically approaching an opportunity for theopractical misconduct is in this g'mara.

This qualifies as "classic" by appearing in the G'mara, but I don't know how often it is quoted.

  • The actual prohibitions involved are at least mid'rabanan Source?
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:20
  • as always if particular data are essential to a post, they ought to be edited in or at least sourced.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:33
  • My quick search of Rishonim yielded not one who clearly presented approaching a brothel or place of heresy as either a biblical or a actual rabbinic prohibition. This is unsurprising considering the Talmud certainly does not say so clearly. See for example, Ramban's hassagot to lo taaseh 353, who emphasizes that according to R. P'dat there is no prohibition at all.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:53
  • The issue of whether any actual biblical prohibitions or (rabbinic ones) are present is essential to determining how relevant this is to the OP's question.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 15:54
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 16:02

One case that comes to mind is the Mishnah in BM 33a, where one must decide between "you are not able to hide" from taking your father's lost object and "you are not able to hide" from taking your Rebbi's lost object. One should take his Rebbi's unless his father is also a Talmid Chacham. It continues with other cases of deciding between positive commandments, but those aren't applicable for the sake of this question. Nevertheless, even this case is deciding between two applications of the same prohibition.

The Mishnah in Horayos 13a gives a few other cases, which are still applications of the same prohibition to two people: "you are not able to hide" of a man's lost object versus a woman's (man wins) and "do not stand [by idly] by your friend's blood [being spilled]" of a man versus a woman (man still wins), in addition to several positive commandments between man and woman (in which woman wins).

The tenth perek of Eiruvin opens up with several cases involving bringing lost pairs of tefillin inside the Eiruv on Shabbos; this is both "you are unable to hide" and disrespecting the Tefillin (which, although their place is unspecified in the Mishnah, may very well be on the ground or in a place where they will be ruined) versus violating Shabbos (of which the passuk says שמור, an expression of a negative commandment). The Mishnah paskens that Shabbos is more important, and one should either wear the Tefillin into the Eiruv and then take them off, or, if there are too many or if they're tangled (as untying is a violation of Shabbos) one must stay by them until after Shabbos and then carry them back inside.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .